Mother Running: I’ve Lost My Competitive Spirit & I’m (Mostly) OK with That

A few weeks ago, I ran the Frank Lloyd Wright 5K in Oak Park, Illinois. I had planned to post a race recap, but when I sat down to write, I realized I didn’t have much to say. I ran the first mile, walked the second, ran the third through to the finish line. There was a nice post-race expo with some good freebies (I picked up two reusable grocery bags—score!), and I had a long conversation with my running buddy of eight years over coffee and a bagel. I still haven’t looked up my official time, which I think was just under 45 minutes. Maybe it’s also worth mentioning that I had planned to run the 10K, but life got in the way of training.

Compelling stuff, I know.

I used to be able to mine these race experiences—whether it be a 5k or a marathon—for meaning and inspiration. Each mile required a paragraph. Each start line was a metaphor. Every finish line was a chance to set another goal—another journey to plan for and document.

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Scenes from another life. OK fine, some of those medals are my husband’s.

But like so many things, my relationship with running changed after I had my daughter in 2012.

I’ve never been a competitive runner. I came to the sport nine years ago while living in Chicago—a single, professional, mostly-adult woman in my mid-20s. It served a phenomenal purpose in my life as a way to build a foundation in a city where I hadn’t quite found my place. I immersed myself in Chicago’s running community, but I wasn’t (and I’m still not) fast. I’m decidedly back of the pack, running a solid 12-minute-mile pace.

Needless to say, I’m not exactly Boston Marathon material.

Despite that minor flaw in my grand running plans, the competitive aspect of running mattered to me—training for longer distances, achieving new personal records (PR), and pushing myself always with the vain hope that my pace would catch up with my dreams.

But post-baby, I’ve lost my sense of competition—my desire to get better, my will to go farther and faster. This lack of drive might translate as apathy toward my once-beloved sport, but the truth is, I care about running more than I used to, because if I didn’t, I wouldn’t do it at all.

This is what having a child does: It requires you to make choices, sacrifices, and trade-offs, and to understand that even after you’ve pared down your life, you still have to be flexible with your best laid plans.

With a toddler, a husband who works an opposite shift, a full-time job, a few side projects, and some friends and family I’d like to talk to once in awhile, the fact that I can manage a couple of slow runs each week often feels like a miracle.

This understanding of my own capacity to train (or not train) doesn’t come without moments of jealousy when I see other mothers—who have no doubt had to sacrifice in other areas—running long distance races and setting new PRs, their children cheering from the sidelines.

But it isn’t my time. Not right now, which doesn’t mean it won’t be ever again, but motherhood is not only about choosing your priorities, it’s also about acceptance.

So, I’ve accepted where I’m at, and I keep running. I keep running because it’s easy to do in the 30 minutes I have for a workout. I keep running because it’s the best way my long-time running buddy and I can have an uninterrupted, toddler-free conversation. I keep running because it keeps me mentally healthy and gives me a break from the intensity that comes with parenting a young child.

And I keep running because I love running, even if I no longer have a race recap to share.

6 thoughts on “Mother Running: I’ve Lost My Competitive Spirit & I’m (Mostly) OK with That

  1. Prorities. I’ve been thinking about those a lot lately. Oh, I don’t have anything really thoughtful to say about them at the moment, nine of my thoughts have congealed yet, but I am thinking about them.

    I think that it is great that you run. I can’t really — I have a type of asthma that makes it almost impossible to run without actually doing my body more harm than good. I envy it. What I envy more, though, is that you’ve moved beyond the records to a place where you run for the sheer joy and peace that it brings you. I feel like that is an evolution because it isn’t about being different, it’s just about being you. That is a beautiful thing.

    • Hi JoAnne, Thank you for your comment. I totally understand what you mean… it used to be a “thing” and now it just “is.” Or something like that. Anyone can probably take the word “running” out of the post, and insert whatever hobby/passion they’ve had to dial back since having kids. It’s all about balance.

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