When I became a parent last year, it seemed likely my marathon running days were behind me.
Running had made me a grittier person. It had given me the very specific self-assurance that comes from calmly enduring 26 miles on foot, a quality that would prove useful in the frightful early months of caring for an infant.
You see, marathons can add much to any parent's toolbox: experience with pureed foods in hard-to-open packets, spit and spit-up among other questionable bathroom habits, and the persistent whine of a tired and cranky internal monologue.
But, as families grow, relationships change. Friends sometimes disappear. Hobbies diminish. Personal time is at a premium. I didn't want to forfeit the sauntering hours of a weekly long run or my daily mental reset runs to the cause of domestic life. Those sacrifices seemed mandatory.
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But, as is sometimes said in the ultramarathon world, "Forward is a pace."
A year into parenthood, running life has changed, but it hasn't disappeared. Neither have the profound friendships formed with those who regularly witness profound lows and ecstatic highs, sometimes within a single run. They are people who understand the value in doing something difficult with purpose, ones I want my child to know and to learn from.
We're learning from him, too. Together, we've explored our neighborhood on stroller runs, and camped out on picnic blankets, finding new joy in cheering a friend to the finish line of his first 50-mile race.
We've also read – a lot – and we've discovered that there are others who share a passion for endurance sports, writers who know that the best parents are happy parents.
Here are some of our favorite early-reader books about running, cycling, swimming and yoga. Libraries and bookstores are full of tales focusing on the lessons about mental and emotional strength these activities impart.
– For marathoner moms and dads
Ultra-runner Dion Leonard made international news in 2016, but it was not due to his second-place finish at the 155-mile Gobi Desert Run.
On the second morning of the six-day, multistage race, a small stray terrier became immediately attached to a man who usually kept to himself. The dog, eventually named Gobi, bounded beside him for 77 grueling miles, inspiring Leonard to rethink his connection to others.
Leonard released a memoir, "Finding Gobi," in June 2017, which was followed in August with a young readers edition for ages 8 to 12 and a picture book for ages 4 to 8. (There's a movie deal as well, of course.) Grown-ups readers of the full-length book will appreciate Leonard's retelling of his tough childhood and the media frenzy that followed his efforts to bring Gobi back home with him to the U.K.
The picture book version keeps the story centered on the race itself, often from Gobi's perspective. She teaches competition-focused Dion its most important lesson: Sometimes we're faced with a choice between winning and taking care of someone smaller. Running across a finish line together makes it all worthwhile.
See also: "Marathon Mouse," by Amy Dixon, which tells of Preston, an adorable rodent who trains hard to reach his goal of running the New York City Marathon. "Pellie Runs a Marathon," by Michele Bredice Craemer takes readers one mile at a time through the grit and determination a duck needs to finish her big race. (Both available on Amazon.)
– For parents who cycle
There are many realistic educational books about famous cyclists, races and the ins and outs of competitive bike riding, but a few especially inspire with whimsical storytelling, visuals and imagination.
Unfolding with smart and complex – but still easy to understand – rhyming couplets, "Monsieur Albert Rides to Glory," by Peter Smith charms from its first opening sentence, bolstered with funny, heartwarming visuals by illustrator Bob Graham. It tells the story of 60-year-old Albert, a "cycling fanatic who lives in a tiny Parisian attic," who decides to join a bike race from Paris down to Nice. Albert is much older than the other contestants, including the snarky young millionaire, Francois, who is the favorite to win, and Albert doesn't have the money for fancy gear.
Over the course of the race, he slips farther and farther behind the pack, but he persists despite the race's increasingly overwhelming challenges. In the end, Albert proves that it isn't always the youngest, richest and strongest who win. Sometimes, it's the boldest.
See also: "Pop-Up Tour de France: The World's Greatest Bike Race," by Pamela Pease elevates the story off the page through striking 3-D scenes that re-create the race's epic history and tradition.
– For families who swim like fish
Triathlete parents might dive in for a competitive open water swim – or simply use the skill as a great way to stay in condition without the added impact on knees and ankles. For families, swimming can be one of the first exciting, if at times scary, adventures to explore together.
"Sergio Makes a Splash!" by Edel Rodriguez follows adorable young Argentinian penguin Sergio as he takes his first trip to the ocean with his schoolmates. With vibrant colors and humorous illustrations (have you ever seen a penguin in a sleep mask? ), the book tackles fear in a gentle, delicate way. Readers get insight into Sergio's internal anxieties through thought bubbles and see that, despite mishaps in his first attempt at diving in the ocean, he can't wait to try again, maybe even without his floaties.
See also: A picture is worth a thousand words, and that's completely clear in "Pool," by JiHyeon Lee, which doesn't need words at all to tell the story of two shy friends who meet at a swimming pool. With beautiful illustrations by Lee, it captures the excitement of exploration through imagination as the public swimming pool "transforms" – in the friends' minds – into an ocean beneath other swimmers' feet.
– For yogis with young 'uns
While many might not immediately consider yoga an "endurance sport," anyone who has spent a minute – or many more – in an intense pose will disagree. On top of that, many recent children's books have noted mindfulness's myriad positive effects on behavior and resilience.
A few favorites include "Good Night Yoga: A Pose-by-Pose Bedtime Story," by Mariam Gates, which emphasizes breathing and movement meditation for relaxing the mind and body when winding down to sleep through a dreamy, 11-pose Good Night Flow. "Little Yoga: A Toddler's First Book of Yoga," by Rebecca Whitford and Martina Selway takes a similar tack, likening poses to the animals that inspire them. One of its nicest aspects is an appendix with helpful tips for caregivers and detailed explanation of poses to ensure safety for parents who are newer to yoga.
See also: For a more narrative approach, "Emily and the Mighty Om," by Sarah Lolley tells the story of Emily and her new neighbor Albert, an elderly gentleman who loves spending time in his yard practicing odd poses and stretches. When Albert becomes stuck in a twist, it's up to Emily to help other adults around her learn about the magic of quiet, stillness and release.