Clair McFarland: If I Don’t Outrun My Kid It’s The End Of The World

Clair McFarland writes: “I’m not ready for either son to beat me in a race. In fact, I still want to scoop them up in my arms and read to them. But that’s weird, since Firstborn is bigger than I am.”

Clair McFarland

October 05, 20235 min read

Clair new column shot
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

I have to outrun my Firstborn son or it’s all over.  

He and I, and my Middleborn son, are all registered for a 5-kilometer footrace this week. It’s one of those glow runs where everyone runs in the dark wearing chemical-glow necklaces.  

I used to think glow runs were gimmicks designed to get kids and non-runners to sign up for fundraising races.  

And now here I am signing my kids up for a fundraising race, because they said, “Aw, Mom, we wanna run the glow run with you!” 

Before their sweet, half-whiny pleas I preferred to run more serious races — the ones that start at 6 a.m., where the grand champion might win a pair of socks.  

But I can’t resist the chance to run with them. They both competed in cross-country this year, and they blustered enough gravel and testosterone during practice to drive each other insane.  

They really need a fun run.  

During the season they drove down their race times noticeably. Too noticeably.  

“Hey, Mom,” said Firstborn as he flipped a kitchen knife into its block with too much samurai flourish for such close quarters, “I wonder if I’ll beat you at the race.” 

It had crossed my mind as well.  

“You can’t do that,” I said. “If you beat me, I’m old.”  

Something dawned in his face. “So … I should let you win.” 

“NOOO, that’s worse,” I roared. “What are you THINKING?” 

Firstborn’s eyes widened. “But you said you’d be old –”  

“Right. I have to win fair and square. And you have to run as hard as you can.” 

Firstborn agreed to run as hard as he can.  

Middleborn wrinkled his nose into a ragged asterisk.  

“But why can’t make you old?” asked Middleborn. “I’m the best – the best – easily the best sixth-grade runner with green eyes who was born in March on that whole team.” 

I scratched my head. Middleborn is quick, but he’s two years younger than Firstborn and he’s not posting the same quicksilver race times.   

Then it hit me. 

“Heyy!” I wailed. “Why are you so eager to make me old?” 

Middleborn sighed and shook his head, “It’s just that time.”  

The truth is, I’m not ready for either son to beat me in a race. I’m not ready to be slower than they are, weaker than they are or less comfortable with technology than they are.  

I still want to scoop them up in my arms and read Lemony Snicket to them while they gaze at me with untrammeled trust. But that’s weird, since Firstborn is bigger than I am.  

“Oy, Mom! Put me down,” Firstborn snapped.  

“Ahem. Sorry. I was feeling …” 



I’m glad I passed down my love of running to them. As for me, I got that from my dad, who was a bullet when he was in the Navy, and who is still the champion of all my phantom races.

In the endless races of my running dreams, when I leave NASCAR drivers and Kentucky Derby horses in my dust, my dad is out in front, rushing toward some new way of being human.  

Even though I can beat my dad now (he has injured his knee), I don’t want to. I won’t race him. I’ll deny that bit of reality as a drain on the other buoyant truths that propel my feet alternately in front of each other.   

Meanwhile, Firstborn decided to quit spinning all my kitchen knives around. He turned a rare warmth of teenage perception toward me.  

“Mom,” said Firstborn. “Don’t worry. If I beat you, it doesn’t mean you’re getting old.”  

Fiery autumns come. Pale winters too. Past and future war with each other, combusting our fleeting present in their clash.  

There will come a day when my soul contains more memories than hopes; my children contain more ambitions than needs.  

“Oh yeah?” I asked. “What does it mean then?” 

Firstborn grinned crookedly, cocking his head over the greasy shoulder seam of that bomber jacket he won’t take off, even when he eats an oozing enchilada. “It means – I’m fast!”  

And he ran outside.  

Clair McFarland can be reached at

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Clair McFarland

Crime and Courts Reporter