BY: AYESHA SUNDRAM
Much of my life, running and otherwise, has been spent wrangling with illusions of control. Mastery, to me, has always been a process of gaining control and discipline over something: thoughts, words, actions. There have been many times when this philosophy has yielded brilliant results in attaining personal and professional goals. There have also been times when it has been profoundly destructive, the most obvious example a decade lost down the rabbit hole of an eating disorder, chasing an always retreating point of arrival almost to the point of vanishing. Running, strangely enough, brought me back from my macabre journey, and since that time has been my constant companion in processing change.
When I allow myself to consider my life less as a point-to-point goal race and more like a grand adventure a la Barkley Marathon, a space opens up where I can consider that the goal is not to finish a race in a set time at a set pace but to have a joyful experience that will change me at my core. So it has been with becoming a mother. This first year has been transformative, difficult, and beautiful in ways I never could have anticipated.
Before becoming pregnant, I knew exactly what kind of pregnant person I would be. I imagined how I’d manage motherhood while achieving Epic Feats in my career and in my running. I’d run until the day I gave birth, and I’d pick back up right where I left off 6 weeks after having my baby. I would gracefully and magically manage the competing demands of my career, my marriage, my health, and this new little human. My “comeback” would be quick and linear, and by the time my baby was walking, I’d be running ultramarathons again, in the same size clothes I’d worn before! I follow many inspiring mothers on social media, and I simply assumed that this specific and constrained mission I had of becoming a running Supermom was the ultimate and only destination for an ambitious and goal-oriented person such as myself. I didn’t consider that, as in trail running, sometimes the best adventures are those involving route finding and a glorious and unplanned scramble to a peak I didn’t realize I was climbing.
My journey to becoming pregnant quickly unsettled this tightly scheduled road map I’d envisioned, as my partner and I navigated infertility and the sudden realization that the journey we had dreamed about and planned for might be one we weren’t even able to start. In that time it took for me to get and stay pregnant, I had to wrangle with a dawning recognition that, like it or not, I was on a journey for which I didn’t have a map. Here was a decision point; I could cling tightly to my known world and experience the changes to come as a painful rupture of my Self, or open my eyes to this uncharted wilderness ahead and travel into this land of transition with a spirit of adventure, curiosity, and joy. In this first beautiful, chaotic, sweet year of motherhood, I’ve worked to inhabit this in-between space with gratitude and intention.
Running has not been the grounds to stage a comeback of my former self I imagined it would. After all, how could I come back to a person who was no longer me? Rather, running has been a way to mark changes as well as celebrate that which remains the same. This, more than running a specific time or distance, is what makes me a runner.
Although at times I ache for the predictability and centeredness of my old life, there are days I catch glimpses of this new being I am becoming, and I am filled with hope and anticipation of what she, this mother runner who is strong, resilient, creative, resourceful, kind, and determined, will do next. I can’t write the part of the story that follows, or triumphantly tell of the arrival point after the wilderness. I’m still off the map, and I’m learning to love it here. I may have lost control, but in its place I’ve gained sweetness, connection, strength, endurance, patience, perspective, joy, and wonder.