Race planning and mom guilt

When our kids were babies, Mike worked a lot. Beyond the long hours each day, he also traveled out of town for work multiple days each month. With the birth of our eldest I went from 10-hour workdays in a hectic hotel kitchen, to endless hours of solitude punctuated by regular intervals of desperately bouncing and rocking a crying baby. At a certain point I became someone I didn’t recognize: someone who spent the day watching the clock waiting for her husband to return home. Was this 1950 or 2005?

I started running with a jogging stroller as a way to fill time, picking up the sport I had largely abandoned during my working years. Yes, even in those years I still ran a few days each week, but that was more out of vanity than anything else. I didn’t like the way I felt or looked when completely sedentary.

But the baby jogger was a way out of the house. An escape in the days when the walls threatened to close in on me. It was also a way to find a little piece of myself again, when every other part seemed to belong to someone else.

Within a few years Mike was lucky enough to find a business partner who helped him stop the insanity. Who shared the same work-life philosophies and helped create a business that enabled him to get off the road and out of the office. We moved out of the city. The kids grew and started school. And I kept running.

In the years in high school when I fought to get into a good college, then fought through college to achieve anything academically and athletically, I always felt that I was working toward something. A respectable college, a good job, financial security. I never realized this was all achievement for achievement’s sake. That there is never an end until you say there is.

I never went back to a serious full time job. But once both kids spent a majority of the day in school, I needed to justify my time. A reason to exist, something to achieve. For the last few years running has given me this, and more.

At first it was a way to organize my day. Then it was a way to connect with my friends who continued to work. Something to talk about beyond the platitudes about how great it is to be a stay-at-home mom.

But now that it’s gotten more serious, it has circled back around. Now, instead of running to justify my time, I find myself chasing achievement to justify my running. To alleviate the mom guilt I feel for the mental space I dedicate to running and cross training. For traveling to out-of-town races and missing swim meets and soccer tournaments. For sticking Mike with the parenting responsibilities made easier by the presence of two people.

I find myself striving to earn my running. To achieve higher heights to justify its existence. To make it cost as little as possible in both time and money. And as I look ahead to 2017 races, and back at those of 2016, I’m realizing the fallacy in this. That all the victories in the world will not fill that hole. That no amount of free gear, prize money, or recognition will make me an elite runner or bring about the end of the achievement wheel. Or release me from the mom guilt.

Pre-race mom guilt

May 2017 be the year that I release myself.

5 thoughts on “Race planning and mom guilt

  1. Dear Janet, I love the honesty (and humor) in your writing. As a much older teammate and someone who raced very seriously through most of my 40s, I can tell you that what drives me now in my late 50s is not achievement (which, honestly, is less appealing as age inevitably makes PRs or even masters PRs, no longer possible), but the joy in getting outside and running almost every day, the contentment with feeling relatively fit, the fun of competing alongside my teammates and getting to spend time with them. While I do not love races (who loves pain??), I take them as periodic challenges to keep myself accountable (and not eat chocolate non-stop) and give myself reasons to do workouts and work harder regularly and to manage the stress in my day.

    I worried about all that running and its effect on my 3 children as I was a single mom for the last 11 1/2 years (starting when they were 15, 12, and 7), but what I discovered was that what my children got from my running was that it was good to pursue something that made you happy and that if you wanted to do something enough that you would find a way to make it happen. I’ve been so proud to see my daughter continue to dance around college and then work, and to see my other daughter manage to squeeze in a run or dance throughout college, masters degree and work. I see my son learning to balance his school work, his sport and his other passions in college. I think all my children have learned to be resourceful and creative with their time.

    Even as I’ve felt guilt for leaving for races or training, they have never begrudged me as they know I’ve tried to be present for virtually every kid event, meet, dance competition, play, concert, conference. I know from your writing and your schedule that you do the same. Don’t fall victim to the guilt. You are a superlative mother and one whose dedication and creativity I admire greatly. (My children have often heard mention something funny you’ve written and have eaten dinners from your recipes) Your children will never doubt for a moment the immense love you have for them.

    And they will also know that their mother is a person who is dedicated and motivated and who gives her best in everything she does (including mothering) – and yet finds humor and humility in the process. You are a fabulous role model and trust me, they are reaping huge benefits from that.

    You are also a wonderful friend and teammate – and I’m so very grateful that our paths crossed. I hope that you will continue to find joy in your running and challenge in the process to help you grow. Eventually, your times will slow, but I truly hope you will still find satisfaction and happiness in continuing to train and compete and in being part of a team.

    Keep writing, keep baking and cooking and sharing your expertise, and keep running! You enrich us all. <3

    • Oh Kelly. I can’t tell you how much I value your friendship, advice and perspective. Thank you for that. You’re going to make me cry. I really hope we are able to run together for years and years to come. Hugs to you.

      • Now you two are going to make me cry!! Beautiful article, and lovely response from someone who is clearly a valuable friend. Friendships forged through running together are some of the very strongest. And the ability to continue loving to run, whatever the motivation, is worth the pain, and the pain of letting go.

  2. Janet – Love this piece. Love your writing. You are very talented. Setting new goals and wanting to achieve them is a very real and awesome thing – whether or not you always get there! It has kept me from going insane for years now 🙂 Mommy guilt and that of ANY caregiver is what makes the role so challenging and fulfilling – (although is most certainly does not always feel fulfilling right?) Sending Love xo Paisley

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