I am not an elite athlete.
My legs are stubby and I am short. I have a running stride described like that of the road-runner. My legs spin fast, with a bouncy forefront step. In fact, my husband says he could pick me out of any race crowd with my “unique” running form.
There are 24 hours in a day, and the majority of those waking hours consist of my job. A career I love as an elementary school counselor. I am also a mom to my 8- and 11- year-old boys. Additionally, I am a wife to my police officer husband whose schedule can stir up my Type A routine.
Ghost miles is what I call it. By carving out time in the wee hours of the morning before the sun- rise, under the stars and moon among the quiet of my town is how I find the balance between runner and balancing what is best for my family. With my alarm set for 4:15am, I am out the door warmed up and ready to cover the miles by 4:45am. Some mornings (and seasons) are easier than others, but having an important race ahead with a goal in mind is a huge motivation.
I came into running in my late 20s to shake off the baby weight after the birth of my first child.
When I started, I could barely run a lap around the track. To be honest, I pretty much hated running. If it weren’t for my beloved late dog, Greta, who loved to run freely off leash on the trails, I wouldn’t have ventured out day after day. Within my first year of running, I noticed I was doing a lot more running than walking while increasing the distance a bit at a time. I learned to appreciate the strength in my body and the emotional balance that running brought me. Running offered me an identity other than “a tired mom”. I took on the identity of a runner.
No matter what training plan I use, or how hard I practice, I’ll never be able to run a mile at Shalane Flanagan’s marathon pace. Shalane and I do not share the same athletic abilities, but we have the same drive. I am a recreational mother runner, with the heart of an elite.
As the years passed, I got stronger, fitter, and faster.
I started to place in local races. In 2011, a year after my youngest son was born, I gained the courage to sign up for my first half marathon. In 2012, with a shaky finger, I clicked the button to register for my first marathon. During this race, I broke my goal of 4 hours on a day that brought torrential rain and wind. I was so pumped, so proud, and so amazed at finishing the distance that I set a new goal that seemed almost unattainable: to qualify for the Boston Marathon. After 3 years of tears, sweat, training plans, and hundreds upon hundreds of training miles, I achieved my dream. At the 2016 Harrisburg marathon, I gained a qualified entry to the 2018 Boston Marathon.
Professional elite athletes have resources and tools that we, full-time working parents with mortal talent, do not.
They are biologically talented with a fierce mindset and dedication to follow. One could argue that time is on their side in their training. First of all, their full-time job is to run, and they are given the best coaches in the world. Furthermore, they train at high elevation to boost their performance. They are followed by a team of nutritionists, chiropractors, massage therapists, and a nap schedule. (*Sigh* what a mom with young kids wouldn’t give to have a nap every day!).
We don’t have those resources. But there are ways to be a bad-ass mother runner, and reach whatever goals we set before us. What I do have access to are the Cocoa Elite products (and there is a reason there are many elites on our team). Fueling our bodies to perform to the best of our biological abilities means fueling ourselves with real, nutrient-dense ingredients. My favorite product is the Complete Body Recovery Protein. I love the creamy, chocolate taste. Typically, I pre-mix my recovery shake and chill it in the fridge for consumption after a hard workout.
I’m 40 years old now. The looming reality that my metabolism will continue to slow and that parts of my body will lose the battle with gravity and soften is enough motivation not to hit the snooze button. I am determined not to “let myself go”, so I can remain healthy for my kids, attractive to my husband, and comfortable within my own skin. I am in better shape now in my 40’s than I was in my 20s. This I attribute to my dedication and passion for running.
What I’ve gained in PRs does not compare to the deep connections and friendships I’ve made through running.
How else would my path cross with a dear friend in Pennsylvania who is by far the best cyber friend a gal could ask for. So much so, that his family hosted me and cheered me on from the sidelines as I ran my Boston qualifying time in Harrisburg. Or my two BRFs (“best running friends”, yes, it’s officially a term!), whom I met through my local run club. We connected as mother runners needing to log the miles in before family obligations. Many times we’d crush 20 miles by 9am, give sweaty hugs and “begin” our days feeling accomplished and balanced. Along those hundreds of miles together we found comfort and support side by side. Furthermore, we opened up about our marriages, children, personal struggles, new jobs, new homes, and BQ dreams.
For the past 3 years, the encouragement, cheering, and motivating has pushed and moved us to new and exciting goals, together.
They are my tribe.
We show up on the sidelines for each other’s races and wait at the finish line for each other after our races (they are usually waiting for me, ha!). Also, we travel to destination races by calling it a “girl’s weekend”. Other times, we make plans for dinner and drinks, BBQ’s with our families and try our best not to focus all our talk around running. Our friendship has become the foundation of running rather than running being the reason we are friends.
I am not an elite athlete, but I feel like one in my own little world. It starts with setting a goal. Then getting a realistic training plan. Finally finding your tribe, setting your alarm clock, and lacing up your shoes.
I have gained the mindset that to be successful, I have to be comfortable being uncomfortable. I know that perseverance is one of my strongest attributes. Furthermore, I learned to accept failure as another opportunity to better myself.
I may not be an elite, but I am most definitely a bad-ass mother runner.
Julie Benson is an accomplished runner. In 2018 she returned to compete in the Boston Marathon. This was notable as Julie was stopped short in the 2013 event due to the devastating tragedy of the bombing.
Julie earned a dual Masters degree in Mental Health Counseling and School Guidance Counseling while attending the schools of Lesley University and Umass Amherst. She works as a full time Elementary School Guidance Counselor. Julie is very active in her running community and is currently a member of the Exeter Run Club, located in NH.
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