My running guru (AKA, my cousin who lives in Dubai and runs marathons around the world) recently told me that running a sub four-hour (or 3:39:59) marathon is as much about the emotional preparation as it is about the physical.
And let's face it: the physical part is easier. I have a training plan in front of me, one that promises—through a series of long runs, speed runs, hill repeats and scale-backs—that I will be a marathoner after about four months.
The reality is there IS no emotional training plan. There is no guide to help me when I am psyching myself out, dreading my runs and running 10-minute miles when I know I can run sub-8. But most of all, there is no guilt combat plan. And my god. The guilt is bad. Each time I walk out the door for my long runs it almost overwhelms me.
At least twice a day I hear from other moms how “lucky” I am that my husband “allows” me to take three hour runs on the weekends (2.5 hours of running plus 30 minutes of warming up, cooling down, stretching and icing).
To be sure, he is not perfect. He mocks me, often complaining, “running is all you talk about”; reminding me that running is not my job (although right now, it kind of is given I am writing about it, too) and that there are faster people than me. But in the end, I know he is proud of me, like this past week when I ran a 5k with him on a 90-degree, high humidity day and ran it in 23:44. It was not my goal time, but it was still faster than most, including him.
But it is hard to know that when I am struggling on my run, trying to perfect negative splits (each mile faster than the last) and alternating between Gu and Hammer Gel, that he is back at home taking care of our toddler and preschooler, playing games I am missing, helping her use the potty and him learn to walk.
I miss so much family time, especially today. I returned from a 10-mile scale-back run (just 90 minutes gone in total with warm-up and cool-down) to find that Alan had tried sausage for the first time and Sam had peed in the potty three times keeping her underwear dry for the third consecutive day. They barely missed me, but still I wonder:
Am I a bad mom for spending so much time engaged in such a selfish activity?
I can deal with the sadness, the anger, the excitement—all the emotions that running brings up—but it is the guilt that is the most crippling, the sense that I am taking something away from my children by insisting on meeting this goal for myself.
In order to combat this, I am surrounding myself with moms who get it, who support me and who cheer me on rather than the ones who tell me that they could “never do it (what I am doing)” whether because their husbands would not take the kids so long or they would feel “too guilty” leaving their children. I know they mean well, but I am not sure they understand how their words feel to a mom whose sense of guilt is already on high alert.
I do appreciate my husband and I know I am lucky that he is such an involved, dedicated father, but I also know that my willingness to engage in something so time consuming and all-encompassing says something about me: I am the kind of mom who wants something outside of my kids. My world does not revolve only around my children’s needs—not a popular playgroup stance.
So I choose to surround myself with the moms (and non-moms) who cheer me on, whose words of encouragement mean more than they probably know. Because while there is no doubt I am doing this for me first and foremost, I am also doing this for my children.
Because I run, they know mommy sets goals and meets them, they know fitness and nutrition are important and most of all, they will know that work and training are important components of meeting their goals.
It’s true they are young, but they are also aware. Sam tells me to “go run” before I leave and often meets me at the door upon my return with my Achilles Step Stretch in hand. “Put this on your foot, Mommy,” she tells me authoritatively, helping guide my tired foot into the rocking stretch enhancer.
They both have spent more than an hour in front of me in the double jogger, patiently waiting for their time to go to the park while I got in a mid-week training run. Sam often stretches with me after my runs and tells me to “do the downward dog mommy, it’s good for your back.”
They know how much work I am putting into it and I am especially pleased when Sam sees a particularly fit person and says, “they run like my mommy” with such pride. And she is proud of me.
It is focusing on how my running benefits them that allows me to leave when my son is reaching for me or my daughter is dancing the Hokey Pokey and it is so cute, I am tempted to stay. Mommy does need a life outside of them—an important lesson, to be sure—but they are always, always at the forefront of my mind and never gone from my heart, even when it is racing 160 BPMs.
When I am really hurting and my legs are screaming to walk, it is the vision of my children’s’ faces at the finish line that encourages me the best.
On race day, I want to see my family’s smiling, proud faces—my husband, my daughter and my son--just after the sign that says 3:39:59.
*[In other news: I was finally able to get a Tata Tamer II bra from Lululemon and I ran a 5k in it. It is easily the best sports bra I have ever tried. It comes in bra sizes, which is very rare for a sports bra (usually they are small, medium and large). This is key because my cup size suggests I need an L, but my back is actually relatively small. I need something that takes both into account, which this bra does.
On top of that, it just looks good. I like the color (hot pink) and the fact that it does not cover my entire chest. I will admit I like a little cleavage. Just because I run does not make me all Little House on the Prairie, after all. So it is nice to be able to have something that gets the job done while also looking hot. After 7 years of running and about 40 sports bras from at least a dozen different labels, I think I have finally found the one that is going to go the distance with me. And I could not be happier.]
Sasha Brown-Worsham is a writer, a mother and an unabashed, unashamed runaholic. Check her progress each week as she trains to qualify for the Boston Marathon.