Chasing medals and memories: How I relate to “Marathon Mom”

Of all the interesting stories featured on The Honest Talk, I never know which ones will jump out at me. Recently, it was this one: Did ‘Marathon Mom’ ignore her kids? Why a viral video is enraging runners and mothers | CBC News. TLDR: A viral debate about gender roles and motherhood in sports erupted after Luciana Grandi Lourenção, while running the Presidente Prudente Half Marathon in Brazil, avoided her children standing near the finish line so she could press forward and win the race.

You can dive as deep as you want with this one. It can be a metaphor for every decision we make as mothers. For the things we sacrifice to parent: time, certain accomplishments, control over our bodies. Online reactions have been intense, blaming the dad for pushing the children onto the course, the mom for running around them, or society for scrutinizing her in a way we don’t do with men.

My own reaction was very literal — for me, it was about the running.

Today, I’m a half-decent runner. At 13, I was a non-runner when my grade eight phys-ed teacher entered me in the 400m for the school team.

Some people call the 400m the toughest race and, for me, it was pure humiliation. I ran my hardest but finished last with considerable daylight between me and the next runner. I couldn’t breathe and my head was spinning, but at least, I thought, I was done. Unfortunately not. Somehow, I advanced to another heat, where I repeated the painful experience of coming in last.

Despite that, I continued running. Mostly for myself, mind. I ran year-round. I ran in the rain. I ran to think, to process, to plan. I ran to do something productive when the alternative might be doing something stupid.

When I had children, I sometimes spent more time manoeuvring them in and out of the running stroller than actually running — but we all ran together.

Sometimes – rarely – I ran races, mostly races so big that my placing was irrelevant. If I ran a decent time with minimal pain, I was happy. Bonus if I looked good in at least one of the race-day pictures.

The exception was the Wolfe Island Classic (slogan: “Tough Course, Great People” – both are true). It’s a friendly race. Low-key. And, yes, tough. Killer hills, powerful winds, and oven-hot asphalt. My family would run 5K, I’d run 10K. I’d often start my run beside them, and sometimes they’d wait for me near the finish line.

Then, one day, I realized I might be able to win. Not the entire race — remember, I’m a half-decent runner — but, when I clicked into a new age group which had much fewer runners in it…why not? Winning my age group was possible.

Not if I started and/or finished with any of my family members, though.

Enter angst and turmoil. I’m not trying to blame my family for this — I put the pressure on myself — but it was there.

The race, I thought, was for fun. Why did I care about where I placed?

It was a family tradition, so shouldn’t I prioritize running with my family?

I thought longer than I probably should have about what my choice said about me as a mother and as a person.

I could tell you I decided to run for a ribbon as an example to my kids: “Don’t put other people’s feelings ahead of your own,” “You have a powerful, accomplished mother” – that kind of thing.

That wasn’t it, though. I ran on my own because I wanted to see if I could do it. I wanted to finish barely able to put one foot in front of the other, feeling like my lungs were outside my body, and this time I wanted a medal.

I got it.

It was a third-place medal, and it made me really, really happy.

And, you know what? Looking back at photos from that day, there are so many of our whole family – including my cousin and her husband, who were delighted just to finish the tough course and chose to do it holding hands.

You can’t always have it all, but on that day, I had everything I wanted.

And, for anyone wondering about the half-marathon-winning mom caught in the viral maelstrom? Well, it seems like she might have gotten everything she wanted, too. After winning, she hugged her daughters, then took them onto the podium when she collected her medal. Pretty sure they’ll have some good family photos from that moment. 

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