There are moments when I’m acutely reminded why it’s so unusual for nursing mothers of three small children to attempt to become elite amateur athletes. Is it just me, or is the time of life when we are parents of small children a time when we actually have every excuse in the book for throwing our hands up and surrendering the fight? To quit the hobbies that make us ourselves. To quit worrying about our physical health. Definitely to quit worrying about how we look…just let go and slide that goldfish-and-peanut-butter-fed body toward the super-charged magnet of elastic-waisted mom-jeans with child-rearing abandon.
No! I will not wave the white flag of surrender! There are certain things I insist on doing or refuse to do in defiance of the mom-jean magnetic force! While I admit it would be way more practical, I refuse to drive a minivan. I listen to NPR in my non-minivan; my children are are more familiar with Diane Rehm than Raffi.
My biggest act of rebellion: I won’t give up my running dreams. But being ironic comes at a price.
In running circles or mother circles, I often feel like a fish out of water. In the first group I feel old and stressed out. My friends with no kids don’t want to wake up at 5:30 to cram in a run before a busy weekend; weekends are their time to sleep in and relax, like mine were before kids. They head out to brunch after morning runs or dinner after evening runs. Meanwhile, I book it home to stop the sitter’s meter from ticking or relieve my husband before he blows a gasket or to feed the baby before my you-know-whats explode.
With other moms I am the sweaty one, my sweat-wicking spandex sticking out among the chinos. Instead of using preschool as a time to shop or get my hair done I run as much as I can with as few kids as I can; that’s my “me-time.” While they talk about their contractors and choices of counter tops I’m thinking about how many miles I still have left on that one pair of shoes and when-oh-when am I going to get that tempo done.
Sure, I’m oversimplifying a lot. I love my carefree younger running friends and I know they love me even as I dash off after our runs. And I love my non-running mom friends and I know they love me despite my perceived addiction. I realize much of my outcast feelings are solely in my head. And I do know that in both groups I have more in common than I don’t. Heck, I love post-run brunch and I could totally get into counter-tops (once I’m not worried about them getting destroyed by crayons). I know this, but it’s rare that the worlds collide and I find that friend, that one other woman who is as intense about both running and mothering as I am.
Often I am reminded why it’s so unusual for mothers of small children to attempt to be elite amateur athletes. Although the body-aches (from schlepping small people around all day) and sleep deprivation are no joke, the real reason attempting to train at a high level when you have small children is so difficult is the loneliness. Unless you’re one of the lucky ones who has a bad ass running mom or dad living in your neighborhood or have a running buddy who doesn’t mind running when most people are sleeping, you’re probably running alone much of the time like me. And when you do make a date, you have to bolt as soon as your watch beeps that you logged sufficient mileage. Babysitters aren’t cheap.
It gets me down sometimes, it really does. But when I do meet another competitive running mother there’s instant connection! It’s like we’re long lost sisters. Unfortunately for me, I tend to lose my best running mom friends to other states thousands of miles away (Alaska? Really?!). It’s happened to me so many times now I think it might be me. If they don’t move across the country (or continent) they live fifty miles away on the opposite end of greater Cleveland, so training together is simply impractical.
I was spoiled for the last three weeks when I met the holy grail of running friends: just the right speed; just the right competitiveness; just the right willingness to meet me crazy early on the weekends and one hell of a mom. But it was just a summer fling, as she returned home to another state after visiting her parents here. But man, those were a great three weeks!
And now I’m on my own again. Even though it’s an often lonely road…it’s worth it.