How running has made me a better mother

by Sophie Walker — 

What appeared unsolvable before a run often looks very different afterward.

What appeared unsolvable before a run often looks very different afterward.

When my daughter was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome at the age of 8, we were both in trouble. No one seemed to understand how to help, and I felt overwhelmed by the task of finding the support Grace needed. I felt as though I was failing her.

I decided to train for the London Marathon to show solidarity with Grace — whose daily struggles often felt like an endurance test — and to raise awareness of autism and find the strength I needed to help my daughter.

I ran all 26.2 miles of one of the world’s biggest races and found a way toward happiness for both of us. Running showed me ways to be a better mother.

1. Running lets me escape from my problems. I realize this does not sound like the advice of a winner. Given the option to run away or stand and fight, taking the former seems morally weedy. However, since having children, I have discovered that strategic retreat and further consideration of the matter at hand is often a sensible option. Having a child with autism means I get nowhere when I adopt a rigid attitude. My child is much, much better at saying “no” than I am. So, when our voices are getting louder, the walls seem to be closing in and the answer seems far away — I put on my trainers and leave.

2. Running lets me work things through. Literally, running away from a problem often sets me on the road to a solution by forcing me to think about something else. Instead of the beat of the question in my head, I must concentrate on the rate of my breathing. Instead of what is fair or unfair, what has been promised but not delivered, what has appeared unexpectedly or what has gone bad, I must focus on pushing my legs forward.

This often demands intense willpower. Sometimes it involves pain. The emotional and mental stuff gets shunted into a far corner and, when I look next, a different perspective is gained. What appeared unsolvable before a run often looks very different afterward.

3. Running gives me the strength to keep going. The challenge of getting over a hill — a real one — teaches me how to surmount obstacles in other parts of my life. When I feel as though I am failing or faltering, I remember the hill that I got over on Thursday or the extra mile I managed on Saturday.

I remind myself of the run I did in driving rain and the one when it was so hot I thought I would faint, but did not. I remind myself that I am strong. Running has helped me to build up a strong core that holds me tightly together. Because I run, I know I will not fall apart.

4. Running reminds me who I am. On the days when I feel like life is passing me by, on the days when the laundry basket seems to be a bottomless pit, on the days when I look along the train carriage of commuters like me and wonder if this is how it feels to be an ant or a worker bee, on the days when I feel like everyone is asking things of me and no one is seeing me — on these days, I remember: I am a runner. And I stand taller for it.


Sophie Walker is the author of Grace, Under Pressure: A Girl with Asperger’s and Her Marathon Mom. or on Twitter @sophierunning. 

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 32, Number 6, December 2013/January 2014.

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