I could tell you that I run because my neighbor invited me to join her running group two years ago, or because I rather like fitting into my pre-pregnancy clothes, or because I tend toward mild depression and logging fifteen to twenty miles a week is a remarkably effective treatment plan. All of those things are true.
I could also tell you that I run because I love to run, which is also true, though I ran many, many miles when I yet regarded running as activity comprised of equal parts pain and monotony.
But why I really run – the truest of all my true answers – is because my mother, Beverly, started running as a gift to herself for her fiftieth birthday. I don’t remember if she told us why, but I reckon she wanted to be healthy, to have time to think, and to fit into her pre-menopause jeans. She worked her way up to a mile, circling around the track at the municipal gym until she’d counted to sixteen. For years she ran one mile every other day. Slowly.
I started tagging along with her to the gym when I was in high school, though I rarely joined her on the track. I was startled to realize that I – the only one of my sisters who had failed to play sports – liked to sweat. When I was in college, my mother and I signed up for a few races together. By then, I ran a lot faster than her; she’s never let me forget that one time I told her running at her pace gave me shin splints. Now I run farther, too, miles farther than she thinks is even reasonable.
My mother’s fiftieth birthday was twenty years ago. She doesn’t run as much as she used to.
My mother hasn’t phased out running because she is too frail. She’s discovered she likes Zumba class just as much. And strength training. (You should see her biceps.) But for her seventieth birthday she decided to train for a 5k; she’s eager to find out if she might actually place given the tiny pool of competitors in her age bracket. I sent her a new tracksuit to wear on race day.
I run because it’s in my genes. I run because I have great inspiration. I run because it is the only way I could ever hope to keep up with my mother.
Katherine Willis Pershey is the author of Any Day a Beautiful Change: A Story of Faith and Family (Chalice Press 2012). Ordained in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), she currently serves as an associate minister of First Congregational Church of Western Springs, IL. Katherine is an avid blogger, and despite her Twitter ambivalence she can nevertheless be followed at @kwpershey. She and her husband, Benjamin, have two daughters.