The more the merrier.
True of potlucks (because you get more food), true of brothers (not once have I been asked to mow the lawn), true of apples (because then you know it’s fall) and definitely true of runners (even if it means you get stepped on half a dozen times in the first mile of a race.
This past weekend over 10,000 runners took to the streets in Hartford, Connecticut. As the race began, runners formed a moving, breathing, sometimes screaming ribbon of color throughout the capitol city and adjacent towns. That first mile of pure joy, cheering and brilliant colors (before the fact that you have 12 or 25 more to go sets in) is one of my favorite things in the whole world.
The 10 or so minutes before that, however, are some of my least favorite.
I’m always stressed, wondering why in the world I signed up to run for multiple hours before it hits noon on a Saturday. Even with just minutes to go before the gun, I can usually be found bouncing up and down in the port-o-potty line trying to negotiate my way to the front so I don’t miss race start.
But this year, my fourth time lining up in front of the capitol building (and 10th time for a distance road race), felt different. I wasn’t stressed, it wasn’t pouring rain, I wasn’t planning on running 26.2 miles and my neon-pink spandex shorts were back in Maryland. This year I visited the port-o-potties early. I was beyond excited and bouncing up and down behind the starting line 10 minutes before start. This year I wasn’t running the race for me, I was running it for and with my mom.
Three years ago, before I turned 20 and before my mom turned (well I’ll let you guess that one) we decided to run a marathon together. I say we, but the reality was a little bit more like I decided and as a birthday gift I wanted to buy her race entry. She may never have been all in it, but she did try. She trained throughout the summer, logging dozens of miles and keeping me posted on her progress.
But injuries happen and then life happens and then somewhere along the way the determination or desire to even do the thing you were interested in goes away.
So somehow in the span of two and a half years since we originally planned on running a race together, despite both having run numerous and signed up for three of the same, my mother and I had yet to run a race together.
And wasn’t that what it was supposed to be about anyway? Running together, not just running it?
This wouldn’t be my first half or full marathon. I didn’t need to (and I wasn’t going to) break any records, or beat my best time. This didn’t need to be a race (and trust me I know I’m literally talking about running a race).
So, with the goal of simply running together, I slowly started bringing up the topic of running a race again with my mom. It took a lot of convincing. I promised that it would be in the fall (to avoid the heat), that we would only run the half (to avoid training injuries) and that Hartford was actually a beautiful place to run (which it truly is).
I made her a training plan for her birthday in July, bought my race bib in August and (eventually) my mom bought hers (I think sometime in late September). And on Saturday, for the first time, we both made it to the starting line.
We started the race side by side (me smiling, mom stressing and my brother behind us). The first mile was the usual beautiful, hectic joy I love. In mile 2 and 3, when we were going too fast and dodging other runners we were both happy and chatting. In mile 4 we lost my brother at a water station (sorry Nick). In mile 5, where I am typically most miserable (post way too fast start and pre far too many miles) we were both smiling.
Mile 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 are all a blur. We had a rhythm, we were telling jokes, the clouds were keeping us cool and I was realizing just how wonderful it was to not have double digits still to go.
When we reached the mile 10 marker I could have leaped in the air. I felt like I was floating and that I could run twice as fast and not even feel winded (aka runner’s high). My mom, however, felt a little differently. If I could put the sound she made in to writing I would, but honestly “uhhhhh” truly doesn’t cover it. Imagine making that sound going up hill, with minimal oxygen and maximum throat scoffing. In terms of description, that’s about the best I can do.
In that moment, I was transported back to the dozens of cross country races, track meets and marathons my mom has diligently stood at the side of and cheered me on. I remember her biking to the far reaches of a course to make sure I had a cheerleader during the toughest sections. I remember her holding huge neon yellow signs and screaming so loudly every runner beside me asked, “Is that your mom?” I remember her always telling me “I could do it!” even when I thought it was impossible.
In that moment, I knew that it was my turn to be her cheerleader, and lucky me I didn’t have to stay on side lines. I was part of this race too, we were in this together.
“You can do this mom! No need for walking, no need for stopping, we only have 3 miles left!”
I kept up a relentless stream of encouragement (potentially too harsh at times) for the next 20-some minutes as we kept our legs moving forward down Farmington Avenue. Other runners may have given us some weird looks, but I couldn’t care. We were moving as a unit, a team of teal-colored t-shirts and constant talking.
As we approached the finish line, past our small pack of fans, past my dad cheering wildly, the arch now clearly in site, my mom reached for my hand.
“Jules, hold my hand.”
I held it as we crossed the finish line in just one minute over 2 hours, the same exact time I had finished my very first half marathon in.
“We did it mom,” I said. “Together.”