My mom makes me a better runner

Posted May 3

This started off as a column listing all the reasons running has made me a better mom. Rummaging through old post-race photos looking for inspiration, I realized my own mom took almost every single picture. Out of 43 marathons, my mom has been at over 30 of them. Rain, heat, wind, her camera always ready, sometimes catching all the good and a lot of the bad.

That’s when it hit me. Running may have made me a better mother, but my mom made me a better runner.

Growing up I was always the smartest, funniest and prettiest girl in school.

In college I was the one to watch. The girl who would change the world of education and force others to take notice.

As a new teacher, I was the woman who would turn students’ lives around and instill a lifelong love of Shakespeare and the arts. All, of course, according to my mom.

Do I need to say out loud my mom is my biggest cheerleader? I can do anything, be anybody because I’m her daughter. It’s no surprise when I took up running I was a master of that, too, according to my mom.

I qualified for my first Boston Marathon at my first ever marathon, Salt Lake 2008. I squeaked by with only 55 seconds to spare, but judging by the sheer force of my mom’s cheers, you would have thought I won the whole thing. But that was nothing compared to actually running my first Boston in 2010. Paparazzi could take notes. She hadn’t taken that many pictures of me since I was a newborn.

Whether I win a race or drag my sorry broken body across the finish line, in my mom’s eyes I’m elite status material. I’m made of the finest stuff.

Sometimes I have to gently remind her that winning a race with only 150 participants isn’t exactly going to allow me to retire early. I’m certain that was disappointment that I saw cross her face when she didn’t see my face on the Wheaties box the next week. It’s confusing to her why I haven’t been interviewed by Sports Illustrated, but she’s convinced it’s just a matter of time before they come to their senses.

There was a time when this might have embarrassed me. But what’s not cool about having someone think you are the greatest thing since GPS? I’m not afraid to admit how excited I was coming home from the Berlin Marathon to see my mom waiting at baggage claim with a champion’s welcome. I loved the posters and balloons. I would have put on a show of humiliation had there been T-shirts with my face on them, but secretly my heart would have skipped with joy.

My mom’s more than a cheerleader. She has taught me lessons that have made me a better runner than any coach could have. Through her own life choices, she has taught me to value education and strive for independence. She taught me to set my own alarm clock, prioritize my homework and jobs, and go after what I want. When I needed my favorite jeans washed for school the next day, she showed me how to work the washer and dryer, not only teaching me how to do laundry, but also teaching me that moms have lives too, separate from their children and crucial to their well-being. She taught me that hard work isn’t punishment. There is pride in a job well done, even and especially when it’s tough work.

She taught me that making me play outside while she curled up with a book does not make you a neglectful parent; it makes you sane. She taught me that my battles were mine to fight, and while I always knew she’d help me when I needed her, I came to know my own strength and found my own voice. I believed I made my mom’s world brighter, but I knew I wasn’t the world and it didn’t revolve around me, either.

My mom taught me how to be a strong woman because she is a strong woman. Had I not believed it, I never, ever would have tackled 26.2 miles. That takes serious mom guts.

My mom taught me that life isn’t always fair or fun. In fact, sometimes life downright stinks through no fault of our own, but whining does nothing but give you a headache, puffy eyes and splotchy face. Better just to get up and get on with it. It’s a lesson I remember just before I venture down the downward spiral at mile 15 of any marathon. Wallowing in despair won’t make the finish come any faster.

My mom taught me not to avoid the hills, but to charge upward, full force. Avoidance never built strength. So when I woke up to run a 20-miler on a dark Saturday morning with 40 mph wind gusts, I didn’t hide under the covers. I put on my tough woman pants and my Prince playlist and shook my fists at said wind. I finished exhausted, wind-blown but tougher for it.

When my husband and I flew home from Boston the day after the Boston Marathon bombings, it was my mom waiting for us at the bottom of the escalator at baggage claim. My own two daughters by her side, I ran to them, not caring about the stares from the people around us. I hugged them hard. I hugged my mom and my kids hugged me. A delicious mom sandwich. At that moment, Boston Strong came out in a flood of tears and it was good.

So, to my mom, I say thank you. Thank you for teaching me how to set lofty goals and high standards. Thank you for giving me the courage to try and the resilience to come back when I fail. Thank you for instilling in me a quiet confidence, never obnoxious cockiness.

Want to be a better runner? Find yourself a coach mom.

Kim Cowart is a wife, mother, 24-Hour Fitness instructor and marathoner.


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