autism,  cross-country,  exercise,  high school

Making the watch the boss

It’s been 3 weeks since the end of J’s XC season and I’ve been trying to think of how we can get that spark back into running. I think if you’ve seen J running out on a golf course or around the track, you would probably agree with me. Running is so good for J. It’s good for him physically. It’s good for his mental health. Running is also great for building relationships. He loves the boys on his team. He’s grown really strong attachments to his coaches of the years.

Running is so good for J.

Since XC has been out, I’ve been trying to find the best routine to keep both kids running. W (who has been my less reluctant runner over the years) hasn’t really been a problem. She comes home (if she doesn’t have some big test the next day) and has been going out on her own. J has 8th period free and so for the first few days, we kept J on his usual schedule: decompress at home and then go out for a run at 4:00. But that gets tricky too–because of daylight saving, it’s getting darker faster, and I don’t love him out running out on his own when it’s darker out (I don’t love it with W either, but I trust her judgement on crossing the street a little better than I do with J).

And then there’s my running schedule. I’ve been trying to fit my own runs in there too and have gone back and forth running with J and W. But because I’m “practicing training for a full marathon” (as in I’m THINKING of running the full in the spring, but I’m trying to make sure I have my schedule worked out straight to run every day and fit in a long run on weekends) it’s getting harder and harder for me to just do a run with the kids. I’m either running a slower pace than I’m used to or running (with W) or pushing my fastest race pace to push J back to last year’s XC times. I’m not on my own “running game” when I’m adapting my runs for my kids’ needs.

This week’s running log. It’s been a good week! (And I think that $10 worth of ice cream killed his workout the next day lol!)

The real problem is that we need to get J to be a little more independent on his runs. We need him to be able to be motivated to run is best on his own without someone biking beside him along the way or have his crazy mom yelling from behind him to keep going. If he’s going to enjoy running, he’s going to have to be able to go out on his own and come home feeling like he’s accomplished something.

So we’ve decided to try something different. I’ve decided to make the running watch the boss. J goes out for a run on his own and comes home. I can see how far he’s gone and how fast he’s run each mile. We’ve started tracking the pace of every mile in a chart. Within 3 days J went from the 9 min range into the 8 min range. We’ve talked about each mile, which mile had the better pace (he’s finally understanding that a smaller number is the better number). Right now we’re focusing on minutes. Once he really understands the better minute time, then we’ll move onto seconds (and once he starts running faster again, it will be better/easier to compare seconds times than minute times). J has an understanding that if he keeps his runs in the 8 minute range, he can have a Gatorade after his run. J also knows that if he moves into a better minute range we celebrate by going out to ice cream.

J fresh out of the shower after a run, wearing his EDC champions shirt!

Here’s the best part of it all. I’m not involved in this at all. J is 100% accountable to the numbers. The watch is boss. During our first week of this experiment, J came home one day a little later than usual. I checked his watch and there it was: instead of running 3 miles, it showed up as 2.25. And that second mile? 10 minute pace. I asked J if he walked and after a little aversion to my question he said, “Yes, yes I did walk. And I turned at 25th instead of 19th.”

(I’ve been suspicious about the walking bit this season–when he had a break from XC near the beginning of the season, I biked with him for a run and a mile into it, he told me he wanted to walk and he was done with running).

That was it! After that little discussion, he’s run his best every week since.

We’ve tried to have conversations with J before about times over the years, but nothing has really clicked. But this seems to be clicking. This week, J has been singing his own praises all this week on how he’s been having some really great runs. We went to Cherry Berry this week because J hit a pace in the 7 min range (and yes, I spent $10 on that ice cream bowl). On Saturday, he ran 6 out of my 8 mile run with me (I was using the watch because I was trying to track my own run but I was running an average of a 9:18 pace and he was a block and a half ahead of me the whole time, so he was definitely running a 8 minute range pace). All day long he kept telling me how well he ran and how good it felt.

I feel like the more we have J driving the bus he’ll enjoy it more, and hopefully have the drive to set goals on his own. I feel like we are still using the stick and carrot routine (working hard means getting a Gatorade) but we’re graduating into a more self-motivated stick and carrot routine. We’ll see if it’s enough to bring the love back!

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