Let’s give a warm AMR welcome to Maggie Palmer, a mother runner who is looking for her running groove….
The running bug bit me when I was in 6th grade. It was spring in Ohio, so most likely it was snowing and I was in shorts and a T-shirt on our middle school track, which was an uneven gravel circle tucked in by the woods. Shy and awkward, like most middle schoolers, I also had a speech impediment that turned my “r’s” into “w’s.” Maggie Mowan (Moran) brought about a fun nickname along the lines of Maggie “Mowon.”
You get the idea: just a typical middle school experience. Until the day I tried out for the track team and they told us to run a mile around the track. There was little to no instruction, just a little pop of a gun and we were off. I ran without thinking about form, pace and most likely in shoes that were not meant for running.
I don’t remember much aside from finishing and taking my shoes off to dump out the gravel they’d collected and feeling completely free. I also remember my favorite history teacher, Mr. Flood, running over to me and smacking me on the back with a big, goofy grin on his face as he stared at his stopwatch.
Every track meet became a chance for me to feel that freedom again but I started to realize it also became a moment for the rest of my small school to take notice of me. The boys and girls gave me high fives. The crowds cheered me across the finish line. And during home room the next day my name sounded out across the school speaker as the winner of the 1600-meter race every morning after a meet. For once the boys who had made fun of my speech were looking at me with respect and admiration. I was hooked.
Middle school running was fun and free. I was untouchable. I won every race, and my coach always told me to run against the clock since I had no other competitors who came close to catching me.
High school changed my relationship with running. It became about form and pace and the competitors were fierce. I was losing most races and the ones I won were hard fought. My body was also changing. My thin frame was turning curvy and I found it difficult to keep up. Practices became torture and race day brought fear instead of excitement. The freedom running had brought me turned into a prison of expectations to win and run faster each meet. It didn’t help that my older brother was a running star and my younger sister was coming up as a sports star, too. In a small town, you become known for things. And I didn’t want to become known for losing. So I found solace in the speech and debate team — and soon I was spending after school hours inside rehearsing and not outside on the track.
My dad was my biggest fan and all he knew was sports. But he did his best to adjust to my change in direction. He would show up to the speech meets with his stop watch just as he did to my track meets because I told him we’d get penalized if our speeches were longer than 10 minutes. A tough guy from a working class neighborhood in Youngstown and a jock in his own right being around all the “speech kids” who were talking to walls rehearsing made him uncomfortable but he never let it show. He was there for every speech tournament wearing his Poland High School gear, ready to cheer me on just as he had been for track.
I eventually found my way back to running but it would be a long time before I would race again. Even now, I feel the familiar butterflies before a 5k, 10k, or half marathon and I have to remind myself I’m not competing.
My 8-year-old son just finished his first year of track. They start young here in Oregon — and , wow, are they fast. His best 1500 meter time this season was 5:58 and he placed 8th in that race. I watched him with a mix of agony and adoration. I wanted to make sure not to push him too hard but still support him so he knew I was there. I also wanted to let him know that if he ever lost the love for the game I’m ok with him not continuing. I wasn’t expecting watching him race this season to bring up so many memories and emotions of my track days in middle school.
I’m glad my son and I get to share the bond and love of running. I’ll compete in my 3rd half marathon on July 1st and I feel like I’ve made peace with my running past. I’ve found the love again and it’s a beautiful feeling. It’s not always convenient with 3 young kids and a full time job. And it’s not always pretty. And I’m a lot slower than a 6 minute mile.
But it’s here and it’s consistent and it’s a link to the past. It defines me, as it defines so many of you. I’ve found one of the most difficult moments of being a mom is reliving your experiences through your kids. Reminding yourself not to put your baggage on them and let them have their experience in their own right. But also allowing yourself to let the emotions come up, run through you, and breathe through them until they become tucked safely into your memory, allowed to simply be what they are, for better or worse.