Running with a partner is just another form of therapy, a chance to spill your guts to the person next to you while racking up mileage. But when your running partner is your mom, an afternoon jog takes on new significance.
I found that out in 2008, when my stepmother, Michelle, coached me through my first long-distance run. I initially cried through the pain but persevered with her encouragement. After that, we ran together constantly, but the conversation was never about running. Instead, we talked about life: relationships, goals, struggles, and dreams yet to be fulfilled. In short, it was about subjects we’d never broached before, and might never have were it not for the bond we built on the road.
And we are far from alone in this. Many girls run with their mothers, adding a new dimension to an already special bond. Group running allows for more intimate conversations because there are no external distractions. In fact, in 2011 a record-high seven million road runners were female, many of them running with fellow girlfriends and relatives. “Some ladies prefer the women-only events perhaps because they enjoy the camaraderie of other female runners, and still others feel less self-conscious about their pace,” Running USA wrote in its annual running report.
Today it’s hard to find people willing to participate in an activity that requires them to disconnect for hours at a time, possibly why so many women are turning to someone with whom they’re already connected—Mom.
Liz Badley of Northern Virginia says she started running with her mom in 2011, and the two now hit the trail once a week. “I think it’s really improved our relationship both as mother and daughter and as friends,” Badley says. “She actually refers to me as ‘Coach Liz’ now.”
Badley says the one obstacle she and her mom had to overcome when learning to run together wasn’t actually about running—it was about learning to keep one another’s secrets. “It did take her some time to realize that some things said on runs shouldn’t be repeated. I think runs are like Vegas—what happens on them stays there,” she jokes.
In March, the two ran the Rock ’n’ Roll USA half marathon together and crossed the finish line as a team.
Alyssa Schwenk of DC power walks with her mom and sister on the rare weekends they all get together (one lives in Rhode Island, the other in Charlottesville). Although they each have physical strengths and limitations, their shared workouts became a chance to bond. The trio ran the Disney Princess Half Marathon in February, and Schwenk says her family loved traveling to Florida and racing together so much they’re already planning future vacations around destination races.
“It gives us a chance to do our own thing but do it together and support each other,” Schwenk says. “We really liked using the run as the reason for a trip, since we’re pretty far-flung.”
This October, I’ll be running the Marine Corps Marathon with my stepmother at my side, where she’s always been. And while I’m nervous about my first marathon, I feel confident knowing she’ll be next to me. I can’t wait for our 26.2-mile talk.