The sports-day mothers’ race: ‘Why don’t you run, fat bitch?’

I made some quick mental calculations and deduced that the only possible chance of success was a flying – false – start

This is one race you should take seriously!

Last year, I had my first sports day as a mum.

I’d turned up slightly hungover from a school mums’ bonding session the night before, where I’d tried too hard and massively overshared. I was wearing a summery skirt and ballet pumps, ready to shout encouragement from the sidelines and photograph everything.  And what a wonderful day it was – epic displays of sportsmanship from some of the children, the odd comedy sack-race casualty followed by an outburst of frustration, and being moved to tears as the whole year cheered their less able-bodied classmate over the finish line.

Then, the grand finale. Of course, how could I forget the mothers’ race, when my own mother had always battled so hard to win it?  She won in each of her four children’s class races every time I can remember, but she had youth on her side and competing in the hurdles for the Watford Harriers in her background.  Plus, I wasn’t dressed for it (let alone trained or adequately hydrated), so I politely declined the invitation to participate.

But aren’t you the Grit Doctor?


“Yes, but I’m not a sprinter.” (Read: I’ve not prepared for this, and I can’t stand losing.)

“That sounds like an excuse to me, and I thought you didn’t believe in those.”

“Errr . . .”

“You’re always shouting at the rest of us to run, so why don’t you run, fat bitch!”

What could I say except politely agree to join in? As I made my way to the start line – surreptitiously eyeing up the competition in their sparkling new sprinting kits doing warm up stretches – the adrenalin started pumping, my heart pulsed in my neck, my mouth dried up, my leg muscles twitched.  I was shocked by how powerfully my body was reacting to the anticipation of a race and how badly it wanted to win.  There was no way I could hide this.  I was a six year old again at the start line of the egg-and-spoon, braced for the firing gun, and as woefully ill-equipped for defeat as ever.

I didn’t win. And I wrecked my knee, pulled a hamstring and couldn’t go for a jog for a month . . .

This year, though, I knew better. I’d learned from my first-timer rookie errors.  I wore running shoes and shorts, a sports bra, and turned up well watered and double espresso-ed.  The start line was overcrowded, with at least 30 or 40 mums from years 1-3 raring to go.  I made some quick mental calculations and deduced that the only possible chance of success was a flying (read: false) start in order to lose the other mums and make sure I got my own lane, or otherwise risk having to share it with five others.  I got the good start and lost the herd.  I was flying. I saw only one challenger in my peripheral vision, and we quickly locked into a race against only each other.

I ran as though my life depended on it and could feel my face pull into an expression so contorted with grit and determination (last seen at a school tennis or netball match 30 years ago), I could only pray that no-one had captured it on camera.  I approached my son immediately afterwards, fishing for praise and glowing with success.

Crestfallen, he said: “Second again, mum?  Never mind.  There’s always next year.”

Where does this untamed competitive streak of mine come from and is it healthy?  Almost certainly not. But I can no more help who I am in a race than my sons can, or anyone else competing that day could.  Looking at the line-up of kids – and of mothers – there are the ones with tunnel-vision focus, and others who seem pained with nerves. There are those who couldn’t care less, and some who howl at the injustice of an extra hoop in their path, while others are busy kicking it into the next lane.

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