I never enjoyed running. While others relished in the scents of track surface and freshly-cut grass, I always resorted to disappearing in my head, making plans for when practice ended (aka freedom). I can still see my track coach’s amusement for my many creative excuses to get out of running, recognizing someone who was clearly running out of obligation. I remember the day he pointed that out to me, stopping me dead in my tracks at the realization that I wasn’t as sly as I had hoped.
I was always the two-mile runner, and when I got the sudden burst of steam at the end and finished in a powerful climax, everyone told me that meant I had so much more to give. I just wasn’t interested. You see, I never wanted to run track as much as I wanted to gain the approval of my mother. My mother, the running legend. The woman who, without ever having trained a day in her life, stuffing her thin frame with chocolate bars, Snyder’s potato chips, and Pepsi, could just go out and run a 17:00 5K race, a 4:54-mile, and various other record-setting times and distances. Still, I trudged along in track for two years in high school, bearing every last bit of those running days. I can still remember the days in practice when my mom would run beside me, passing and eventually lapping me. No matter how hard she tried, it just wasn’t taking. I didn’t get the “running” high that she did, nor was I anywhere near as talented. It did make me happy to see her look of pride and hope when she came to my track meets. She was always proud of me whether I did well or not.
I didn’t really start working out on a regular basis until I was 22. My workouts consisted of walking, lunges, squats, steps, dance, and many variations of the crunch. Occasionally, I would throw a brisk run in, and I have to admit, even then, it felt great. For a few moments, at least. Then I would wear down, and shake it off as “I’m just not a runner. I’d love to be, but I’m just not.”
When I turned 30, my mom started talking often about how she started running when she was my age, and how she had gone in “on again, off again” spurts. I told her to get back out there, and she said I should run a race, too. I brushed that off with my usual, “I don’t think that’s going to happen. I’ll stick to walking.” She then came up with the idea of all four daughters running our hometown 4th of July 5K with her, so she could win her first “60 and older” age group award. After having my request to walk the race shot down, I groaned and agreed to run “just this one.” In March, I decided to run the race course to see if I could even run three miles without stopping. With my mom by my side, I almost made it, with about a block of walking. Okay, that wasn’t good, but it wasn’t horrible. To satisfy my burning need to be as well prepared as possible, I decided I needed to practice more. The problem with that was, I wouldn’t go by myself. When I would ask my mom to run with me, just as she had always found ways to avoid training, she came up with every excuse known to woman. At one point, she even said, “I have something to do later. I don’t know what it is, but I do.” HA!
Along came April, and I figured if I was going to do this, I would have to suck it up and do it on my own. I ran once more in April, May, and twice in June. A whopping five trips around the race course over a four-month period. Serious training, right? 😉 Being the ever-so-optimistic soul that I am, I still felt like something was better than nothing. With each run came increasing knee agony, finally reaching the point where I had to wear a knee brace. This helped somewhat, but I always ended up limping afterwards. It was frustrating to say the least, yet I reminded myself that it really meant a lot to my mom that I was doing this. I even told myself “It’s just one race. I can do this.”
Race day came with it’s 90-degree temperatures, and I was all nerves. My sisters and I all talked smack to one another, staking our claims of winning over the others. As I stood bouncing anxiously at the starting line, I looked around at the faces around me. Some were laughing, having a ball, while others were all business, serious-looking poker deals. I reminded myself that I knew this course, and it would be just like any of the other days I had run it, only with a clock. The gun went off, and I went with it. I was ahead of my entire family, and lost them completely within seconds. Being the clueless beginner runner, I realized when I began to run out of steam around the one mile mark, I had started off entirely too fast. Then there she was. My mom, smiling broadly as she passed me and disappeared quickly. I started to walk for a few steps, grabbed a water from the aid station and sipped before picking up my pace again. This was much harder than I remember. How do people do this? Ah…I detest it. After several more walking breaks, I saw the moment I had been waiting for. The finish line. I could hear the small crowd cheering ahead, and saw my mom running back to escort me to the finish. She told me the clock was just ahead, and to sprint the rest. I gritted my teeth and began my sprint. She hollered again “give it all you’ve got,” and I thought to myself, “This IS all I’ve got.” My mom ended up taking first place in her age group and overall in the family. I came in second at 27:52 (not bad for all that walking).
