As I crested the hill, I could see the finish line looming in the distance. The hot June sun beat down onto the pavement, causing every step to feel like I was running through a desert. I could feel the beads of sweat pouring down my back, and as I neared the finish, I mentally chanted my mantra of “Left, Right, Repeat” as I slowly but surely made my way to the end of my first 5K road race. When I got to the last few yards, I could see my husband and kids cheering, and on that bright summer day, my heart filled with pride because I knew my kids were watching me complete something I’d worked months to accomplish.
I crossed the finish line, panting like a dog, and turned to look for my family. I caught my husband’s eye, and my son yelled, “Great job, Mom! You didn’t win, by the way!” much to the amusement of the other spectators.
Nothing like the honesty of kids to knock you down a peg or two, right?
I came to the sport of running late in life. Sure, I ran on the track team in high school, but my career as a world class Olympic runner was cut short when my teenaged self realized just how much running would be required to get a gold medal. And though I occasionally would take a lap or two around my college campus to work off beer calories, it wasn’t until I became a mother in my late 20s that I realized that my mom hips were going to need more than just running up the stairs if I had any hopes of fitting into my yoga pants long-term.
Fortunately for me, my community has a wonderful program for women that is centered on health and wellness, and the end goal of the 12-week program was to be able to complete a 5K race from start to finish. You know you are in the throes of toddler parenting when the prospect of running 3 miles seems like a better idea than dealing with potty training, sippy cups, and toddler tantrums — just saying.
And that’s precisely how I found myself shivering next to other women who looked just like me on a cold Tuesday evening in blustery March winds. Our instructor took us out for our first workout, and I’m not going to lie: My body jiggled in places I didn’t know existed, and I huffed and puffed like the Big Bad Wolf.
Frankly, it was humiliating, but week after week, I developed a camaraderie with several of the participants and I kept showing up, mostly because the other women used the F-bomb as much I as I did when we struggled through our runs. I felt like I’d found my people.
Over the next 12 weeks, I did the work: I made time to complete the “homework” workouts and called in favors from friends to watch my kids so I could make it to the weekly group workout. I nursed my sore muscles, invested in a primo sports bra (to prevent getting black eyes from “the ladies” bouncing), and I splurged on a good pair of running sneakers. Each week, I huffed a little less, and the jiggling became less embarrassing too. I never did stop using the F-bomb though.
And I finished that graduation race like a fucking badass. I wasn’t first across the finish line, but more importantly, I wasn’t last. But even if I had been the last one to clock a time, I’d still have felt like a winner — because I freaking went out there, and I did it.
For the first time as a mom, I had put myself first. And it was a high I didn’t expect. I was proud of myself for taking charge of my physical and mental health in hopes of being the best mom I could be to the two creatures who demanded so much of me during the day.
No, I didn’t win that race that day, and eight years into my career as a runner, I haven’t won a single race yet. I’ve never stood on a podium with my arm in the air, and I’ve never gotten a medal with “First Place” emblazoned on the face.
But I keep lacing up my shoes anyway. I still love it.
Winning comes in many forms, and as mothers, we need to give credit to ourselves for meeting the challenges that motherhood brings, both on and off the road, with strength and wisdom.
I am a winner because I have friends who will text me and say, “I’m running tomorrow. You’ve had a stressful week. You should join me.”
I am a winner because I’ve completed six marathons, with a seventh on the horizon, and I tell myself the first-place finisher won because he was afraid I’d catch up.
I am a winner because I’ve pounded the pavement in cities across the United States and have had the privilege of seeing the beauty our nation has to offer in places you can only reach by foot.
And I am a winner because when my daughter was upset about her basketball team’s record of 0-12, I was able to say to her that winning isn’t everything and mean it. We talked about what it means to show up for your team or yourself and that sometimes you have to lose in order to really win at what’s important in life.
Mostly, I know that I’m a winner because when I look in the mirror, I see more than being “just” a mom. I see a strong, independent badass who is setting an example for her kids. And I see a woman who doesn’t have to feel guilty about that extra glass of wine or bowl of ice cream, and that’s a prize that worth its weight in gold.