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Why running is the best gift my kids have given me
Kaitlynne and Ali Cowart at the 2014 Eugene Marathon Duck Dash. - photo by Kim Cowart
I love a good origin story. How superheroes became super is more interesting to me than what they do with those powers. How Steve Jobs started Apple is more fascinating than what the new iPhone can do. Understanding how Dunkin' Donuts became the successful franchise it is is more tantalizing than the donuts themselves.

Maybe Ive gone too far.

Its not just curiosity that drives me. Understanding the motives behind our actions can help guide us in our decisions.

Why do I run? is a question I ask myself every morning, especially Saturdays at 4:30 when the wind is howling, the temperature is freezing and even the birds are still sleeping.

I didnt start running to lose weight, despite the fact I had given birth two months before my first official run. I didnt start running to feel a part of a community. I didnt know anyone that ran, at least in my neighborhood. I certainly wasnt looking for a hobby. I had a baby and a toddler. My time was rarely my own.

I ran because I wanted to be alone.

I would never have admitted it at the time, but I was craving a few solitary moments where I wasnt anything to anybody. Id always wanted to be a mom. It wasnt easy becoming one, so I was overjoyed to have the two healthy daughters we have. It felt almost treasonous to not savor every moment, not to enjoy the precious time I knew would be over in a flash. Id waited for so long to have these little people and now I wanted to literally run away?

But I couldnt deny how at peace I felt after even the shortest of runs outside, just me, the sunshine and my thoughts. Running kept me sane on the craziest of days.

I couldnt give it up.

For a few years my running was confined to Saturday mornings or pre-dawn before the kids woke up and while my husband was still home. I worked my running schedule around the family. It cost me some sleep, but the return on my investment was invaluable.

Id thought my days of waking up before 5 a.m. were gone when I quit teaching high school. Now, here I was waking up even earlier with no time card to punch, lessons to plan or faculty meetings to attend. Who was this person Id become?

Why do I run?

Running quieted the chaos in my head. The physical exertion somehow sharpened my focus. Both my quads and my patience grew. Running five early-morning miles made the third reading of Green Eggs and Ham something to look forward to. Spilled sack of flour all over the kitchen? No problem.

I ran today.

Crayon petroglyph on the bathroom wall? Not only can I clean it up, but I can outlast the tantrum my toddlers throwing while in timeout.

Running didnt make me Supermom, but it definitely made me a better mom. Now my daughters are in the tween and teen years. The problems are bigger than diaper blowouts and permanent marker body tattoos. All the more reason to keep running.

Taking care of others is hard work. Whether youre a parent taking care of a child or a child taking care of a parent, a friend helping a friend, or everyones go-to person when times get rough, we all can serve others better when we serve ourselves first. Its not selfish. We can do it in a way that doesnt interfere or take away from our responsibilities, but we need to do it. Our loved ones deserve our best selves, our whole selves. A good friend found a shirt that said, Running Saves Lives Yours and Mine. Thats pretty much it.

These days when I run, I find myself running alone less because I want to and more because I have to. Not surprisingly, as my girls become more independent, my need for solitude dims. I still wake up before they do to log in some morning miles, but if they wanted to join me, I wouldnt say no.

For Mothers Day all I asked was that my kids run a 5K with me during our summer vacation. I probably could have asked for an iPad and they would have agreed faster, but in the end I won. Ten years after that first solo run I will lace up my shoes with my two daughters and run with them.

Without knowing it, they gave me the gift of running and its been the best gift of all.
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