My alarm goes off at 4:30am and I leap out of bed. Quietly I pull on my leggings, sports bra, t-shirt, and socks. I peek into my son’s room where he is sleeping soundly, the glow of the nightlight illuminating his little chest rising and falling. I can hear my husband’s snores as I rush down the stairs. On the counter is my previously laid out headlamp and reflective vest. I put the rest of my gear on, press the start button on my GPS watch and run out the door into the darkness. This has been my morning routine almost every day for over a year. Through rain, sleet, snow, and mud, I am the United States Postal Service of runners.
I am a Mother Runner. But I haven’t always been. Let’s flashback to two years ago…
I had a two year-old, a 12 year-old stepdaughter, and a loving husband. My life was great: we had a beautiful home and I had a job I loved. But I was drowning in the daily demands of motherhood. I constantly had a lingering feeling of anxiety. There was a fear that at any moment the pieces of my life I was trying to hold together might suddenly fall apart.
Since the birth of my son, I had been on autopilot, rushing around making sure everyone was happy… everyone but me. I felt like a shell of my former self. I couldn’t remember the last time I had a real thought that didn’t involve something to do with meal planning, paying bills, or organizing childcare.
I woke up one beautiful spring morning, and while lying in bed I tried to remember what used to make me happy. I once loved running. In high school and college, it was what I would do to de-stress and collect my thoughts. I got out of bed, made everyone breakfast, cleaned up the house, and dug out my old running shoes from where they were collecting dust in the garage. I told my husband that I was going for a run. He glanced up from the kitchen table with a look of surprise, “ohh… k” he said with slight hesitation. I rushed out the door before I had time to analyze his reaction and worry about the kids’ needs.
I ran fast… well, it felt fast. Down my road, up the hill around the corner. I ran, pushing all my thoughts out of my mind.
I stopped thinking about things I had to do, and my daily stresses. I focused on the increase in my breath, my rapid heart beat, and the sounds of my shoes hitting the dirt road. For 30 minutes I relaxed. I got home, walked through the door and was immediately greeted by an irate two year-old, clearly distraught over my brief absence. I took a breath and walked calmly back into my role as mom.
That one run was all it took for me to be hooked again.
I started running three to four days a week, escaping in the early hours of the morning before my family awoke. I would return, relaxed and present. I signed up for my first 5K race since college, just six weeks after I started running again. I figured it would give me the motivation I needed to keep up my new routine. While running on my own was meditative, racing was fun and exhilarating. I pushed myself, passing as many people as I could and willing my legs to go faster. I finished surprisingly quickly.
Life as a mom, wife, and co-worker continued, but so did my morning runs. I was a dedicated Mother Runner and went from running three miles to six miles daily. I downloaded a running app on my phone to start recording my time and distance, and I bought new shoes. Running began to rebuild my confidence. While on my runs, I started formulating personal goals and ideas. I no longer felt like an empty shell on autopilot. As the cool weather set in, my desire to race again grew. I began contemplating the idea of a half marathon… maybe even a whole marathon. I know! Slow down Emma, you have been running for all of two minutes and you want to sign up for the mac-daddy of races! But that’s always been my style- when I find something I love, I dive in all the way!
I had been a spectator at the Burlington City Marathon half a dozen times. Every time I witnessed the spirit, love, and energy of that race I would tell myself “I am going to run this someday”. That someday was now. I could make excuses: I am too busy, I have kids, I am not in good enough shape, etc. I was done with the excuses, because there would always be excuses. I talked to my husband. I knew there was going to be a lot of training, many hours I would be absent and he would be required to solo parent. Without hesitation he gave me the go ahead. Before I could give it much thought, and perhaps chicken out, I went online and signed up to run the whole 26.2 miles of the Burlington City Marathon in May 2016. I had 7 months to get ready!
I signed up for a first-time marathon training program, it was an 18-week training program. Each week I was emailed a running schedule. I started my official training in February 2016. It began with relatively low mileage, 20-25 miles a week. When I began training, it was cold and dark, so I became a professional at the art of layering. I purchased running Yaktraxs so I could run on ice and snow, and I upgraded my headlamp to 130 lumens. By week 6 of training, my weekly mileage had doubled. I was required to do longer runs on the weekends. While my family slept in and made pancakes on Sunday mornings, I would be out running anywhere between 10 and 20 miles.
My husband no longer asked if I was running, he would ask how far.
As the days grew warmer, I began including my son on my runs. Once a week, I would grab him a snack and strap him into our beat up, old jogging stroller and off we went. “Go mommy go! Faster” he would yell as we ran down our dirt road. One day we were driving to the store and my son saw a runner out his window “Like Mommy! My Mommy runs… with me too… my Mommy runs!” he yelled. My whole self filled with love. For in that moment, I knew my son no longer saw me just as his mom, the one who made his breakfast, filled his sippy cup and gives him baths… he saw me as a runner.
He was proud of me, and he wanted people to know that his mom was a runner. As a parent, you will often be proud of your children, but it’s an unbelievable feeling to have your kids be proud of you!
Race day arrived. It was hot, record breaking and dangerously hot. Originally, I wanted to finish in under four hours, however, come that morning, I just wanted to finish. My whole family and many of my friends came to cheer me on. They positioned themselves in different locations along the course, forming many little islands of support. The gun went off and I ran. The first 4 miles were great, and I felt strong. But as the temperature rose, I slowed my pace, I drank water, and I ran through dozens of sprinklers that amazing community members put out for the runners. I listened to the never-ending cheers and encouragement from the thousands of spectators. I watched runners fall, pass out, and drop out of the marathon. I tried to push back my fear and keep running. As I was coming down Pine Street, I could make out familiar shapes ahead. My husband and son were jumping up and down, cheering me on. I ran to them. “Go mommy go” the little voice yelled as I swooped down to give him a hug “Eww you sweaty!” And his little face was all I needed to keep pushing.
I passed friends, coworkers, my mom and dad and the thousands of amazing spectators and volunteers. The last four miles were the hardest. I saw the finish line and literally burst into tears. I sprinted the last 100 yards, and through all the yelling and the cheers, right as I crossed the finish line I saw my husband and son, yelling. “Go mommy go!” After getting my medal I pushed through the crowd and my son jumped into my arms. “Wow, Mommy… shiny” he said pointing to my metal.
Since May 2016, I have finished two 10ks, two half marathons, and I am about to run my second full marathon in Cape Cod on October 30th. Recently I read a quote from Pattisue Plumer, a former Olympic runner, “Racing teaches us to challenge ourselves. It teaches us to push beyond where we thought we could go. It helps us to find out what we are made of. This is what we do. This is what it’s all about.” Running woke me up, it forced me to look at who I am and the kind of woman, wife, mother, sister, and daughter I want to be.