Connections Between Running and Mothering

I went for a run between rain showers on Saturday and as is normal for me, my “monkey mind” calmed and my thoughts soon matched my breathing.  Usually I think about my novel and bits and pieces of plot that need reworking.  But on Saturday I thought about Mother’s Day and where I was last year as a mother.  (You can read about it here if you like.) And somewhere along the path it occurred to me that running is quite a bit like mothering, or at least the act of becoming a mother.

Running requires ignoring the painful bits.  Everybody I know who runs sports the marks of being a runner:  extra short, misshapen, or missing toenails, scars from falls, aching joints.  Perhaps the marks ebb and fade or perhaps only act up when the weather changes, but they are there.  A forever reminder that to become a runner is to endure.  And mother’s bodies are just the same.  Stretch marks, aching joints, surgical scars…enduring marks of the act of becoming a mother.

Running is about sharing.  Unless you are solely a trail runner, you run in a world peopled with other runners, bikers, walkers, dogs, small children, and cars.  So you have to be willing to share the road, even when it means taking the bar-ditch or the gutter.  The fact is, in order to share you have to be willing to do so and you have to be observant of other folks and their needs as well.  The same is true with mothering.  When Littlest was born and was being whisked away to have his umbilical cord stump sutured, I grabbed Mister Soandso’s shirt hard enough to leave marks and hissed, “You don’t let my baby out of your sight!”  The fact is, the 40 weeks of thinking of that little person as “mine” is a difficult transition for this mama to make.  But eventually I managed to see my husband needed to have his own time and experiences with “my” babies and got out of his way (at least a bit).

Running is all about finding your groove. I am a better runner to music because it helps me settle into my groove a whole lot faster.  And for me, that is the groove of “In, two, three, four, Out, two, three, four…”  My groove is that place where the limitations of both my mind and body disappear and instead of thinking about the effort of running, I think about the things that lie in my subconscious.  Early in the process of becoming a mother, I had to find my groove.  And after I stopped worrying about how to mother that wee babe and just mothered him, I began to find my way…to a place where I worried less and enjoyed him more.

Running is less about what you are and more about what you do.  The fact is, a runner is someone who runs. Some people run fast and some people run slow.  (I’m just ahead of the turtles.)  But they are running.  They aren’t runners because they have lean muscles or special shoes or nifty running gear.  They are runners because they lace up their shoes and head out for a run.  Same goes with being a mother.  You are a mother if there is somebody in your life you are nurturing into a better person.  There are folks out there that are technically mothers but don’t do the important part of mothering:  loving and nurturing someone else.  And there are technically folks who aren’t “mothers” in the stretch-marky, morning-sickness definition of mother who love and nurture very, very well.  (The women depicted in “The Nanny Diaries” come to mind, for example.)  Even more important, becoming a mother is more than just giving birth to a baby, it is walking the floor with a screaming infant for weeks on end, comforting a sick child, juggling schedules so every kiddo can do an activity.  Mothering is all about the doing.

Running is all about the goal.  I’m currently training for a relay race in August (Hood to Coast 2011).  This makes my fourth race that I’ve trained for and I have high hopes for not only a strong training season but a good race.  The great thing about running with a goal in mind is it makes the running more fun.  And goal doesn’t need to be a race – the goal can be just to be outside in the sunshine!  In fact, every training run I log has goals in it…goals like “run to the corner without puking my guts out” or “sprint the last 500 meters”.  These kinds of goals help keep a runner focused and excited.  As a mother, going through the process of becoming a mother, it was all about the goal of holding my baby in my arms!  That first time you hold your baby is the same regardless of whether it took labor pains or a visa application to make it happen – it is the actualization of a goal, long in the making.

Running is a great way to get in touch with yourself and your surroundings.  When I run I am very aware of the surface I’m running on, the smells in the air, the sounds of the birds.  And I’m aware of my own body’s magic as it moves faster than usual.  It’s like running makes my eyesight more clear, my hearing more acute, my skin more alive.  Being a mother is like that as well because you have a chance to see the world anew through your child.  Some kids love bugs so those moms learn lots about bugs.  Other kids like make-believe and dressing up.  And still others love kicking a soccer ball about a field.  Mothering a child means paying attention to where you are in order to explain it to somebody else.

Running is a journey over uneven terrain.  I have run inside on a treadmill and outdoors.  I have to admit to being a “fair weather” runner if possible as I hate being too cold or too hot.  But the treadmill gets old pretty fast.  So when I can, I run outside. The benefit to running outside is a progressive path from point A to point B and the added training benefits of hills and plateaus.  Mothering is like this as well.  You end in a different place as a mother, because you are made different just for having mothered.  And the process is not all up-hill-hard, nor is it all down-hill-easy.  It is a combination of challenges, successes, and times of coasting until the next hurdle.

