A Mother's High

Years ago, when I started running, it was no walk in the park. Evolutionarily speaking, I didn't think my body was built for endurance exercise. I started by running one lap around my college track. I remember it clear as day. It was spring of my senior year and my friend and former roommate (a runner) encouraged me to get rid of the freshman fifteen by taking a few laps with her. That first quarter of a mile was the longest jog of my life. I felt like I'd never make it around the circle. And, what a pain! When I got to where I started, she told me to do it again! As a compromise, I walked a lap and then ran a lap. All in all that day I may have clocked about a mile but it was a start. As I continued to run (or really jog), I continued to have the same sensation: that every step was like trying to pull myself through quick sand.

But I set some goals, like walk a lap, run a lap, walk a minute, run 10 minutes, etc. and after a summer, I managed to run five miles without stopping. I continued running long after college and found it to be a daily part of my routine as a working professional. For several years, every morning, rain or shine started with a jog around the rolling hills surrounding my home. I hate hills and the burn they produce in my legs and I have often found myself second guessing my runs when climbing a hill. After some perseverance and several months, I successfully tackled most of the hills on my route. I remember one morning, crawling up and up a hill, looking down, my chin buried in my chest, my teeth gritted intensely. I told myself over and over, "Don't stop. Don't stop. You can do this. You can do this." Like the little engine that could, I knew I could do it, no matter how slowly. I reached the top and the burn in my legs lessened as I gained speed as the road flattened. I looked over my shoulder at the valley below me.

A mile and a half earlier in the run, I'd seen the top of this hill before me and wondered how I had the energy every day to hike up to the top. Now, I'd reached the top and the view was so worth it. So was the feeling of my body on autopilot, moving without thinking. I no longer gritted my teeth nor tucked my chin down in concentration. I looked out and around me, noticing the way the fog curled around the trees and coolness of the morning on my skin. I admired the gardens and houses I passed. I listened to the rhythmic trot of my sneakers on the pavement. I felt so alive and so comfortable with who I was and what I could accomplish. I'd finally hit the runner's high. As I continued my distance training, I experienced the high on several occasions, usually 5 to 6 miles into a run, long after my body adjusted to the morning jolt of exercise. When I hit the moment, which last at least a mile or until the end of the run, I felt like I could turn my body on auto-pilot and just let it do it's thing. I could let my mind sit back and enjoy the ride. I no longer focused on the mechanics of getting the job done and instead focused on the pure joy in doing.

Four and a half years ago, when I gave birth to Caroline, I felt just like I was back on the track again. Every (sleepless) move was both painful and intentional. I gritted my teeth a lot, buried my chin in my chest often and felt the burn of my brain and body training for this new physical and mental challenge. Every day felt like I was in the valley looking up at the hill. The very, very big hill that I would never, ever reach, no matter how hard I ran. I had to pace myself. I was frustrated that I was clunky and awkward. It seemed like others were breezing by me. Doing it effortlessly.

Raising a kid isn't just like learning to walk. It's going from lying flat on your back to running a marathon. If we are lucky, some of us may have coaches and cheerleaders standing on the sidelines, calling to us just when we think we can't run any more. Some of us may be running a relay and have a partner who takes over while we catch our breath for a lap. Yet, most of the time we are running alone. Only our feet, our body, can carry us to the finish line.

Today I took the girls to the local beach for some fun in the sun. We swam, ate sandy sandwiches and made castles. We left hours later, our skin warm and our bodies tired from play. Within moments, the girls were fast asleep. I had the window down and held my hand out the window, letting the wind push between my fingers. I glanced at the back seat in my rear view mirror and noticed the girls were holding hands, snoring softly. Without even knowing it, I'd accomplished autopilot. I let my body and my mind rest as I enjoyed the moment. This is success. This is a mother's high. Every day I climb the hill. Years of parenting practice has finally paid off because I know how to do this. I don't always have to think about every step. For a brief moment, I'd hit the plateau and things suddenly didn't feel like such an uphill climb.

Ironically, the trip home from the beach took me to the top of the hill of my old running route. Like I had done so many times before, I looked down at the valley below me and totally immersed myself in the beauty around me, in and outside of the car.

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