9. The Jogging Mommy

9. The Jogging Mommy

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Runners

The Jogging Mommy

The coach’s main job is 20 percent technical and 80 percent inspirational.
 ~Franz Stampfl

For the past thirty-odd years, my running career has consisted of mad dashes out the door, sprints to buses, and skillful hallway maneuvers to reach my desk on time. Sure, I did the required laps around the track in high school, but my heart was never in it. I kept a leisurely pace that allowed me to gossip with my classmates and protected my big 1980s hair from falling too much. Let’s face it — asking much more from a teenage girl who is given only 5 minutes afterward to freshen up is just ridiculous.

Not that I’m anti-exercise. I have always enjoyed riding my stationary bike, doing aerobics, even bouncing around on a mini-trampoline in the living room. Jogging, however, was something in which I had no interest. As far as I was concerned, “runner’s high” was some lofty promise started by marketers of athletic shoes.

My opinion of the activity began to change a bit when my husband decided to take it up last year. Heart disease runs in his family, and he wanted to really start pumping those coronary muscles. While I admired and encouraged his effort, I never expected it to last. Yet morning after morning, I would wake up to find him out pounding the pavement.

Our three-year-old son, Zachary, became intrigued by his father’s morning ritual. Inevitably, he asked to tag along. His request was denied. Preschoolers cannot be trusted to run a straight path to any destination (except maybe when candy is involved), and exercise becomes too stressful when you are worrying about your child dashing into the street.

Zachary dropped the issue for many months, but it resurfaced the following summer. This time, it didn’t seem like such a bad idea. Life in our area had been rather tough for the past few months. A rash of random shootings kept most of the neighborhood indoors in the fall (though my husband kept jogging, jokingly saying he was too fast to be caught), the winter was uncharacteristically harsh (and my husband jogged on the cleared streets), and spring showers made playgrounds a mess (and finally got my husband to use the exercise bike for a bit instead). A tad more outdoor activity would be good for the kid.

We decided on a track at a local school in order to avoid the traffic issue. I agreed to monitor Zachary so that my husband could exercise without interruption. Of course Zachary did not want to run alone, so I ended up jogging alongside.

Perhaps “jogging” is not the right word. First he did his best Carl Lewis imitation, followed by a dead stop to catch his breath. Then he wanted to walk and have me tell him stories. Then he suddenly left the tale about a giant to catch up to his dad. Then he strolled around with the water bottle. The stop-and-go lasted the entire time, and so did his smile.

At first I was rather annoyed by Zachary’s lack of a plan. How were he and I supposed to count this as our daily exercise if it was so disorganized? I realized something though. Somewhere in there, we really did burn off some calories. Better yet, we also had fun.

Our sojourns continued for weeks. I felt my thighs and midsection getting firmer. I was out of breath less often, and at times I even left Zachary to wander the track by himself while I ran ahead (and kept a watchful eye). I was becoming (gulp) a runner.

On one particularly hot day, Zachary decided to get rid of his shirt. As sweat continued to pour down my neck, he asked me why I didn’t do the same. Foolish child, I thought, you may have tricked me into running, but the last time I bared my midriff in the great outdoors was at a kiddy pool at age two. My husband sided with him. I figured, what the heck, I’ll humor them once (I had a sports top on underneath my T-shirt).

The result was unexpected. I didn’t feel stupid — I felt free. The wind felt wonderful against my newly exposed skin, and I felt like an athlete instead of a mother trying to cover up her body. My husband’s approval and a glance or two from some other males did not hurt either. And who had time to worry about showing the world that I was not a supermodel when there was running to do?

The real test of my commitment to jogging came later in the summer when Zachary started morning day camp. There was no way we could be done jogging and showering by the time it started each day. Our family ritual had to end, but my own began.

Clad in my serious-looking sportswear, I kept going to the track. I figured my workout would be different without a toddler along, but it really was much the same (minus the stories about giants). I walked. I ran. I didn’t count laps. When I was tired, I quit. I, too, left the track smiling. I guess the old saying of kids changing you in ways you never thought possible is true. I never would have imagined my son being the best coach I ever had.

~Beth Braccio Hering

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