Selfless mothering and selfish running

My mother walked and jogged with me, through blustery showers, to the start of the Edinburgh Half Marathon on Sunday 22nd May 2011. It was an 8am start, so we headed off fairly early to ensure we had plenty of time to cover the few kilometres, leave my bag at the drop-off point, and get a reasonable starting position within my allocated pen. I chattered a lot about the race ahead, and running in general, because it helped to keep my nerves under control and my head focused. Not long before the start, I suddenly paused to reflect that my mother has not the slightest interest in running races, yet here she was, on a cold and rainy morning when any reasonable person was still in bed, keeping me company and being completely, selflessly, supportive. She knew she would get her share of the exercise she loved during our time in the city too – a fun cycling trip and rock climbing with Dirk – and she balanced things that like in her own gentle juggling act. That was how she was, my wonderful mother, and I will never stop appreciating her.


I awoke this morning to the sound of my alarm going off, which is a rare and treasured occurrence in the life of a mother with young children. The children tend to be awake long before my 06:15 alarm has any hope of going off. The first thought that popped into my head was the fact that it is now less than 3 months until the Amsterdam Marathon, and I had better get my ass into gear and run at least the last 6kms of the trip to work. It was a slightly odd thought to awake to, since it hasn’t been on my mind much since the Chiropractor told me last Tuesday that running wasn’t a great idea at the moment. There is always a fine line between what is sensible and what is excessive, but as I had managed a reasonable amount of sleep for a change, and my neck and back were for once not actively painful, I thought it was not a completely stupid thing to do (though I understand that some will disagree, and my period pains were trying hard to dissuade me). The truth is, apart from wanting to feel fit again, and desperately wanting to be able to finish my first marathon – I have already abandoned hope of a good time to focus purely on crossing the finish line in as little pain as possible – I also use running as calming, reflective space, which I am usually sorely lacking in. Running is one of those things in my life that is purely selfish – it is just about me, physically and psychologically. I like to run alone, set my own pace and goals, and be left to my thoughts.

We are taught to attach much stigma to selfishness, and I have just been singing the praises of my mother for its opposite, but I can’t seem to quite find another suitable word. Any suggestions are welcome!

I have said this before briefly in another post, but I want to reflect on it a little more. My mother told me a few times that if I really want to look after those close to me, I need to look after myself first. There are a few ways to illustrate this, but think for example of the emergency procedure talk before each flight you take. In the ‘unlikely event of a fall in cabin pressure’, oxygen masks will fall from a panel above. You should attach your own mask before assisting fellow passengers. This goes against many people’s natural impulse, especially parents travelling with their children, which may well be why they often use a picture or video of a parent and child to illustrate this. I mentioned this to my husband once, who pointed out very logically that if you try to help your child first and pass out from lack of oxygen, you will both be in much greater trouble than if you quickly put your mask on first. By helping yourself, you are in a better position to help others.

This hardly relates directly to running, as I am not going to argue that I am being altruistic in getting fit because in case of an emergency I will be fit enough to run for help (though that’s not a bad point, and there isn’t yet mobile phone coverage over every square inch of the globe). My point is merely that some space to myself, in a manner that makes me enjoy my body and, as a bonus, pumps me full of endorphins, makes me better able to be a selfless mother during the rest of the time in a day that I am with my children.


4 thoughts on “Selfless mothering and selfish running

  1. This makes perfect sense to me. Maybe instead of selfless and selfish we should think of it all as giving – sometimes giving to yourself, sometimes to others but recognising that you need to be whole to be able to give generously..

  2. I relate completely; running is meditative and it’s as though one needs the physical tiredness to settle in before the brain will let go. One thing I have always loved about Tess was her ability to “parallel play”. She was the only friend, and actually person other than Cate, who was happy to help me milk my cows when she came for a visit!

  3. I sometimes dream that I am able to run for distances…feel the strength in my body. Enjoyment. No where I am going. When I read you post I read it on so many different levels. I read about running as a metaphor, what is symbolises, as well as in of its self and what it can give you. So many spiritual teachers speak of us waking up from this dream state we are occupied when we are awake. And so many of us…me…spend time running away from living. The moment. Myself. But to run and be. To fully feel alive in this body. Makes me think of buddhist archery. Where the focus is not on hitting the target!
    I think we live in very distorted strange times. Where as humans for eons we have lived in community. Until only recently we domesticated ourselves. We claimed land. And increasingly lived in isolation. In smaller family units. For eons mothers were not expected to be responsible and hold so much as they do now. And have a job. There was a network there to share. Unrealistic expectations.
    I wonder how it must be to have lived in a community. We pride ourselves in this modern west of individualism. We pride that we are in free and democratic society. With so much choice.
    I am not convinced that all this ‘freedom’ is real.
    So when you speak of selfishness and selflessness….this is where so of my reflections had led me now and in the past.

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