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A Mother Runner’s Goal: 40 Races Before Turning 40

The name tag that started it all.
The name tag that started it all.

The summer of 2013, Malena Jackson, a 39-year-old mother of three, came to a mother runner party in Denver with her pal Melanie. It was the first party we decided that we wanted attendees to write goals on their nametags...a little ice-breaker of sorts and a way to take advantage of the positive energy the events create.

Without much thought, Malena wrote down a pretty ambitious goal: 40 races before she turned 40 in December of 2014. Sarah and I, of course, loved the symmetrical, ambitious goal, and both mentioned it when we signed her copy of Train Like a Mother.

"Well, now it was in print by the famous Mother Runners," Malena remembers,  "Now I really had to do it! I decided to count my previous four completed races as part of my 40. And I made my own rules: 1. Must be 5k or longer. 2. Can repeat a race. 3. Time doesn’t matter; finishing with a smile does!”

Before we give away the ending, here's the story of Malena and her running, told in her words:

THE REAL START OF IT ALL—AND THE FIRST FOUR RACES

In the summer of 2010 when my third child turned 1, I decided I was likely finished trying to get pregnant, being pregnant, or nursing. It was quite the realization, as I had been involved in one of those three activities for about 13 years! I decided to try to take my body back. A runner friend of mine, Miriam, told me the Galloway run-walk program. It seemed pretty conservative and most importantly doable, so I tried it — maybe just 20 seconds of running and then two minutes of walking.

Before I knew it, after a few weeks I had made it two whole miles with a run-walk. Some time after that I looked at my husband and said, “You know, I’ve always wanted to run a marathon before I turn 40.”

My husband’s response,  “What?! We’ve been together since high school and you’ve never mentioned this before! Well, okay. I’ll do it, too.”

By the fall of 2010 my husband was also running. I had lost about 30 pounds; he had lost about 50. In October 2010 we both signed up for and completed our first 5k at the Race for Fetal Hope (now called the Great Candy Run), then the March 2011 Running of the Green 7k, followed by the Colfax Half Marathon in May 2011. We ran the Walt Disney World Marathon in January 2012 and completed it together in 5:48.

FAVORITE RACES

Just like each runner has a story, so does each race. But two of them stand out in my mind slightly more than the others.

"Crossing the finish line at the Walt Disney World Princess Half Marathon in February 2014. Blurry, but awesome.
"Crossing the finish line at the Walt Disney World Princess Half Marathon in February 2014. Blurry, but awesome.

In February 2014 I ran the Walt Disney World Princess Half with my friend Jennifer. It was one of the very few times I traveled and left my family behind. Because I didn't have to worry about childcare and could be on my own schedule, I was in the perfect state of mind for that race. I didn’t PR—I stopped for some photo opps—but I felt AWESOME for the whole race. It was an amazingly empowering experience—with lots of glitter.

After rockin' and rollin' through the half in Denver with her BRF, Beth.
After rockin' and rollin' through the half in Denver with her BRF, Beth.

The other race that really stands out in my mind was the 2014 Denver Rock n Roll. This was a last-minute add to my 40x40 because my BRF Beth decided to do it; it would be her second half and my ninth half (as well as my 36th race). I had another half scheduled for just three weeks later so I knew I shouldn’t try to PR, as I didn’t want to take a chance and get injured. Instead, Beth and I agreed that I’d attempt to get her to PR since my pace was a bit faster than hers. She PR’d! Seeing Beth’s smile at the finish made this one of my most gratifying races ever.

Her husband, Adam, threw her a birthday surprise party, and invited her mother runner posse and me. (We were supposed to run pre-party,, but it was crazy cold and snowing out, so coffee sufficed.)
Her husband, Adam, threw her a birthday surprise party, and invited her mother runner posse and me. (We were supposed to run pre-party, but it was crazy cold and snowing out, so coffee sufficed.)

LEAST FAVORITE RACES

I raced in 18 degrees on Super Bowl Sunday thinking it was a good omen for Peyton Manning (#18 for the Broncos) to bring home the win for the Broncos, but apparently that didn’t work. I slogged through freezing rain/snow/wind during the 10-mile Cherry Creek Sneak; and I froze my tushy off in pelting snow during the 10k Race for Open Space in Denver.

But my truly least favorite was the 2013 Denver Rock 'N' Roll Half.  It was an extremely crowded course that never thinned out; there wasn’t a whole lot of entertainment, one of the water stops was empty; and there were no bags to hold all our recovery food/drinks at the end. By that point it was my 13th race and my fourth half. I was extremely disappointed. With just yards to go I didn’t have a clear shot at the finish line and ended up yelling, “MAKE A HOLE!” Very unlike me to yell out something mean during a race. I’m usually full of encouragement for those around me, as it helps to spur me on. (As a postscript, the 2014 Denver Rock 'N' Roll was MUCH better.)

Malena last race
An admitted Disney devotee, Malena's last race was the Castaway 5K on an island during a Disney cruise to celebrate her 40th.

STAYING MOTIVATED

We all draw inspiration from one another. Listening to other runners was a great motivation—as was thinking about the awesome bling from the longer races. Along the way friends and family were telling me, “I started running again because of you,” or “I didn’t think I could run, but I saw you were doing it so I wanted to try.” Or my husband who would say, “You know without you, I never would have lost those 50 pounds or started running.” Those are powerful ideas to think about and added fuel to my training.

