I ran the 21 kms (about 13.2 miles) marathon recently. Yes. I did it. And I can tell you, it was the most incredible feeling I’ve had in many, many years. Don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to portray myself as this obscure mommy plodding away at home with little to feel accomplished about, and the marathon as having given me that oh-I-can-do-it too feeling that I so lacked in my life.
I am a regular mother who pretty much centers her life around her three children – you know the type – stay-at-home, life is mostly about the house – the usual – dropping the kids, picking them up, only to drop them again, then pick them up, again; getting them to eat right, read right, talk right, play the piano right; clear up their room, do their homework before the owls come out, learn to appreciate what they have, not argue, etc etc – like I said, you know the type..(and you can probably relate to some, if not all of it!)
I am not going to get into why this is how it is (yes, I know taking breaks is healthy and that ‘Leaning In’ is hard but vital). This is the reality and that’s that. I don’t work (if you discount freelance work) and I like to be involved with my kids. There are both upsides and downsides to that.
Anyhow, I was telling you about my running. When I started, I suddenly felt like I had a purpose (for lack of a better word) and pushing myself physically felt very, very good. I trained pretty much by myself. I became extremely focused and loved the high it gave me. This is not what I had expected, because I am not the sporty-sort really. I thought I’d do it to see if I could really run, or how far I could go before I ran out of steam. It was a process, of course, and I am not going bore you about it. What I will say is that I did not give up, and before I knew it, I was running ten kms (a little over six miles) a day. The first time I ran a ten km marathon (without stopping), I felt on top of the world, like I had done something that deserved mention. It meant a lot to me, and I didn’t care what anyone else thought of it. That is when I decided to give the 21K a shot. I started to run every morning and it felt good (the weight I lost and the thighs I toned were a extremely happy byproduct!).
Physical exhilaration apart, one of the main reasons why I loved running so much was because, surprisingly, it didn’t mean that I was out there, unfettered, alone with my thoughts, free to take them to any direction that I wanted. The truth was that I didn’t want to think, period. It was really about reaching a no-thought point. Not sure how I can describe that better, but the fact that I wasn’t thinking while running was refreshing in many ways. I didn’t want my time alone to be contemplative where I started to over think and over analyze everything, because that can happen easily. I wanted to be free, mentally free, with nothing clouding my mind, nothing at all- if you can ever reach that point, it’s extremely liberating, especially when you are the sort who turns things over in your head till they acquire a life of their own. I didn’t expect this to happen, but it did.
I would put on my music and just run. It was me and the music in my head (made a mish-mash playlist of songs, everything from Taylor Swift and One Direction to Micheal Jackson and A-ha!). I cannot begin to describe the feeling. Kids safely in school, me on the track and Shuffle playing my songs. It was simply magical.
At the marathon, when I reached the finish line, I wanted to cry. Not because I ever doubted that I would reach it, but because it simply felt great and overwhelming. So yes, maybe what I said earlier about that whole feeling of accomplishment, maybe that’s true. Maybe that’s why I loved this so much, because I haven’t felt like this in a while. I don’t go to work where someone pats me on the back and tells me that I did a good job. Sure people always say the right things when you tell them you are a SAHM, stuff like “kudos to you, I could never do it”, or, “it’s so much easier to go out and work than to be at home with the kids constantly”. Ya sure, it’s nice to hear but honestly, it does not do much for my self-esteem. For one, (and this could be me) I always detect this, oh-you-don’t-work-so-let-me-make-you-feel-better-about-yourself tone when people say this. I know, what could someone say when they ask you what you do and you say “er, I am at home with the kids”? There’s always this uncomfortable silence which then gets hastily filled with somewhat forced laudatory remarks about the trails of motherhood and all the rest of it. I don’t care for it much. And two, even if it is genuinely said, it somehow does not have any uplifting effect on me. I would rather be applauded for something I did that did not involve being a mother, a wife, a daughter, or someone who has great taste, who keeps a good house, who has a green thumb, whose garden is never without seasonal plants etc etc. No, if I must be applauded, I want it to be for something that had nothing to do with the house and the life I lead around it. I know I keep a good house and am raising three wonderful girls, and I get told that all the time. But maybe right now I am in a place where what I am doing is already a given, and anything that I do over it is the one that brings me that feeling of accomplishment. (Oh Lord, this post has turned out to be exactly what I did not intend it to be about – analyzing my running!!)
The truth is (and I know this is true of many women around me) that mothers don’t do anything much for their own selves, really. I mean something that is exclusively for them – that involves no other family member. I can’t think of anything else that I have done in the past many years where I have pretty much been on my own while doing it. No I haven’t. And it’s not because I could not (well, that too, but that’s for another post) but because I simply did not. When you are in a zone, you tend to stay in that zone, till something pulls you out of it, or something changes – like when your kids start full-day school. That’s when you get the time to notice the world around you a little more. So I could say that I’ve been in this mommy zone, one in which there is little time (or mind space) for anything else (except, of course, if you are my mother who has some magic wand hidden away and refuses to give it to me, or admit to its existence).
Now, with my running, I seem to have opened a small window and looked out into the world, from my little domestic preoccupations. And it’s a refreshing feeling. I don’t want to open a door yet, because I am not ready to let too much come in between me and my home, but I do want to step out once in a while and see what life beyond the house is like. When I first went running (to a nearby stadium) I realized that there were all sorts of people, from fat middle-aged men (and women) to taut, muscular boys and super-fit and equally taut women who were out, having taken out that one hour from their chores and devoting to themselves. I fit right in, because there was no real “type” there. A runner, I realized does not fit into a mould – a runner could be a man who (just like a women) needs a new purpose in his life, or a girl who wants to tone her legs, or a seventy-year old man who has been running since he was thirty and has never stopped. A runner could be the person I meet in a bank, who I would never picture on a track. Runners, I now know, are not always recognizable from their appearances, but that has nothing to do with their abilities. I would meet women who would have woken up at five in the morning and cooked a whole meal just so they could spend those forty-five minutes for themselves. That was inspiring. I find such women – who work at home (I don’t because I am fortunate enough to have a lot of help) and still manage to get away from it all – very inspiring. A man works and he works only, but a woman, she does it all. No, it’s not a statement fraught with feminist tones, it is the truth. A man can focus on his work to the exclusion of everything else, a woman (mostly) does not have that choice. Even is she works, the home is still her domain.
Anyway, back to the marathon, I ran in 2 hours and 31 minutes. It was not great and not bad (for a first timer, they say it’s pretty decent – blush, blush). I loved every moment of being out there. I felt like an athlete (which I am not) and it was extremely uplifting to be there among other runners. The atmosphere was electric and it rubbed off on me instantly.
My husband and kids were waiting 400 meters from the finish line. The last few kms were a bit hard and all I wanted was to see their happy faces. I kept thinking of what my five year old had told me a night before “Mama”, she’d said looking at me with her large, innocent eyes and heartfelt words “if you tell yourself you can, then you can. So just don’t give up”. Her words and their faces where in my mind as I kept going (non-stop). My husband (who is the real athlete in the house) was so proud that he was beaming at me with his charming smile (the one that I fell for when we met) and giving me a high-five in his mind (he’d never do it in public). That night he told me that I had done something incredible. I cannot begin to tell you how great that felt. He’s given me compliments before, but this one, don’t ask me why, felt so good that every ache that I was feeling in my body seemed completely worth it. It was like I had done something remarkable (which it really wasn’t – there were thousands out there). But he had that “my-wife-ran-21kms” look in his eyes, and my daughters shared it in reflection time in school the next day.
Nothing, no other encomium can ever match that. I am runner for life.