It's Mothers Day today. Andy had a big day planned for me. 150Ks on the bike, including Mt Nebo, with a short run to follow. It would be the first training day where morning lapses into afternoon before you know it.
Halfway up Mt Nebo a fellow cyclist came up behind me, puffing as much as I was, and as she passed, slowly, she wished me a happy Mothers Day. I wished her the same, then asked her if she was a mother. She said she was, paused, then asked if I was. When I said I wasn't, she said cheerily, "Well, happy Mothers Day anyway".
This chance encounter, and an off hand remark, provided some food for thought as I ticked through some Ks in a very long day.
Initially, it served as quite a brutal reminder that my physical appearance is of a woman in her child bearing years, rather than the young girl I often still consider myself to be. I then thought about what it was to be a mother, rather than a woman; or come to think of it, a lady. Just days before I'd had a conversation at work about whether it was appropriate to refer to someone as a "lady", which most feminists consider to be a (presumably unflattering) male construct.
(I actually like the idea of being a lady. To me it infers someone who is impeccable, cultivated, wise, even powerful, but most of all worthy of respect. What's wrong with that? But I digress...)
My train of thought led eventually to the Chronicle of my first Ironman race, and some feedback and encouragement I received from an unlikely source. When I'd mentioned to my boss at the time that I'd written about my experience at Ironman and he seemed interested, I sent it through to him for a read. The response I received was surprising.
He told me how much he enjoyed reading such a story from a female perspective.
"While I was reading it I was trying to think of analogies and the only one that came to mind is the idea that for women the stories of their pregnancies and labours are their war stories. There are fewer opportunities for stories of women in the heroic mode - but you have found one and created something that I found moving and insightful."
Certainly, I was flattered at someone holding such high esteem for my writing. From time to time, though, I've also reflected on these words, and wondered whether the reason I persist at Ironman is to replace the experience of being a mother. I don't think it has; not consciously, anyway. For me, not having children is about my choice to commit to the love of my life, KKB.
So often though, as I inch my way to the finish line of whatever race I'm completing, there are plenty of women on the sidelines, cheering me on, urging me to "do it for the girls". It has often seemed to me that for many women, their identity becomes subsumed by those of their children, or their husbands.
Most Ironman competitor lists are weighted heavily in favour of male competitors. If my calculations are correct, the field of Ironman Regensburg is less than 15% women. As much as I love hearing little kids on the side of the road cheering on their Dads, I love it more when I hear a "Go Mummy!"
For words that are not directed at me, they still have an impact. I can't help but feel pride in the sisterhood, and admiration for those women, who are also mothers, getting out there and doing it. In my mind they're not only doing something for themselves, but setting an example to their kids that nothing is more important than your own sense of self.
I'm comfortable with the fact that any possible life I might have led as a mother is something that is only a reality in an alternate life in another parallel universe.* Increasingly, I'm also comfortable with my life as a woman (or a lady for that matter). I'm less inclined to see myself a young girl; and more and more, I feel comfortable with that.
It's nice to get the accolades that occasionally come my way from doing Ironman and writing stuff about it. But mostly, what's rewarding about this experience is about knowing myself.
*Yes, this is an unashamed homage to the final series of LOST. What the hell. It's not long now till we will find out about the whole alternate reality thing is about in LOST...