When the stress of two toddlers crashed down on me 15 years ago, I joined a local women’s running group, mostly to find women who understood what it was like to negotiate with a four- year-old who refused to nap and a two-year-old who had tantrums down to a science.
Over the years, the friends I met at that running club have become the women I have leaned on during the hardest parts of parenting. On the road, with our eyes fixed on the miles ahead of us, we’ve found a level of honesty and truth that comes from pounding the pavement, mile after mile. And, when you know there’s someone waiting for you at the stop sign at the corner of your street, it’s harder to skip your workouts.
I am a back of the pack runner. I’ve completed seven marathons, but my name has never been announced as a winner of a single race. And yet, I still strap on my shoes and run away from home as much as I can.
Like Mother, Like Daughter
As my daughter headed into elementary school, I started to notice that she ran everywhere she could. Every time I looked out my kitchen window, she’d be whipping around the yard, chasing butterflies or charging at her brother to torment him, with her brown hair flying behind her.
When her kindergarten gym teacher (who is also our high school’s running coach) came to me one day and said, “I think we have a runner on our hands,” my husband and I signed her up for a community track team for kids.
She took off like a shot, literally.
For the last eight years, my daughter has trained on the track like a beast, besting her times, year after year. My husband and I would stand on the sidelines as she gracefully blew by her competition, one by one, sailing across the finish line with her brown ponytail bouncing on her shoulders. At the end of every race, she’d look into the crowd, searching for me and waiting for my response.
My reaction was always the same. With tears in my eyes, I’d clap wildly and give her a thumbs up sign. When she placed second in the district championships for the 400 meter race as a 7th grader, I was pretty sure my heart was going to burst from pride.
My daughter runs as effortlessly as a gazelle. I, on the other hand, run like a turtle mired down in a river of peanut butter. As such, we’ve never connected on the road because I haven’t wanted to slow her down. I’ve never wanted to be the mother who holds her kids back.
Until the quarantine, that is.
When the world came to a grinding halt this past spring, so did my daughter’s 8th grade track season. Her final track season, with the team she’d trained with since kindergarten. When we received the news that her season was a no go, she was devastated. Though she’s painfully shy, she’d come to rely on the interactions with her close-knit teammates. The prospect of having to wait until the fall to potentially train with her new high school team seemed like an eternity.
One morning, a few days after her season was cancelled, I found her sitting on the couch in her running clothes. When I asked her what she was doing, she shrugged and said, “I don’t have anyone to run with and I don’t feel like running alone.”
I’ve never grabbed my running shoes faster.
That day, we went out for our first run together. I apologized more than once for slowing her down and she apologized for charging full steam ahead. But soon we found our cadence.
We talked nonstop. As our eyes were fixated on the road ahead of us, she told me about her fears related to the quarantine. And I talked to her about mine. We talked about the shows we wanted to binge together during our time at home and we discussed the favorite meals she was hoping I’d make soon.
We’d found our running language and we were no longer parallel runners in the same house. She’s become one of my favorite training partners and I have come to relish the time I have with her on the road.
At the end of our runs, I declare a sprint competition, usually to the stop sign at the end of our street. As I chase after her, watching her brown ponytail swinging on her back, I realize that this won’t be the last time I’ll have to watch her sprint off to chase her dreams. Her college years are coming, after all. And I’ll be waiting on the sidelines to see her race for the finish.