You may remember from some older posts that I am involved in a running challenge this year. I am running 40K of races for my 4oth year and blogging about it with some friends at Girls Gone 40.
This week it was my turn to write about “why I run”. I was so touched by the response to the piece. After hearing from some other parents, I realized that the post belongs here too. It is as much about being a Mom as it is about being a runner.
Happy Mother’s Day, all!
Why I Run
The first time I went for a run just to run, my father was dying of cancer.
Dad had been given 6 months to live and so in those hot, wet, summer months when I lived with him for weeks at a time, I took up running.
Running was simple. I didn’t think about it or plan for it. I had no goal. I certainly didn’t blog about it. I just laced up my sneakers one day, went out into the neighborhood and ran the streets, trying to catch my breath.
I didn’t do anything right. I stared at my feet. I clenched my fists. I held my arms tight up against my body. I didn’t even wear a sports bra on those early runs (I’m sorry, boobies).
But, I did it. I remember thinking, as my lungs burned and my feet ached, “I’m running because I can”. My Dad couldn’t, that’s for sure. I didn’t know what a mantra was but I repeated that mile after mile.
And I thought “Shit. This hurts.” Sometimes I cried through entire runs shedding grief and frustration. Those runs gave me big freedom and big choice, even if the choice was choosing pain that I could control.
After my Dad died, I grieved him by training for the Philadelphia Marathon. I needed something to look forward to and I needed time to think. Why not?
During the marathon, at mile 16, I broke my foot (a stress fracture), but I finished.
I tried to run a half marathon about a year later but my foot still wasn’t right and I re-fractured it (but finished, again). I fractured my foot a third time and realized I should maybe take a break from running.
Then I had kids. For the past 7+ years, I have been too exhausted and too afraid to run. I have gotten soft. And round.
When Rachel suggested running 40K for her 40th year, I jumped on it because I irrationally thought that if I could get over the hump of starting, I’d be the runnergirl I was in my twenties again. I’d run because I could. I wouldn’t have to think about it. I would just do it. We’d do it together. And we’d turn my fear into fun, one race and one margarita at a time. Though never long and lean, in my mind, GirlsGone40 would give me the body and the endorphins of “runnergirl”, with the race bibs to prove it.
That’s a lot to put on running. I know. First I used her to comfort me in the worst loss of my life so far, and now I expect her to help me find my way back to a place I haven’t been in almost a decade!
When I started running again in October (and calorie counting, and trying to change other habits), instead of thinking “I’m running because I can”, I thought “I’m fast and fit and long and lean. I’m fast and fit and long and lean. I’m fast and fit and long and lean!” All I could think about was how I was going to “crush the miles” and get smaller.
Over and over, for the first 4 months of this challenge, even when I wasn’t exercising, it was all I could think about. That mantra, instead of motivating me on the treadmill, became a harsh trill in my ears the rest of the time, reminding me how I was failing because I wasn’t losing weight. I wasn’t getting even one size smaller.
Instead of lifting me up, my relationship with running became complicated. I mostly just felt bad about myself. And really embarrassed that at 39 I care so much about being “thin”. I’m usually judging the fattists out there for being so judgmental. When did I switch teams?
Rachel was having a hard time getting motivated too and so I thought about letting the blog and the challenge go. In my mind, I had no good reason to run. Weight obsession is a small, small world. And I wanted to get back to my big, rich life. It was still pretty painful getting back into shape and the mental baggage was messing with my head.
Then Molly, my 7-year-old daughter, one day, asked to run the rest of my races with me, telling me her “goal was to run 20K before she turned 8”. How could I say no to that?
Molly doesn’t care about weight loss. She doesn’t care about being “fit.” She has no desire to change habits. Luckily, she has no losses to grieve. She does not care how long it takes her to run a mile or if she walks when she needs a break.
Molly runs for one reason: She just wants to be with me.
We’ve run three races together so far, a 5K, a 5-miler, and 4-miler. Mother’s Day will be our fourth race.
When we are out there together on the course, or running laps around my house, Molly laughs. Sometimes she skips. Or hops. Or leaps. And she chats about her dreams from last night. She imagines us winning our next race. She designs t-shirts to go with our matching running skirts. She plans entire meals to eat when we are finished. She chants quietly “I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.” Sometimes she switches it to “I am awesome. I am awesome. I awesome.” In our last race two women overheard her and joined in.
Molly’s made running simple for me again. It’s not about the miles. Or the minutes. Or the calories. Or being fit. Or whatever ridiculous expectations I started GG40 with. I run because I can.