Clair McFarland: Only Idiots Get Lost (And I Got Lost)

Clair McFarland writes, "It’s gonna sting, but I have to tell this story. I wrote in an earlier column that if I did not beat my 13-year-old son in a 5-kilometer footrace three days later, I’d crumble into obscurity like an 8-track tape."

Clair McFarland

November 18, 20236 min read

Clair and the cat
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

It’s gonna sting, but I have to tell this story.  

I wrote in this column Oct. 5 that if I did not beat my 13-year-old son in a 5-kilometer footrace three days later, I’d crumble into obscurity like an 8-track tape.  

But I did beat him in the “Glow Run” footrace, by one rank and one minute.  

We fought the entire second mile, inching ahead of each other in turns through the bewildered residential neighborhood of a town that’s not used to runners. Residents peered through their windows and wondered whether it was the rogue dogs chasing us or the mountain lions.   

When I crossed the finish line ahead of my son I was relieved, but also a little sad. I didn’t feel the gloat and glory I thought I would over still being able to beat him.  

Plus, my knee hurt for three weeks after that.  

We decided to race again Nov. 4 at the Pumpkin Run, which is a quirky fundraising race for the high school cross country team. I’ve run it probably four times. This was to be Firstborn’s first time racing it.  

The night before the race, we snagged my oldest nephew for a sleepover. We’ll call that boy Ludvig van Beethoven.  

Now, Beethoven might be a piano mastermind and a connoisseur of awesome eyeglasses, but he’s not a runner, at least by training. He’s never covered five kilometers in one stretch. That’s about 3.1 miles. It’s not a brutal journey, but for a first-timer it might as well be a marathon.  

“So,” I said. “You can stay home and hang out with the little boys, or you can come to the race and watch, or if you’re feeling wild, you can even run in the race.”  

Beethoven shrugged. “Yeah, I’ll do it.”  

The morning was a mad scramble for gloves and beanies. I outfitted myself, and Beethoven; and Firstborn and Middleborn.  

My two youngest boys, now wise to the salty truth that this “sport” is not watchable, stayed home with The Husband to play board games.  

“Bye Mom!” called out the little, feisty twin. “Have fun at your ‘sport.’” 

“Yeah,” echoed the big, sweet twin. “Great luck being an ‘athlete.’” 

I turned to The Husband. “Why do they keep putting up air quotes for ‘sport’ and ‘athlete’?” 

The Husband shrugged – then winked at the twins.  

We four runners went to our start line with the other racers. They included a gaggle of high schoolers, moms, dads, one dog, a stroller, and a baby gritting her gums for the epic trial.  

Beethoven was getting stressed.  

“What if I get lost?” he asked.  

I shook my head. “It’s a perfect rectangle. You won’t get lost.” 

“Are you sure?” 

“Absolutely. Only an idiot would get lost on this course,” I said.  

The gun sounded, and by gun, I mean, “cross country coach who half-whispered the word ‘go.’”  

We ran for it. Firstborn and I fought for the first half-mile and I passed him. Rounding the one-mile mark, I could still hear his rhythmic breathing.  

I coasted down a long downhill stretch through the second mile. The sun beamed through bracing cold air. My legs ached but they tensed against their revolutions like precise machinery. In spite of myself, I grinned.  

Runner’s high is a rare, glowing phenomenon in which the body produces endorphins during activity. It makes the runner feel that nothing in the world can disturb her joy, and even her instant struggle is the soft and yielding material of a spectacular fate.  

It can carry you away.  

In fact, it can carry you two blocks off course.  

I looked over my shoulder, and my pursuers were gone. Up ahead lay the street to my home. To my left sat my favorite grocery store.  

I was lost!  

I pivoted, charged through two side streets and the grocery-store parking lot, cutting off the flow of oncoming runners on the last uphill stretch of their race. One woman thought a vehicle had dropped me off so I could cheat and win that pumpkin pie.  

And there was Firstborn – 30 feet ahead of me.  

He, too, appeared to have runner’s high. His green eyes sparkled. A car drove past and its driver cheered him on but called him entirely the wrong name.  

Firstborn saluted and quickened his pace.  

I don’t know whether it was fate, or that weird prickle you get when someone is staring at the back of your head, but Firstborn glanced over his own shoulder. He saw me.  

He had to look three times more just to verify it was me. It didn’t make sense.  

How could his (here come the air quotes) “organized,” “deliberate,” “never-at-all-confused” mother have gotten behind him in rank?   

That boy shot forward at a pace I’d thought only possible for a market pig with a kid trying to ride it.  

I chased him and closed the gap: 20 feet; 10 feet. I had to beat him.  

We tied briefly with the finish line in sight, but it was no use – using the jet power of a mighty grunt, he pulled ahead and beat me.  

Beethoven crossed the finish line next, amazed at his endurance and at not getting lost like an idiot. Then came Middleborn, sweaty and demanding a meal of “cow meat.”  

Later that day when I ran into my father-in-law in the very grocery store that had lured me like a moth and stolen my dominance, I told him about Firstborn’s win.  

My father-in-law raised his eyebrows. “Did you let him win?” he asked. 

I gulped.  

A win is a win is a win. If you’re faster than your mom because she forgets where she’s at sometimes and gallivants into the barefooted past of pre-fenced America on a haze of the cannabinoids her own body synthesizes – that’s still a win.  

“Nah,” I said. “I didn’t let him win.”  

Clair McFarland can be reached at

Share this article



Clair McFarland

Crime and Courts Reporter