My daughter wore the best tank top the other day when we went for a jog together. It read: “I don’t really like running. I just really like pizza.” We laughed about how we really only run because we like to eat. My shirt would say that I just really like chocolate. That’s all true. I don’t even claim to be a runner. Just a jogger. It’s semantics, I know. But since there is truly no speed involved when I’m out there, I think it’s important to be truthful about what it is, so as to not claim that I’m doing something I’m not. But jogging just doesn’t sound like the intense workout I actually get when I drag myself back inside, dripping in sweat. So we’ll compromise and call it running, with an honest understanding between us.

My favorite days of running have always been when my children have gone with me. When they were in high school and college, I used to make them talk and tell me stories about what was happening in their lives. You see that gave them a handicap. They had to run and talk and breathe all at once. I just had to run and breathe – which is really asking a lot.  But besides slowing down my talented athletic daughters, it also gave us time to connect.  I heard about relationships, life’s challenges, successes, questions, wonderments, dreams, fears, and everything in between. I am SO grateful for our times together, pounding the pavement with our running shoes, discussing everything possible in life.

Now that they are grown, our running opportunities together are often fewer and farther apart. But when they do happen, I’m the happiest mom around! In between those times, I’m out on the road alone. My husband wishes I would go to the gym with him, which I do occasionally on rainy days, or cold evenings. But mostly I head outside alone, because I just enjoy exercising outdoors. It gives me a chance to think. It’s down-time for my mind. It’s time alone to clear my head, organize my thoughts, and rejuvenate my body. I generally appreciate the opportunity it gives me to allow my mind to wander. Sometimes I plan. Sometimes I think. Sometimes I write a blog. Sometimes I reminisce. It was a long, hot run most recently – a really rough, humid summer day outside. And that’s when the conversations with my daughters came flooding back to my memory. I heard one of them say “Use your arms, Mom.” When I wanted to quit and just walk, I heard the other one say, “You got this. All the way to the next street.” And not in a crazy, I-hear-voices-in-my-head sort of way. Just in an awesome, encouraging I-have-super-supportive-amazing-daughters way.

My son is not so enthusiastic about running.  Which is funny because he is actually quite talented naturally.  I think he is the fastest boy in his 4th grade, and has always been willing to go out on a run with us, until recently.  This might be the year that he figured out that running equates with exercise, which means he will be sweaty, tired, and out of breath.  Yeah, no. He’s out.  He said yes a few weeks ago, trotted out with me, and then seriously wanted to quit about two minutes into the journey.  I did not let him, of course, encouraging him all they way until we got back home.  “You got this!  You’re doing great.  You are the fastest boy at school.  Surely you can jog with your Mom!”  But I’m pretty sure those words fell on deaf ears.  He tuned me out.  There were moments in there when I thought I might never ask him to join me again if I have to endure this much constant whining!  And the walking! I need to walk a bit on every run, don’t get me wrong.  But really?!  I literally told him he agreed to go on a “run” with me, not a “walk,”  He was not impressed.  He told me I’m stronger than him under all the complaining, and he was fine with that.  Even leaving him behind a bit while I jogged ahead a few steps did no good.  I just had to stop and wait for him to drag himself up to me.  So the jury is still out on whether or not he will choose this as our conversation method of choice in the future.  I’m guessing not.  But I will still encourage him.  I know he can do it just fine.  It’s all mind over body for him.  Gotta strengthen that mind.  He doesn’t seem to have inherited my stubborn “just keep going” gene.

I was thinking about how running alone is not actually lonely when I have such great memories of how my girls have influenced me over the years. The other day, as I trudged through the blazing hot, ridiculously difficult run, I remembered them telling me I’m stronger than I think I am. Telling me to keep my chin down, and take longer strides. Add a little bounce from the toes, and slow down my pace whenever necessary. I’m pretty sure I even imagined them dragging me through parts of the run.

I shared a story with one of them recently about how my husband literally gets credit for pulling me through the hardest middle miles of a 39.3 charitable walk, holding my hand, walking a few paces ahead, and refusing to let go. In those moments, he was definitely the reason I did not quit when my mind and body were exhausted beyond description. There were even teams of supporters assigned to various corners every mile to literally cheer on the walkers. They sang, danced, dressed in crazy costumes, played music for us, clapped, and reminded us that we could do it, even when we didn’t think we could. We made it across the finish line together, thanks to a whole lot of support, encouragement, and cheering, much personal stubbornness, and a firm grip of holding hands through it all.

My girls have always been my biggest cheerleaders. Whenever we run a hill, even if we stop to breathe at the bottom before doing our best to climb and tackle that stupid incline, they always cheer as we approach the top. “You got this, Mom! Almost there! YES! We did it!” I hope so much that my children would say I am their biggest cheerleader. They can have plenty of others in their lives, too. I’m not competing for first place. But if there’s one thing I want them to always know, it’s that I believe in them probably more than they believe in themselves. They are stronger than they know. All of them, including my son.  And I am always out here cheering, “You got this! YES! You did it!” I hope they hear my voice in their heads, cheering them on, like I hear theirs in mine. And if they ever need me running through life by their sides, I will be right there, and we will cheer together, “We did it!”

Run on the Beach Running Back to the Starting Line