I ran my first half marathon on December 3rd this year. Thirteen point one miles of putting one foot in front of the other.
I have never thought of myself as a runner and still find it hard to identify as one. My five foot one frame is not graceful as I move from one mile to the next (I think of myself as plodding along), but I was proud that my body served me so well throughout this race. I geared my training for the Rehoboth Half Marathon toward accomplishing reasonable goals: I wanted to run the whole way, no walking, and I wanted to finish under two hours and 30 minutes. I accomplished everything, but there were times during the race where I doubted myself and my abilities. The more I think about the race, the more parallels I see between distance running and motherhood - both are extreme endurance sports.
With both of them, there are points where you feel like giving up, when you are at your absolute lowest. In motherhood, these come out as tearful frustration with my kids when they seem out of control, lack of sleep due to worrying if I’m being a good enough mom, and being short tempered with my husband (thank gosh he understands that it’s usually not him, but me). In running, my lowest points are when I’m hurting all over, and my breath becomes jagged and forced.
In my half marathon, this was mile eight. I was feeling exhausted, my runner’s gel had not kicked in yet, and I was running a stretch on a trail in the woods. There was no color except for the grey of the sky and the trail and the brown of the trees, leaves, and every other vegetation that had decided that it was already winter. To make matters worse, I knew that there was a turn around ahead, but couldn’t see where. I was going to have to run back along this same trail and in the state I was in at mile eight, this sounded dreadful to me. I had reached my point of utmost despair when I was thinking of the excuses that I would make to my husband, friends, and kids if I didn’t finish the race.
Then, I looked up. There was a mom in front of me. She had on a shirt that said “I’m a Mom. What’s your superpower?” This became my mantra for the next mile. I started to pick up my feet and chase after this mama. She was quite a bit taller and had a beautiful gazelle-like stride, but I told myself that if I could just keep her in my sights I’d be doing alright. About nine and a half miles in, she sped away, but I’d found the motivation I needed.
I started cheering for myself the way that I cheer my clients on during Stroller Strides class. I began chanting in my head “You got this Mama! You got this Mama!” over and over until it synced with my breath and my footfalls. By the time I reached mile ten I knew that I would cross the finish line. I had begun smiling at the other runners and cheering them on. I was even passing a few, but kept reminding myself that I was running my own race.
Just as it is in a race, so it is in motherhood. I was struggling at mile eight and close to my own breaking point. I saw folks whose breaking points came throughout that race day. We all have our own tempos along our own journeys. One Mama might be well rested after her child slept through the night and woke up happy, and another Mama could be totally sleep deprived after her little one cried throughout the evening with a double ear infection. It brought home the fact that I need to be there for other moms, not to judge or even offer advice, but just to listen and lift her up - which can’t always be done on the race course. #themotherhoodisreal!
Most importantly, there are parallels of ecstatic happiness! As I rounded the corner of the final tenth of a mile, I could see the end. There were crowds of people gathered on to cheer their runners, and their warmth definitely flooded me as I began to pick up my pace for this last effort. My face hurt because I was smiling so hard as I crossed the finish line, gathered my medal and silver blanket, and called my husband with happy tears in my eyes. The rest of the day I felt like I was floating because I was so proud.
When I see my children excited about their own accomplishments, these same feelings of pride and happiness overwhelm me. The first time that my son wrote “I love Mom!” on his chalkboard, the enthusiasm my daughter has when she realizes she can crawl to her favorite book, and how they both express kindness in their unique ways brings me so much joy! Every time that they succeed, I feel like I’m succeeding as a parent.
Both the half marathon and being a mom have moments of hardship and happiness. Motherhood is harder because it is so much longer and there is more at stake. However, the rewards of motherhood are also many times greater and the best part is that you don’t have to finish the race to receive them. They happen all along the way. You got this, Mama!