Mother’s Little Helper

If you asked me to run a mile ten years ago, I would have laughed, and then maybe lapsed into a stress-induced coma. I used to associate running a mile with the physical fitness exams we were forced to endure in junior high — an androgynous gym coach in yellow terry-cloth gym shorts and matching sweatband blowing a whistle in my ear as I slogged the last laps around the track.

In high school, I began swimming, which gave meaning to my fear of the track. As everyone knows, swimmers don’t run. We have webbed feet and strong shoulders. Natural selection made the lungs of swimmers function more like gills, which is why I could swim a few miles without tiring, but flailed and flopped like a dying porpoise after a few yards on land.

Swimming, however, is not the most convenient exercise for a single, working mom. Therefore, when divorce and persistent baby weight began to eat at my ego, I had to find another way to exercise. My boyfriend at the time was a runner so, after months of poking fun at his chafing, cringing at his stories of nipple bleeds, and chastising his need to get up on a Sunday morning for a trail run, I broke down and joined him. I was obviously very desperate.

Those first few runs went as you’d expect. You couldn’t really call what I did out there “running.” It was more as if a variety of body spasms and tics were propelling me forward — like a fish flopping blindly on a deck of a fishing boat. But I persevered. I hated running, but mama didn’t raise no quitter.

It took a couple of years until I really caught the running bug. I eventually invested in a treadmill, which allowed me to run more consistently and thus, build up my endurance.

I fell in love with running at mile four.

Mile one allowed me to regain some of that dignity I lost in junior high, mile two proved I was stronger than that 12-year-old girl, and mile three allowed me to compete with the balding and beer-bellied men at the local 5k Turkey races, but mile four… mile four was when it all clicked.

I was hooked at mile four but still didn’t consider myself a “runner.” I was just a mother who ran to maintain my sanity and to get back into shape. It wasn’t until I signed up for my first half marathon that I began a metamorphosis of sorts. I became fairly obsessed with running during those four months of training. I watched my protein intake and spent nights scouring the internet for articles on training schedules and hydration. The first time I ran more than an hour (after overcoming the overwhelming desire to vomit — I obviously didn’t heed all the advice I had accumulated) I felt like I had graduated from the ranks of weekend-warrior to true roadrunner.

Instead of bowing my head in embarrassment when I pass fellow runners on the trails, I now hold my head up high, give a knowing wink or, if I’m at the peak of my run, sometimes a far-too-enthusiastic thumbs up.

Running, I found, is my “little helper.” It’s given me a real “high” — one that antidepressants could never replicate. It’s given me the knowledge that I really can accomplish anything- no matter how impossible it seems. It’s given me health, fitness, and a better physique than I had in high school (if the war wounds of pregnancy and gravity aren’t taken into consideration, that is). But most importantly, it’s made me a better mother. Because even though my son used to question why I run and, on more than one occasion, threw things at me in protest when I was running on the treadmill, I know that this little bit of “me time” is good for us.

Life is hard, but those killer runs make it seem just a little bit easier. And when I’m on a long run — hitting mile 10 — when the pain becomes insignificant and my gills feel a little more like lungs, the fog of life clears a bit, and I truly am thankful for all that I have.