I laced up my shoes and went for a run at 5:30 a.m. this morning. I started thinking about National Running Day, which falls annually on the first Wednesday in June. Five years ago, I wouldn’t have thought about National Running Day, since almost every day was a running day, so I didn’t feel particularly compelled to dedicate a specific day to it. Five years ago, I also would not have woken up before 6 a.m. regularly to run.
Becoming parent has changed all that. On my run today, I started to think about the qualities that running and parenting have in common, and my list boiled down to this: In parenting, and running, you are capable of so much more than you think you can do.
I watched my first marathon in 2002, when I was working as a PR assistant in New York City. Part of my job included escorting elite runners from the finish line of the New York City Marathon in Central Park, to the media center a few blocks away at the New York Athletic Club.
When I walked into the elite women’s tent to retrieve my athlete, it was quiet. It was actually an incredibly peaceful atmosphere, grace and strength seemed to fill the air more than the essences of sweat and spilled Gatorade. I was reverent.
I ran my first marathon the next year.
In the 12 years since then, I have felt that same reverence at times, in particular during my most challenging moments as a parent. Like running, parenting can sometimes seem to wipe out all of your energy, but you just keep going. As a parent I have found you run on grace and strength, not just sleep and coffee (sorry, Dunkin' Donuts).
And like running, parenting's ebbs and flows will surprise you, sometime pleasantly – and sometimes not so much.
If you are feeling your most down and out, I can almost guarantee that a run will lift your spirits. I can also guarantee that if you feel like you are the queen of the world and can do no wrong, a run will help re-set your humility.
So will parenting.
The balance is in living in the moment, taking it all in stride, and not getting too far ahead of yourself. Many runners adopt the simple phrase “One foot in front of the other” as they plod along training for a race. That phrase comes in handy around 3 p.m. some days, when I feel I have run out of ideas for entertaining, educating, and feeding a small child.
Five years ago, a long run would have included meeting friends at a reasonable hour on a Saturday morning, running for two or so hours, then enjoying a leisurely late breakfast. Last year, when I was training for a marathon, a long run would entail waking up at 5 a.m., preparing a bottle for my son to leave with my still sleeping husband, heading out for two or so hours, and making it back in time for breakfast with my boys. Not that one or the other is better, just different.
Running this morning, without stroller, without an immediate schedule to keep or errands to run reminded me of runs before parenting, but I did not feel overly nostalgic. Instead I felt grateful for the opportunity to reflect on the fact that the strength that extends beyond my intellectual grasp as a parent and a runner is the perfect reason to celebrate today, and every day.