I Always Think of My Mom When I'm Running
Mallary Tenore is a journalist and the executive director of Images and Voices of Hope. She grew up outside Boston, and lives in Austin, Texas.
MALLARY TENORE: My name is Mallary Tenore. I just turned 30 years old. I grew up outside of Boston, Massachusetts and I currently live in St. Petersburg, Florida.
So, my first memory of running was actually when I was three years old. In the small town of Holliston, Massachusetts where I grew up, they held these track meets for kids ages three to 13. And my mom took me there right after I turned three, and she said, “Well, these are races where you get to run down a track and then you get a ribbon at the end.” And I didn’t really exactly know what that meant. I had never been to a track meet before, and as a three-year-old I really didn’t do much running except for running around the house and falling down. So my mom said, “All you have to do is just run down the track until you see me, and then I’ll give you a big hug at that finish line.” The guy who was running these track meets would say, “On your mark, get set, go,” and I’d run down that track, the 50 yards, and I’d be weaving in and out of lanes and my pigtails were flying, and I’d be hitting elbows with the other three-year-olds who were running with me. But I just kept focused on my goal, which was running toward my mom. At the end I would always run into her arms and I would get a ribbon, and, really, that’s what fueled my initial love for running.
A lot of people will say that runners run away from things, but I’ve always found that I’ve been running towards something. And I think that I’ve thought that for so many years because my love for running started with me running towards my mom. So, for me, I’m always thinking of my mom when I’m running.
I was 11 years old when my mother passed away. She had had a three year struggle with breast cancer. When she passed away, I was in complete shock, even though I knew that she was sick. Everyone in my family said that she was going to be OK, and as an 11-year-old who was quite optimistic, I really did think that she was going to make it. So when she passed away I really felt like I had lost all control.
So I began to search for something that I could have control over. For me, that was food. I started to severely decrease my food intake. I started to obsessively exercise, and got so sick that I ended up in the hospital multiple times and in residential treatment for a year and a half. After I went through residential treatment, I started to make a lot better choices and I was able to go back to my high school. One of the ways that I integrated myself back into high school — since I was away for about three years — was by joining the cross country team.
Once I got to college, I started to have ups and downs again where I would eat a ton of food one day and hardly eat anything the next day. I was sort of yo-yoing. Running factored into that — again, in sometimes a detrimental way. And I would say that in the years since graduating from college I’ve done so much better. I’ve come so much farther than I ever thought that I would from that little girl who was 66 pounds and very unhealthy. But I still have to keep in mind the fact that running could have a potentially detrimental effect if I begin to be too obsessive about it, or if I start to only focus on burning calories. So when I told my nutritionist and my therapist that I was thinking of running a marathon, they were both very skeptical. They said, “Well, I don’t know. This could be really bad for you. It could make you slip back into old behaviors.” But for me, I really wanted to do it almost as a way to say that I don’t want my eating issues to restrict what I can do in this world and in my life.
I found that, as I trained for the marathon, I was actually much more focused on staying strong and staying healthy than I was on losing weight. That was so empowering, because I was able to run that marathon and beat my goal. I ran it in three hours, 48 minutes. And I had hoped to run it in under four hours. So I just ended up crying when I crossed the finish line, because I thought to myself, “Wow, I did this, and I stayed strong and healthy.” And it wasn’t always easy. It was a real learning experience, but also a real reminder of all the work that I’ve done to let go of a lot of those eating issues that I so deeply struggled with.
Any time that I was running really long miles, when I did my 18- and 20-mile runs while I was training, and while I was running the marathon, I kept thinking about my mom, because my mom just loved running, and she really instilled that love of running in me. And we always went to the marathon together. We grew up right outside of Hopkinton, which is where the Boston Marathon starts, and so my mom used to take me every year. It was just a way to, in some way, celebrate her memory and our collective memories that we shared of the marathons, and it was also a way for me to let go of some of the perfectionism that I’ve always held onto so much in my life.
I used to think a lot that my mom really wanted me to be perfect, because any time that I made a mistake or any time I did something wrong she would yell at me. So I just had this real perfectionistic drive. I think a lot of people who have struggled with eating issues tend to be Type-A, tend to be perfectionists. And in some ways, while I was running, it was sort of liberating and freeing, because I was trying to let go of that perfectionism and that tendency that I have to say, you have to get the best time, and you have to run the best. And I was really holding onto this gift of running that my mother gave me.