For the next several days, my mom was on Cloud Nine, constantly talking about her running, and I knew another “running craze” had been awakened in her. She was already planning to run another 5K the following weekend, and the day before the race, she called me to tell me she had signed me up, too. What?! And so it began.
This race had some impressive hills, but I felt better this time, finishing in 27:10 and first place in my age group. While I was pleased to have knocked some time off, I still wasn’t on board with her craze. I told her “no more.”
Two weeks later, I drove nearly two hours to support her at her next race, and made it clear to her beforehand that I wasn’t running. In a sweltering 99 degrees, with only a latte for breakfast and an unfavorable pair of shoes to ensure no race would be in my near future, I arrived to find my mom laughing as she held up my race number. Are you kidding me?! I verbalized this very thought, and her face fell, bringing with it those words that brought that obligatory feeling flooding back. “I have the fever again, and it brings me out of my depression. I need someone to go with me. I can’t run without my shadow.” Talk about pressure. It was the hottest day of 2010, and instead of residing on the shaded sidelines with my husband and dad, I would now be running 3.1 miles in the sticky heat with her. It was not at all what I had in mind, but how was I supposed to respond to that manipulation? Shaking my head, I set off for the nearest restroom to pull my hair up and change into my running shoes. My mom and I both managed to land first place in our respective age groups, and I hightailed it to the pool to submerge myself for the next seven hours (seriously).
After going back and forth between annoyance and obligation, I decided my knees could withstand some torture if it ultimately helped her out of her dark period. At least until she got so entrenched it wouldn’t matter if she had a partner. Every time I had a rough moment where I wanted to say “heck with this,” her words came back to haunt me. “I can’t run without my shadow.” We ran six races over a two-month period that summer. She beat me in every one of them, but I did manage to snag several age group trophies and medals, which was a nice perk. Still, I wasn’t quite feeling the thrill that she was, and was only along for the ride.
September arrived and one of my busiest time at work was in full force. My mom informs me she had us booked for three races over the course of three weekends. My initial feelings of support and understanding quickly turned to irritation at the lack of consideration for my overwhelming schedule. This was a time when I really needed my weekends to rejuvenate, and I certainly didn’t want to spend them waking up at 5 a.m. to road race. I voiced this frustration as calmly as I could, and told her no more scheduling races without clearing it with me first. She agreed, the disappointment evident in her voice, and while I felt guilty at first, I quickly reminded myself that I had done a lot with her already. I dreaded the next three weekends, but I wasn’t going to bail on her now. The first race wasn’t so bad, but I didn’t place this time. No big deal. The following weekend came quickly, and I set off on the hour-long drive just as begrudgingly as the prior weekend. As I arrived at the race scene, something about the atmosphere suddenly struck me, as if this time was going to be different. My gut feeling, as always, was correct, as you will see in The Race That Changed Me (aka the day I began to love running).
The third and final race that month was even more memorable that it, too, deserves it’s own shout-out in My Pumpkin, also one of many reasons I fell in love with the sport. The rest is history. In September 2010, a runner was born.
Only two more races followed in the next few months, and my mom started pulling away from her running craze. She blamed her distaste for the cold weather, but I knew it had more to do with the difficult crossroads she was facing in her life at the time. I reminded her of her enthusiasm for running and how happy it makes her, and of course, resorted to my master manipulation skills, all of which ended in defeat. This was concreted with a severe hamstring injury at a local Turkey Trot 5K, shown here in true “injured purple bird” form as she still managed to cheer me on from the sidelines.
And so she began her retreat deep into “off again” mode. Initially, I pushed the issue, but eventually took the high road, respected her wishes, stopped my constant nagging, and realized I was going to be on my own out there. I quickly found that running alone was still running. It didn’t matter if someone was with me – I still loved it. A fire had been ignited within me, and there was no putting it out. My only regret is that I didn’t start sooner.
I have come a long way over the past two years, and am proud to say running has changed my life for the better. I will be sharing many of my adventures and challenges in running, so stay tuned.
My mom was the reason I started to run, and her ability to see a hidden passion in me (along with her stubbornness and manipulation) is what pushed me to stick with it just long enough for me to find my own love and reason for running. From then on, it was all me, and I am beyond proud of all I have accomplished thus far in my journey towards…I don’t know where I’m going, but I’m on my way.