Running can be done anywhere and with little equipment.  I love that aside from a good pair of running shoes every 6 months or so, you don’t need much gear to run.  Mostly you just need a desire to get up and do it.  Same is true for mothering.  You can have every bell and whistle produced or just a willing and able body.  The truth is, more mothering happens in the quiet moments between just you and your child than during any planned event.  Just you and your little person, being together.

Running makes you a part of a bigger community.  As I was running back I crossed paths with two runners.  They were older men, probably in their late 50s or early 60s.  They had just come up a hill and were huffing and puffing a bit, so I ended up passing them.  One gasped out, “You go girl!”  Runners, bikers, CrossFitters, et cetera tend to emotionally connect with other runners, bikers, etc because we know the effort it takes to just keep going.  We are connected via the physical pain of exertion.  Being a mother is pretty much the same.  Nothing like chatting with another mom about the shared experience of earaches, potty training, what have you.  It is a great reminder of our connectedness in a time when it seems so easy to be disconnected.

Running makes you stronger.  My first race was a 5k in Minneapolis.  I ran it in a decent time (no clue now what my time was) but I was most proud of the fact that six months before I had been using a wheelchair and crutches.  That race reminded me that my body is strong – often stronger than I give it credit for.  But running makes all of me stronger and not just my quads and heart.  By pushing myself physically, I find out how strong I am emotionally as well.  Mothering my kids has forced me to be much stronger, especially emotionally, than I thought it would.  There is something about watching your child struggle that forces you to find an emotional strength you might not have known was in there.  I’ve had sick kids and I’ve had sad kids and both are tough.  Thank goodness I haven’t had really sick or really sad kids.  But the truth is, mothering makes you stronger than pretty much anything else.

Today I’ll be lacing up my running shoes and while I’m running I’ll be thinking about all kinds of things.  But I know that at least once during my run I’ll ponder just how I’m doing “being the best mom I can be” while being the best runner I can be.  No doubt I will have some days that are better than others.  The trick is to just keep trying to improve…one run and one mothering moment at a time.

7 thoughts on “Connections Between Running and Mothering

  1. And you can do it in the rain – mild rain, not when it’s hammering down. I’m not mad.
    Good time for thinking and reflection – especially round where I live – forest, lanes, birdsong.
    And I’ll be back doing it as soon as my ankle is OK. (NB – Did not injure it running. Football – soccer – is to blame.)

  2. Wow, That was a big one, huh?! I don’t mean long, I mean Big. Lot’s of stuff to think about there. Every one of your Running paragraphs has at least one really fine point of observation and communication. And it’s fun, and kinda profound several places, and, and – GOOD ON YA!!

  3. this, is just powerful. As a runner and a mother, I thank you! (and also, congratulations and good luck!)

  4. You have such a gift my friend. Your parallels between motherhood and running were smack on. As I haven’t ever been a runner but would like to be, I think you’ve given me inspiration to try anyway. After all, I didn’t have any experience being a Mom, but I think I did pretty well.
    Much love to you always and God speed for the Hood to Coast!!

  5. I absolutely agree that it works for fathers, too, and you’ve pulled out more parallels than I would have thought of. Thanks for this. Feeling like I should lace up.

  6. I love running. Nothing calms the soul… and sorts out life better than running for an hour or so. I always try and run by water. I use to run on Lake Michigan and now I try to run around a big Park (which borders the Pacific Ocean).

  7. Love this one in particular, Kristina. I looked up the relay details and I will certainly be thinking of you on those days. It looks like an epic! I am running in the Juneau Cancer Relay June 10-11 which has a team running for 24 hours by turns. Hope we have at least 12 people. Our team is running for my friend Bethany who died of ovarian cancer at age 50 on April 17. I am going down to Juneau for the service this weekend. And I love thinking of her as a mom, too, as she and her husband adopted a Chinese girl, Susu, who I have gotten to know through helping out with care during Bethany’s hospice period and I am in love with her. I am so happy that in your writing you recognize motherhood as beyond birthing a child. A friend gave me potted flowers for Mother’s Day in honor of the children I have helped raise through being a public school teacher. I cried, of course. Just watched a movie called “Then She Found Me” by Helen Hunt that illustrates another sort of poignancy about motherhood and made me spill some tears over Bethany. Today I will run 35-45 minutes. So glad we did our run together in Portland those years ago!

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