For my longer races I began to wear a sign on my back that read, “Running 40 races before my 40th birthday! This is race #XX!” That was a fantastic motivation, as other runners would comment on it during the race. A few even said that they were going to set the same goal because they liked the idea so much. And a couple of times I had runners say, “Hey, I saw you at this other race! Good for you!” I had kind of become my own celebrity.

Admittedly, there were times I thought it would be nice to just sleep in, but with each race I was one step closer to my goal. There would be time for sleep later.

SHE DID IT—AND HAS THE BLING TO PROVE IT

A necklace that her BRF Beth made her to commemorate her 40 races. Each stone stands for a specific distance—it came with a key—with the largest being her marathons.
A necklace that her BRF Beth made her to commemorate her 40 races. Each stone stands for a specific distance—it came with a key—with the largest being her marathons.

A RUNDOWN OF THE DISTANCES

(2)  full marathons (Walt Disney World, 2012 and 2014)
(10)  half marathons (thought it would be fun to say that 25% of my races were 13.1 miles)
(2) 10-milers
(1) 15k
(1) 8-mile trail run
(1)  10k+5k double race
(2)  10ks
(1)  7k
(3)  4-milers
(17)  5ks

TOTAL MILES:  311.45 + countless training runs

 ADVICE (IN CASE YOU'RE INTERESTED)

I once heard a saying about parenting: The days are long, but the years are short. I think that sentiment can apply to so much in our lives.  If you never try to reach your goal, how will you ever know if you can succeed? You might be surprised what you really can do. The most important thing: Have fun. It’s not worth the time commitment if you’re not enjoying it.

Three generations run at Disney.
Three generations run at Disney: the first 5K for Malena's parents and the second for her boys. (Her daughter was asleep at the hotel with family.)

NEXT GOAL (MAYBE)

I’ve thought about a total of 50 halfs before I turn 50, which leaves me with an average of four halfs per year. I’ve also thought about trying to run a half in all 50 states with no specific timeline in mind. I still have never done a relay or something like Ragnar, so maybe I’ll aim for one of those at some point. Truly, at the moment I’m still basking in having completed my original 40 by 40 goal.

Congrats, Malena! Love your attitude and story–and hope it has you, dear mother runners, thinking about what you want to focus on this coming year. Tomorrow and Thursday we'll have a little exercise—no sweat required—where you can take advantage of the strong energy this community creates...and maybe win a prize too. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, curious: have you ever set a goal like Malena's? 

16 responses to “A Mother Runner’s Goal: 40 Races Before Turning 40

  1. My goal was not quite as ambitious but I wanted to run a sub 30 5K by my 40th. My 40th fell on Thanksgiving this year and I met my goal at a Turkey Trot with my son coaching me across the finish line. Best feeling ever!

  2. That is so awesome, congratulations Marlena!!! And love the necklace your friend made you, what a treasure 🙂 I never set a goal like hers, other than what got me started running to begin with: run a 5k before I turned 50 (I started C25k in June, and ran my first race 5 days after my 50th bday).

  3. Loved reading this right before New Years–inspires me to set smaller goals in pursuit of my big goal: 50 marathons before I’m 50. I have 43 down, seven to go, and four years left until I’m 50.

  4. That is such an awesome goal – CONGRATS on setting and achieving it! I spent my run this morning debating whether I could still pull that off. I’d need to do 9 more races in the next 7 months – and I’m already registered for 2 – so this definitely got me thinking about where I could fit 7 more races in. Great goal – GREAT inspiration too. 🙂

  5. WOW what an amazing accomplishment!
    After running the 2013 Portland holiday half – I made a goal that in 2014 I would run one 1/2 marathon each month. I finished where it started with the holiday half in Portland,OR a few weeks ago. I ran seven in WA,two in OR,and one each in ID,TX and Kauai. What a blast and it felt amazing to reach a goal!

  6. Cathy, I have a running buddy who decided to run 40 races in her 40th year… why not go for that for 60? Start now and finish before you’re 61. 🙂 There are SO many 5ks out there…

  7. What a great story and awesome accomplishment Malena. I applaud you and encourage you to shoot for doing a Ragnar. I started serious and regular running at 55 when I retired and joined a women’s running group. I’ll never do what you’ve done, though. 60 is just a year and a half away — 60 races before 60 years-not happening! But I did Great River Ragnar last summer and am registered with my team to do Chicago in June. I admire what you’ve done and all those you’ve influenced. Hope you are basking in pride!

  8. Back in May of 2012, my big goal for the year was to run the marathon in both Pittsburgh (first weekend) and Buffalo (Memorial Day weekend). I not only completed my goal, Buffalo still holds my full marathon PR. You may ask why Pittsburgh and Buffalo. I have two adult children who do not live close. My daughter lives in Pittsburgh and my son in Buffalo.

  9. 14 races in 2014. Sad part is, I’m not sure if I achieved it. Good part is, I had a great time trying:). Guess I have some homework before the end of the year.

  10. Congrats, Malena! Perfect timing for this story. I also had a 40th birthday goal. It was on my name tag at the Pittsburgh AMR party. As I type this, I am awaiting a flight that will take me to my birthday goal races. Fingers crossed!

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