Formula None

The echoes of Formula One are still ringing in Austin this week, and it has me thinking about college tuition.

A couple weekends ago, in a tune up for the big race, the track operators at The Circuit of the Americas organized an event that encouraged participants to speed around the 3.4 mile track as fast as they wanted to. On foot.

Billed as the “Formula Run” the race looked to me like the perfect way to get a great look at the track and facility without shelling out the big bucks for a weekend pass. It was also the ideal event to lure my son into running a race with me.

I’ve always wanted to run a race with Wilson. Even more so since I gave up my UT football season tickets. I’ve been in search of good kid/dad bonding outings. Most races I participate are 10k or longer. In the past that’s been too long for him, but since he took up cross country this fall it’s not as much of an obstacle. Add the element of a Formula One track, and it was an easy to sell to a 14 year old boy.

We lined up at the start with about six thousand fellow runners. The horn blew and we set off, climbing the 80 foot incline into turn one. As we cruised along with the crowd over the sticky, unblemished blacktop bordered in garish red, white and blue paint, it was all I could do not to make car sounds. Fog limited the views, but we were still able to get a sense of the sweep of the turns and the scope of the track.

Wilson and I ran shoulder to shoulder for about the first three miles, kidding that we wouldn’t let any father/son teams finish ahead of us. But when we rounded the final turn, and the finish line and grandstands came into sight, he dropped me like a bad habit and kicked to the finish.

As he pulled away, I couldn’t help thinking of it as a poignant metaphor of things to come. Less than four years until his high school graduation. Then comes an equal sense of panic as I contemplate the first college tuition bill arriving is less than 48 months. I’m no more ready for him to be gone than I am to pay for it.

When it comes to college tuition, the numbers are mind-numbingly astronomical and the possible outcomes overwhelmingly varied — private or public, what kind of aid would we be offered? The combination freezes me, sends me right into a financial torpor. In my darker moments, I think: by the time my third child graduates from college, we are bankrupt one way or the other — why save? Why not spend every penny now before the colleges get at it?

There seems no possible way to prepare.

Except to start.

I’ve been falling back on running as a metaphor a lot lately, and it may have to serve me again. Start small, make long range goals, be disciplined and have faith that results will come.  That or hit the Powerball.

I look ahead at the canyon of grandstands and the arch of the finish line, Wilson barely visible in the distance, and I know one thing for sure — that the clock is not stopping.