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What Running a Marathon Has to Do With Motherhood

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I go to bed a little before midnight. By 2:00am, I’m bringing my daughter into bed so she can nurse and I can sleep. At 5:00am, she’s awake again, pinching my face and trying to soothe herself. My alarm goes off at 6:20am. I’m out the door half an hour later, putting 6 more miles on my legs in preparation for the Boston Marathon, which I’ll be running for my first time on April 15th.

Though I come home refreshed and feeling good, after I’ve showered and done the dishes and helped my 3 kids get dressed, I sit down to read stories and have a hard time keeping my eyes open. If I’m able to make it through the story, I’ll get up and walk around, just to get the blood flowing again. If I’m not, and the baby is napping, I’ll tell my boys that I just need to lie down for ten minutes or so. They’re free to read or play until I wake up.

Some days I really feel like I’m dragging. On those days I count how many more weeks until the race. Five more? Four more? Can I handle it? Can I make it? On other days I wonder why I decided to do this now of all times, with 3 kids at home, the baby still nursing. Certainly there could have been a better time to train for a marathon? But then, why not now? Now, when it would be so easy to say I’m too tired, too busy, too consumed in the tasks of caring for those who are so dependent on me? Because now is when I need it the most. It motivates me to take care of myself, to get out there and give myself some time when that is both the hardest thing and, perhaps, the best thing for my family.

I look forward to the marathon as if it will be the end of early mornings and late nights, the end of cat naps on the couch, the end of sore legs and sweaty running clothes. In reality, it will be none of those things. I may take a week off once the marathon is over, but I know there will be more races, more early mornings, more long weekend runs. I know this because I know what running does for me mentally, physically, and emotionally. I know it helps me be a better mom. I also know that there are parts of motherhood that are slow to show results. There are things that I do now that I only hope will pay off for my kids in 18 or 25 or 40 years. It can be frustrating for me to work so hard and to put so much of myself into something that is so important, but so immeasurable.

But when I run, when I train, when I race, I can work toward things that are measurable. I can chart my progress. I can see and feel the small victories and know that I’m improving, that my work is paying off, that I’m getting stronger and fitter and faster. And while those are things that help me to feel like I’m succeeding as a person, those things spill over into my family life as well. My sons have accompanied me on many runs from their seats in our double jogger. For them, running is a part of life, a part of our family. We are active and alive together. They have cheered me on at races and even run a few of their own. They’ve had the chance to push themselves and to feel the sense of accomplishment that comes when crossing any finish line.

All those late nights and early mornings, all the blisters and lost toenails and chafed skin that come from training for any big race are, I feel, motherhood in microcosm. They are evidence that even that small annoyances, when persevered through, can have big payoffs. They are proof that hard work and mindful effort do bring good results. They help me see that I can handle difficult stages in development, and that in handling them, I am made stronger, more capable, more aware, more compassionate.

So while I do look forward to running that marathon next month, it is not because it signals an end, but because it is a milestone, a resting point, a place for evaluation. I’ll move on to the next goal, the next race, the next stage with a little more knowledge, a little more understanding, a little more strength to work with.

And maybe in that stage I’ll get to bed before midnight and sleep the whole night through.

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