Running With My Mom: What We Talk About When We Talk About Running

By | August 10, 2019

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“How’s it going out there?” my mom asked me when I called her the other night from Indianapolis, where I’d stopped on my drive out to Colorado.

“Hot,” I said.

“Here too. But I’m still on my way to the loop. Tonight’s that ‘don’t wear anything’ run,” she said.

“I hope you’re at least wearing pants,” I replied.


The loop is a ring around the Cooper River, which is near both of our homes in Southern New Jersey, and is used for summer races put on by the South Jersey Athletic Club, of which my 64-year-old mother, who took up running just a few years ago, is a member. The “don’t wear anything run” is a prediction run, where runners guess their time for one lap of the loop, and the person with the time closest to his or her prediction wins. “Don’t wear anything” refers to technology — no sports watches, GPS watches, no phones, no apps, nothing.

I can’t imagine having joked about my mother running naked 30 years ago — and not just because she didn’t run then. We weren’t exactly best friends when I was growing up. I had a quick-start temper, and she was often the target. I told her I hated her more than I can recount. Once, at a middle school basketball game, when she wanted me to leave with her, I shouted loud and clear for all to hear that she was a child abuser, which wasn’t even close to true. I just wanted to embarrass and hurt her because I felt, for some forgotten reason, that she was trying to ruin my life.

When there were reports on the TV news of a local girl having a baby in a toilet at her prom, both of my parents told me that if I ever got pregnant, they wanted me to come to them and they would not shame me for it. Indeed, my mom was the one who had told me how I could get pregnant in the first place, talking as if the subject were no big deal while I stared at the duvet of my parents’ bed.

Our relationship really started to change one night in my senior year of high school, when a drunken driver hit my car. This was before I had a cellphone, and the accident was so close to my house that the driver who hit me agreed to follow me there to sort things out.

I ran up the stairs to get my mother, shaking because I thought she was going to be furious at me because I got in an accident. She got up, put on her fuzzy pink robe, and flew out the door. I knew she was enraged — but it wasn’t at me. It was at him, for almost killing her daughter. She told him that no, this accident didn’t look like my fault, no, her daughter wasn’t a liar, and no, he could not just give us money to make it all go away. Then she called the police, held my hand when I gave my official statement, and let me bury my face in her pink robe as he was arrested and taken away.

Years later, when I broke up with the man I lived with for over a year, I moved in with my mother until I could sort myself out. When my dog died at the same time I was forced to sell my house, she brought over the tissues and helped me pack. Last year, when I was hit with waves of panic attacks, she sat with me as I laid on the floor and counted out loud so I could follow along and just breathe.

So I’m not terribly surprised that our relationship has shifted to the point where I made that no-pants joke. I’m not a teenager anymore, and she’s not in charge for my life, not in the way she used to be. It’s also the first time in our lives that I know more about something than she does (running), so I’m answering a lot of questions as she ramps up her distance while training for the New York City Marathon, her first and my 11th or 12th, depending on whether or not I sneak in a trail marathon before then.

“Why are my arms chafing?”

“Because you’re wearing tank tops now and there’s no sleeve fabric to stop it from happening.”

“My head is hot in a hat but I want to protect my face from the sun.”

“Wear a visor.”

“I’m so tired after a long run.”

“Eat something right when you’re done instead of waiting to make a meal, and try to take a nap that afternoon.”

“How do I run in the rain?”

“Run in the rain.”

I have no idea what we’ll talk about when we do an 18-mile training run together next month, or the entire marathon in November. I’m sure I’ll come up with something, the same way, when I was 18 years old and she drove me from New Jersey to college in Florida, she told me silly stories the whole way because she knew I was panicking about an experience that could be terrible, but could change my life too.

And this summer, the weekend before I left for Colorado, she held a barbecue for me and my brother, his wife and their children. As she brought in a plate of hamburgers and hot dogs she had cooked over a fire pit she designed and built herself, I told her I wanted to update people on her training.

“What’s there to update? Tell them I’m still running.”

She sure is.

How has running with a relative or friend changed your relationship? Let me know on Twitter @byjenamiller.