A few nights ago, my husband and I went to his friend’s birthday party. My husband is a long, lanky cyclist and so all his friends are long and lanky with single-digit body fat. Some of them are ultra-marathoners or triathletes. Those kind of people.
We started talking to a man I’d met a few times before. He’s an ultra-marathoner who does trail races. Last time we spoke, I’d told him how I was training for the Pittsburgh half marathon, so he knew I’d been running around the city. “Hey!” he asked me, “Do you run with a red and black water belt?”
I was taken aback–could people see me when I was out there running around the sidewalks?? “Yes,” I told him. “On my longer runs.”
“I wear one for long runs, too,” he said. And just like that, we were two runners having a conversation about running. We talked about how silly we feel wearing the water belts, how people yell out their car windows to make fun of us or call out from bus stops to say lewd things. He told me he wears those five-finger shoes and short-shorts when he runs, so he gets even more comments. “But you know how it is,” he said. “You just tune it all out and get in the zone.”
I felt so legitimate to have been recognized as someone who runs. I realized later it has probably been years since I’ve had an entire conversation with another adult that was not in any way related to my children or my role as a mother.
Most of my work is even directly related to parenting or else my colleagues all have kids and ask about my kids. And when I’m not working…well, I’m with my kids/doing kid-related things. Unless I’m running!
Many of my “pre-kids” friends who don’t yet have children actually address me as “mama” when we see one another. As in, “Hey, mama! How are your kids?” Even if I knew them from playing rugby! So, often I feel like the mommy sector of my identity really takes over both my life and the way others perceive me.
But there I was at a birthday party talking about hydration belts with a lanky ultra-marathoner. I didn’t have the courage to tell him I run 12-minute miles. It didn’t matter! We moved on to discuss Penn State football and pumpkin bread. I don’t think I brought up my kids at all the whole night.
Don’t get me wrong–I definitely love being a mother. My entire vision of myself as an adult included, built upon motherhood. But it’s really nice, every once in a long while, to be seen as a person or a “something else” first, to have someone recognize my other interests and share them with me.
Of course, when I find other mother runners, I feel like we have more in common. I can tell them about timing my long runs so they happen directly after a nursing session or what it’s like to juggle cooking dinner, eating dinner, squeezing in a jog, and tackling bedtime. Other moms understand what it’s like to weigh a shower against eating hot food.
To be honest, I don’t even enjoy running. I actually sort of hate it. I’ve just found it’s the most efficient use of the slivers of time I get to exercise, and so I strap on my ridiculous water belt and step outside my house, away from my family. Where (evidently) the world just sees a woman out for a jog.