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“How’s this going to work?” my mom asked me at the start line of the Firecracker 5K in Haddon Heights, N.J., on Thursday.
“I’m going to tail you at first to figure out your pace, and we’ll see from there,” I said.
This wasn’t the first time I’d run this Fourth of July race with my mother, Mary Miller. That was in 2013, when she was 58. I had just finished my third marathon, and was recovering from tendinitis in my foot. So for that 2013 race, I walked next to her, turning every once in a while to make sure that the police car that marked the end of the pack was not going to pass us.
The first time she ran a 5K, she had finished last, and I’d had to beg the race timer to keep the clock going because I knew she was still out there.
My mom had always been an athletic person, swimming and biking along with her four kids and then on her own when we grew up and moved out, but running came later in life for her.
She graduated from high school in June 1972, the same month that Title IX, the federal law that opened the door to girls’ sports, was enacted. She said she liked running in gym class, and was pretty good, but her school didn’t offer women’s cross country or track.
I, on the other hand, played on my first team sport when I was 4 years old. I was captain of my high school softball team, and no one questioned that girls’ sports deserved to be funded.
I started running in 2006 for an article assignment. My mom was on the sidelines of my first 5K, just as she was there at the marathon I’d run before our first Fourth of July race.
After watching for years, my mother decided that she wanted to do triathlons, and in 2013 she hired a running coach. “I could not do a triathlon without learning how to run,” she said. “Running was the missing key.”
Since then, she’s completed six triathlons, a half marathon, and too many 10 milers, 10Ks and 5Ks to count. She’s lost 50 pounds.
This fall, at 64, she’ll face her biggest challenge yet: the New York City Marathon. I’m running with her, and we want to prepare by doing some races together, which is why we lined up together at the start line of the 5K on Thursday.
After an initial surge of people running by themselves, with dogs or with strollers, my mother settled into a pace, and I pulled up next to her. I talked about everything and anything: What color should our shirts be for the marathon? Should we just do our names or have my brother design a logo? What did she want to have with burgers tonight?
“Do you want me to shut up?” I asked as we finished the first mile.
“What? No,” she said.
My mom trained through this past winter while I was sidelined with a stress fracture. Her longest run so far this year has been 11 miles. My longest since I returned was four. Still, I’m faster than she is, and as she slowed her pace uphill, I walked.
“Do I offend you by walking?” I asked.
“Jennifer,” she huffed. “You have got to stop apologizing.”
The temperature was in the 80s at the beginning of the race, and was getting worse. We ran from shady spot to shady spot, and hit every sprinkler spectators had set up along the way. With a half mile to go, I looked over at my mom. She was doing fine. I turned to look over my shoulder: no police car marking the end of the pack that I could see.
In 2013, she ran and I walked this 5K in 45 minutes, 40 seconds. This year, we did it in 40 minutes, 57 seconds. She finished second in her age group.
The New York City Marathon is on Nov. 3. Once a month, I’ll update you on how we’re doing. For the most part, we’re training separately — I plan to do a few trail races this summer, and my mom is focusing solely on this — but we’ll be doing a few long runs together, including the New York Road Runners’ New York City Marathon Training Series 18 Miler in September.
Have you trained with a relative or friend? Let me know — I’m at @byjenamiller on Twitter.
Stay tuned and run well!
Jen A. Miller is the author of “Running: A Love Story.”
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