I Love That My Son Loves Running

By EVA DUNN-FROEBIG, Executive Director of Run Wild Missoula

We hope our kids will find something in the world that they are passionate about, but when we can share that “thing” with them it’s like winning an Olympic medal. That’s how I felt after running the YMCA Riverbank 1-mile run with my 5-year-old son this Saturday.

I love running. I discovered the cross-country team when I was in seventh grade: dashing through soggy fields lined with colorful flagging, cheering parents ringing cowbells on the sidelines, and sprinting past boys during practices. Running gave me confidence, friendships, and a sense of belonging.

Milo is only 5 and already has more confidence than I ever will and is friends with every kid at his school. His confidence and constant development continues to amaze me. The day before the Riverbank Run when I picked Milo up from school he asked if we could go to Costco to buy a set of BOB (early reader) books after a classmate told him that’s where HIS mom bought the BOB books.

I try to avoid trips to North Reserve Street, but I did still have to buy bagels and bananas to give out at the Run Wild Missoula table at the Riverbank Run the next day. Sure enough, we found the BOB books at Costco and Milo used his usual persuasiveness to convince me to buy them.

He spent the rest of the evening reading the books—on the couch in the living room, at the table while eating dinner, and in bed just before going to sleep. His mind was alive, his endorphins pumping. He was ecstatic; he was learning how to read!

As excited as I was that Milo was suddenly enthusiastic about reading I was anxious for him to stop reading that night so we could get a good night’s rest. Sleep didn’t happen until 11 p.m. I still had to finish an application for a community running award so I stayed up until 1 a.m. Then Milo woke up at 5 a.m., his eyes glued shut, asking “Can I read?”

“No, it’s the middle of the night, go back to sleep!” was my reply.

I groggily left the house at 7:15 a.m. to start setting up the Run Wild Missoula table at the finish of the Riverbank Run. My kitchen is being remodeled so I couldn’t even make coffee before leaving the house. My foggy head and a recently strained calf made me feel relieved that I wasn’t running the 5K or 10K.

But once I made my way to a downtown coffee shop and had taken a few sips from my to-go mug I felt the excitement of the race—just like in middle school when we arrived at cross-country meets in big yellow school buses. Volunteers were setting up the finish line on Higgins Avenue and people were already picking up their race packets and warming up with their numbers pinned to their shirts.

Since I moved to Missoula 12 years ago, the Riverbank Run has been my first goal of the spring after slacking off during the dark cold winter. Last year I ran the 5K followed by the 1 mile fun run with Milo. It was his first race and I had tears in my eyes within the first 100 yards. But about half way through the race he started asking me to carry him. We made it to the finish line without me picking him up, but there was a lot of whining from him and coercing from me.

After the Run Wild Missoula table was set up, Milo and I watched the runners cross the finish line for the 10K. We cheered on finishers through a snow/hail/rainstorm. The moisture cleared for the 5K and the sun came out by the time we reached the starting line for the 1 mile.

The night before the race I realized that Milo didn’t have appropriate running shoes. He had rain boots, flip flops, ski boots, soccer cleats, Uggs and Crocs. All of these footwear choices and nothing appropriate for a race?

He had recently grown so quickly that none of his sneakers fit him anymore. At the starting line, it became even more apparent how much he had grown. He was wearing sweatpants two inches too short layered with soccer shorts and his Riverbank Run t-shirt. I made a mental note to buy him new running shoes and pants as soon as possible.

As soon as the gun went off, Milo unplugged his ears, grabbed my hand and took off. We ran hand in hand down the middle of Higgins Avenue, weaving around other kids holding their parents hands. I expected Milo to slow down once we headed east to get on the Riverfront Trail, but he soon let go of my hand to dash ahead of me.

I pointed out the finish line to him once we ran under the Higgins Avenue bridge. He sped up, his cheeks flushed, endorphins pumping—and then one of his Crocs flew off. He kept running in one sock-enveloped foot. I yelled, “Keep going, I’ll get it and catch up with you.”

He kept running, I went back to get the Croc, caught him and slipped it on his foot. A minute later we were 50 feet from the finish line and one Croc flipped off again. I caught up to him and slipped it on his foot just before he crossed the finish line and was handed a blue finisher’s ribbon.

As Milo perused the Odwalla juices, I realized that hundreds of people at the finish saw that I let my son run a race in Crocs—and on a day when it had snowed. But I didn’t care. Milo was beaming, proud that he had run 1 mile without stopping (except for the two times that he stopped so I could put his Crocs back on). “Mama,” he said as I buckled him into his booster seat, “My new favorite things are reading and running.”


Eva Dunn-Froebig is the executive director of Run Wild Missoula and has been running since the seventh grade. She moved to Missoula 12 years ago from upstate New York to attend the University of Montana’s Journalism School graduate program. Eva never dreamed that she would have a running-related job and feels lucky to be a participant in Missoula’s vibrant running community.