When my daughter was four weeks old, my husband did something unthinkable: he took part in a 10K obstacle race.
I had been coping well as a mum of two up until that point: juggling night wakings from the newborn with early starts from the toddler; cries for milk with demands for porridge; shaking rattles while making Play-Doh dinosaurs; soothing colicky screams while hurling fish fingers into the oven. I actually felt pleased with myself – I was keeping two small people alive! I rocked.
But seeing my husband pin on a race number and head out the door to a start line? Well, that just about tipped me over the edge.
You see, he’s not even a regular runner. Running is mine. And while seeing him taking part in the odd fundraising race is not beyond the realm of possibility (he was an event manager for a charity), did it have to be right then? Right when I had a baby welded to my boob 24/7, the energy reserves of a narcoleptic sloth and a pelvic floor so battered it could not entirely be trusted? I wasn’t in a state to even contemplate running, yet there he was racing along trails, splashing through rivers and climbing cargo nets. Damn him.
He returned with a medal and mud-splattered legs. He had the good grace to try to mask his elation, but let’s face it, who can ever truly disguise a runner’s high? It radiates.
Jealous? I wanted to suction his brain out of his ear with my breast pump.
That evening, I felt sorry for myself. I’ll admit I even had a little cry (let’s blame the hormones). This reminder of the old me – the ‘running’ me – was like a slap round the face.
I missed running.
A hug and a pep talk from my husband picked me back up again and I formed a plan. I would run again. Soon.
I even started chatting about it with my son. It was my way of reminding myself I was more than just ‘Mummy’. Unfortunately, our chats often went like this:
Me [on seeing a runner while walking to the park]: “Mummy does that.”
Him: “No. I run. Daddy runs. Mummy walks.”
And off he would trot.
Excuse me? Was I getting heckled by a two-year-old?
My son knew I ran, didn’t he? And then it hit me: he knew nothing of ‘Mummy the Runner’. He didn’t know about the training and trail races; about the marathons and early morning runs before the world had woken up. He didn’t know, because he either hadn’t seen them or was too young to recall them.
Toddlers are harsh critics. They say what they see. To my son, I was a walker. A plodder. A buggy-pusher.
But no more.
Two weeks later, I pulled on my (slightly too tight) running gear, laced my trainers and set off on an ever-so-gentle run/walk. It didn’t last long. But wow, the emotions it unleashed. It felt freeing and exciting and uplifting. It felt exhausting and frustrating and upsetting. I rejoiced in doing something I loved. I mourned the fitness I had lost.
But I was running.
As I rounded the corner towards home, I saw my husband standing in our driveway with the toddler in his arms, waiting for me. The look on my little boy’s face as he saw me was one of pure astonishment… turning quickly to excitement.
“Look!” he exclaimed. “Mummy’s running! KEEP RUNNING MUMMY!”
And I have.
I’ll be honest: running is often sporadic. It is squeezed in-between teatime and bedtime, once my husband gets in from work; it is slotted into the weekend around day trips and activities; it is sandwiched between pre-school drop-off and pick-up, with my daughter in the running buggy. When noses are snotty and temperatures are high, it is often abandoned all together. But despite its irregular nature, I am getting fitter. And importantly, my son is no longer amazed at its occurrence. He has seen me cross the finish line of two 10K races. He is one of my most enthusiastic supporters. He knows that Mummy runs.