I laced up my shoes and paused for a moment in the kitchen. My eyes moved from the front door to the couch, where my 2-year-old was playing with his cars.
This was going to go one of two ways: I'd slip out unnoticed, run for an hour and come home feeling accomplished, energized, ready to parent. Or, my plan would be discovered, the baby would scream like I was dropping him off at day care for the first time, and I'd spend my hour run hearing the echo of his cries in my head -- a sound that no amount of Beyonce in the earbuds can wash away.
Well, thing No. 2 happened. My little dude started wailing as soon as my hand touched the doorknob. "Don't go, Mama!" I recall him saying, though that could be my good friend Guilt trying to twist the knife a little. "I'll be right back, Buddy!" I most definitely said as I shut the door. I remember that as vividly as I remember hearing him holler all the way down four flights of stairs. I don't remember the run at all.
My husband swears my son stopped crying 20 seconds after I left and went happily back to his cars. Which is good and important. But the feeling of inadequacy that I put on myself in that moment, a moment when I was going out to train to run a freaking marathon, hung around for a while.
I signed up to run the New York City Marathon, which is, oh my god, this Sunday. Up until eight months ago, running a marathon was firmly on my "No Way In Hell" list. But I was moved when I read this piece by my boss about being a running mom, right around the same time an invitation went out to our company to run New York in support of the V Foundation for Cancer Research. It's been an intense couple of years of people close to me fighting cancer diagnoses. It was time to get over myself. I pledged to raise $3,000 and I secured my spot.
I can't say I've gone all-out in my training -- I've missed a fair share of mid-range runs; my nutrition has not at all gotten better. And though I feel less guilty about those things than I did about leaving my family behind to go on long training runs, the guilt is there. Because it doesn't feel right to have dedicated this much time and effort to something and not commit 100 percent to every aspect of it. I find myself confronting that feeling a lot, actually, marathon or not.
Taking time for myself has never been easy. I think that's a standard mom switch that gets installed the second you have a kid -- some women are just better at adjusting the dimmer on it. But it seemed selfish -- I don't see my family enough as it is. Taking two or three hours in the middle of a day off to be away from them even more? The marathon made me question my priorities: If I take this time for me, how will I ever be the mom, partner, friend, co-worker I need to be? And if I don't take time for me, how can I be the athlete that I want to be?
In hindsight, those weren't noble questions. Worrying about that stuff just made it easier for me to skip runs and eat like crap, rather than focus on the bigger goal. I was hiding in worry.
As I squeezed in as many lunchtime and early evening workouts as I could during the week, I kept getting tense about leaving so long for those Sunday runs, particularly as the mileage increased. My husband would encourage me, "Just go, we can handle it." Of course they could.
My husband has run marathons all over this land. He understands the hours it takes, and has been tremendously supportive of my efforts. If I wanted to really go out and kick ass, I know he'd have my back on kid-watching duty, just like I had for him. And as much as I'd like to think my kids' worlds fall apart without me, I know that's not the case. So all of this anxiety about not training enough, or missing out on family time when I do go train, was self-inflicted.
Why was I doing this to myself?
Maybe -- probably -- I was looking for an excuse. The marathon is extraordinarily well-attended, its crowds famous for turning out. I, less famously, am a loner when it comes to running. I've discovered I just prefer to fly solo, at my own speed -- not get in anyone's way or have anyone get in mine. So, was I nervous to run in front of people? Yep. Was I nervous -- am I still? -- that I'll fall or somehow won't finish and I'll let down the people who cheered for me and supported my fundraising? Yep. But that stuff's harder to admit. It's much easier to project those nerves onto the canvas of things I was already feeling guilty about as a parent who has a full-time job.
Another reason: It's uncomfortable for me to ask for help, in anything, really, let alone in running, which seems like it should be so natural. (For the record, it's not natural.) But there's no way on Earth I'd be able to pull off training for this marathon without support. One of the biggest things I've learned in this whole training process has been how to ask for -- and accept -- a hand when I need it.
That hit home a couple of months ago. My husband was out of town and I had to get a 10-miler in, so I asked a friend to come watch the kids while I went out. She said yes, enthusiastically, then I made her tell me a million times it was OK before I finally felt like I wasn't intruding too much on her time. I was running down the Hudson River path about an hour later when it clicked: I was out training, and the kids were just fine at home, having a ball with a friend they adored. It was time for me to let others have my back. To let go and run.
I may never feel like I'm giving 100 percent on any front. But who is, by themselves? Letting go of the guilt I felt over not being able to handle all my business myself helped me see there were people in my corner who were actually eager to help me out. Seems natural, right?
Some time after that earlier, therapy-inducing moment with my son, another long-run Sunday came along. But this time, I wasn't filling the air with a bunch of nervous energy. I laced up, gave him a kiss on the cheek and I smiled.
"Be right back, Buddy."
I let go, and I ran.
I don't know how the marathon will go on Sunday. I'm not aiming to finish in a certain time; I'm aiming to finish. I'm also aiming to raise a bunch of money for a good cause. I'll run in front of God and everybody. I'll stop and walk, likely a lot, and I imagine I'll be moderately embarrassed about that. And then somewhere along the way, I'll see my family, my brilliant daughter and my smiley son and my super-supportive husband, and they'll see me running the ugly run and they'll cheer me on anyway. Just like the crowd around them. And I'll try my hardest to stop being embarrassed and start being grateful. The support will mean everything.