As a mother in San Francisco, there’s no better description of taking the kids to school every morning. It’s a tactical routine Minji Wong has embraced: wake up the kids at 7 am, pack the school bags, make sure lunch is ready, prepare breakfast, double check they’re dressed. Okay, time to go.
Out the door by 8 am. Then there’s traffic. The slow crawling obstacle in every city where any delay can become a mother’s worst nightmare. Everything needs to be in place. One little thing out of order – a traffic light, a late bus, or a muni train causing a delay – and it can mean Ella and Miles will be late for school.
I’m not exactly helping the cause. As someone who doesn’t live in the city, I underestimated what a difference just five minutes can make. I had planned to meet Minji and the kiddos a couple blocks away from their school to see the dropoff first hand. Traffic had other plans. But by sheer luck, I found a fateful parking spot. Just as I parked my car, Minji calls: “Do you think you can run to my car? I’m afraid we might be late.”
So I run, fast, just two blocks down from where I parked. And sure enough, I find their car just before a congested traffic light turns green. I jump in. We turn the corner. A few minutes later, Ella and Miles give their mom a kiss and bolt out the door at 8:30 AM sharp. Minji exhales. Mission accomplished.
But as an avid runner, being a mother comes at a price: Minji looks at her feet, realizing she left her running shoes at home. She lets out a groan, but also a little laugh. Such is the life of a mom in San Francisco.
And that’s where running comes in. As though the morning wasn’t hectic enough, it's certainly not over, because it's the only small window of time Minji has to squeeze in a run. And not just any run; it’s an 8-mile easy run on the Coastal Trail of San Francisco as she prepares for the London Marathon a month later. For Minji, this is the most important time of the day: it’s her moment to renew.
The Wednesday evening before, Minji invites me to Kezar Stadium in the center of San Francisco, where Miles and Ella have their Track and Field practice. Before they start, Minji and the kiddos traditionally run around the track for a warm-up. It’s a moment to be together: they talk about their days, how school went, jogging at a moderate pace (these kids are quite fast, I’d like to add.) And just as their practice gets started, it’s like the traffic session all over again: Minji looks at her watch: “I have 45 minutes.”
No time to waste.She heads straight into nearby Golden Gate Park and begins her own workout – a speed interval session, 600 meters at interval pace, 90-seconds rest, five times – on the open, colorful “Golden Mile” of the JFK Promenade.
Her workout is far from easy. As one of the biggest build up weeks leading up to the London Marathon, Minji puts her foot on the gas and gives it everything she’s got. Five internals later, she is spent. She takes a 5-minute cool down jog all the way back to Kezar. Miles and Ella finish practice. Right on time.
How do you do it? I ask. “Being a Mother Runner is hard,” Minji exhales, sitting in the stands of the stadium as she catches her breath, and so do her kiddos.
Why? Minji’s answer is honest:
“I feel like motherhood has been one of the best, unexpected gifts that I can experience. And at the same time, it's very easy to lose yourself. Who you once were, your identity,” she explains.
“When you’re tired all the time, when you don’t even have that mental capacity or that emotional strength to even connect, it's hard for you to set the intention to invest in yourself, because you've given everything that you can possibly give to your family, to your kids, to your work, to your life. There’s very little energy left, and it's counterintuitive to say ‘hey, I’m going to exert myself more.’”
For every Mother Runner, the first hurdle is intention. The second hurdle is time. For Minji, it's at least one hour. It’s wearing running shorts during her work Zoom meeting, so the moment that meeting is over, she is out the door and getting the workout in. While it may seem totally impossible, in between these moments of being a mother, a wife, and a worker, that shining gem of time is there.
This year’s training has been Minji’s most consistent training block to date, and she has her sights set on two big dreams at the time of writing this: to cross another World Major off her list at London, and as a Masters runner, qualify for the Boston Marathon.
While running is obviously a passion, as a mother, it's become something even more important: an opportunity to renew herself with moving meditation. As she finishes a beautiful 8-mile run along the beach just north of the Golden Gate Bridge, Minji smiles, taking in the sun and seemingly enjoying every second of her hour of freedom.
“I never regret a run,” Minji says smiling. “Even if it's just an hour, or if it feels stressful just to plan it. I always come back feeling alive. Every pore in me is breathing.”
And this is where Minji’s experience as a mother for eleven years provides some insightful wisdom for mothers old and new. Despite what motherhood can do to someone’s grasp of identity, running offers something unique to a hard-working mother: revival.
“Running enables me to show up and be a much more powerful version of myself; a much more effective person, in what I do, in my vocation to supporting people in my life and in my work. And just being a better, less grouchy, happier…mom.”
With Miles and Ella’s workout at Kezar finally finished, it's time to go home. Minji still has to make dinner, make sure the homework gets done, prepare for the cycle all over again the next morning. I ask if what she’s able to accomplish – marathons, half marathons, training, working – all while being a mother, surprises her. It does.
“Becoming a mother has been a truly impactful experience. And it feels as though the old me has died, and a new me has risen. I live my life through the eyes of my children. I live my life not as an individual, but rather, as a family.”
“Being a Mother Runner requires you to prioritize yourself. Being a mother requires you to care for more than just everyone else besides you in your life, and that’s hard because we become selfless. We always think of other people as mothers. What we do on a day-to-day basis is so paramount and so powerful on how it can make you a more effective mother and person in life.”
Holding the hands of her children, she walks out of Kezar, back into the routine of a mother living in San Francisco, back into her organized chaos, smiling.
Minji Wong is a #RADrabbit and a Mother Runner. A month after sharing her story, she traveled across the pond to run in her first London Marathon, completing the race in 3:36:34, qualifying for the Boston Marathon in 2024. She continues to run everyday in San Francisco, training for the San Francisco Half-Marathon, and soon, more World Majors as a proud mom and Masters Runner.