finish lineWhen I run, I run for a lot of reasons. To clear my mind, to keep my body healthy, and so I can eat full-fat mayonnaise rather than the crappy fat-free kind. Most of all, though, I run because of my mother.

She was never athletic in her life. Growing up I remember her complaining about her weight, trying various diets, and sitting at our kitchen table smoking with our neighbor, until one day she decided she was done. When she was done she decided to run, and she’s been running ever since. Not fast, not far, but once she made that decision, she took to our neighborhood streets in snow, sleet, and great heat to run no matter what. She’s done so for more than 30 years now.

Growing up I never joined her, not even once. It never occurred to me to do so, nor did I have any desire no matter how much she professed its benefits. I couldn't imagine ever finding it anything less than torturous. "One day you may change your mind," she told me. And one day -- many, many years after she first started -- I did. It was after I got married and was ready to have children of my own, but slowly I began to see why she runs.

Running has changed my life in countless ways. It’s the clarity I need when life gets foggy; it’s the quiet time I need when life feels too hectic to find time to do it. More than anything, the sense of accomplishment I feel after completing a long run, of pushing myself to do something I don't think possible and doing it, is one of the greatest feelings I can name.  

BUT I don’t always want to do it. There are many, many times I want to stop and walk, or bail on a race, or sleep in, and I almost do ... then I think of my mom, and I keep going.

She hasn’t had what I’d call an easy life. She works harder than anyone I know, and has worked tirelessly to help support my three siblings and me over the years. My father’s health has been stressful at best, and I know the pressures on her over the years have been plentiful. But with a powerful faith and a positive outlook on life that’s nothing short of passionate, she keeps going, and she keeps running.

She’s shown me that just putting one foot in front of the other isn’t always enough; sometimes you have to give more. While we could all walk the journey, sometimes kicking life into high gear and pushing ourselves and the limits of what we think we can do is so much more rewarding. We can tell our kids things like this, but it’s showing them that’s a true gift, and I'm eternally grateful that my mother gave -- and continues to give -- it to me.

This coming weekend I’m flying halfway across the country to run a half marathon with her. She ran her first last year at the age of 63, and this will be her second. Due to various circumstances, I don’t feel well-trained for it, and while I had every intention of trying to beat my personal record, I likely have no shot of that now. But I’ll go, and I’ll run, and when my legs ache, and every ounce of my being is telling me to stop, I know I won’t. Because I will think of my mom, and knowing that she is doing it, I will too.

What’s the best gift your mother has given you?


Image via jayneandd/Flickr