I have one child, a fourteen-year-old daughter who loves to hear the story about how she “ran” her first half marathon while in my tummy when I was pregnant. I had been running half marathons and other distances well before I was pregnant so when I told my ob/gyn doctor that I wanted to run a half marathon in my first trimester, she just said for me to take it easy and not push too hard. I had an uncomplicated pregnancy and not only ran that half marathon, I was able to continue to run until I was about 8 months pregnant, at which point the pressure on my bladder was too much so I switched to the elliptical trainer.
Once I got the green light to run again after my delivery, I noticed some changes in my body that had happened during pregnancy. I developed iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS), which is a common running injury, apparently because my ligaments had gotten looser when I was pregnant and we runners want relatively tight ligaments to hold everything in place. Despite the pain from ITBS and not really being able to run more than a few miles without excruciating pain in the side of my knee, I ran a half marathon in Ohio, my first postpartum race, when my daughter was almost 7 months old.
I had a jogging stroller that I used to run with my daughter as soon as she was able to sit and hold her head up on her own. If you’ve never pushed a child in a jogging stroller, let me tell you, it’s HARD! Not only is it hard to push the extra weight of the child plus the stroller, it’s hard to coordinate the pushing and running. Do you push with one hand, both hands, or do the push-off then do no-hands for a few steps? I ended up doing all three. Then there are the turns. Jogging strollers are different from regular baby strollers because they have three wheels instead of four, which makes it easier to maneuver them, but it’s still not easy. I ended up pushing my daughter in the jogging stroller until she was almost 2 years old. At that point she was done with strollers of all sorts and she would put up the biggest fuss you’ve ever seen when I tried to strap her into a stroller or a car seat too for that matter (but she still had to ride in the car seat for a few more years).
Being able to take your child with you on runs in a jogging stroller helps on a few different fronts. For one, it gives your spouse a break from having to take care of your child. For another, it gives you some special one-on-one time, as long as your child enjoys being in the stroller. Finally, many kids seem to enjoy being out in nature and seeing all of the new sights go by when they’re in a jogging stroller. For other kids, the rocking motion puts them to sleep. My daughter would just sit there and look around, taking it all in, so I believe she enjoyed the jogging stroller until she reached the point where she didn’t want to be strapped into anything.
When my daughter was still really little but too old for her jogging stroller, I remember how she would react when I would tell her I was going out for a run. She would always give me a big smile and when she was old enough to talk she would always say, “Have a great run, Momma!” Never did I get the push-back from her where she begged me not to go. It’s like it didn’t even occur to her to ask me not to go for a run. Seeing me go for a run was such an ingrained part of my family’s life that it was just normal to her.
Like any mother runner (or father runner) knows, it’s difficult to squeeze everything in. I’ve always worked full-time and have been running half-marathons since before my daughter was born, on average 3 or 4 races a year. My daughter has been what I would call fairly active in activities over the years such as swim lessons then swim team when she was older, gymnastics lessons, Girl Scouts, soccer teams, ballet lessons, piano lessons, art lessons, and on and on. Fortunately my husband and I were able to work together to coordinate all of this plus our work schedules but it hasn’t been easy. I would often run laps around the park or neighborhood where she had soccer practice or swim team practice. I would dress for a run, drop her off, then run as long as I possibly could until it was time to pick her up again. Sometimes it wasn’t as long as my training plan called for, but as mother runners, we do what we can.
As my daughter got older, she asked to run with me. At first, I was so thrilled and imagined the two of us chatting happily while we went for easy runs. Then the reality of that sunk in and the complaining began. She would whine, “Running is hard,” and “I can’t do it,” and “I need to walk,” sometimes only after being out a few minutes. I would always tell her she would be setting the pace and we would only go for about a half hour, walking when she needed to. However, the truth is, the whining and complaining were driving me crazy and after a while I couldn’t take it any more. We stopped running together.
Then I discovered Girls on the Run, a running support group aimed at girls in third through fifth grade that lasts 10-12 weeks and culminates with a 5k race at the end. It turned out to be one of the best decisions I could make for my daughter, although initially she wasn’t as big of a fan of the program as I was. The reason she didn’t care for the program is she thought it was too easy for her and wanted the coaches to push her harder, but I think it was great for her to be able to see what a great runner she was then and gain some confidence in herself. I fully believe that’s what turned things around for my daughter, and ultimately lead her to become the runner she is today. I wrote a post about her experience when she was going through it, which you can read here: Girls on the Run Interview.
Over the years, I’ve become a big fan of products from the store Trader Joe’s. If you don’t have one where you live, maybe there’s something like it with affordable and still healthy options. On many occasions, I’ve come home from work, changed into my running clothes then gone for a run, come home from my run, and made something from Trader Joe’s for dinner, like a pre-packaged stir-fry or cut up some chicken and cooked and sautéed that in an Indian sauce, with some naan and rice (all from Trader Joe’s) on the side. Sure, other stores have stir fries, sauces, and things like that, but Trader Joe’s products often have less processing and/or less preservatives and other stuff you don’t really want in your food. But I don’t want this to sound like an ad for Trader Joe’s. It’s really my way of saying it’s OK to make a quick meal for your family and you don’t need to feel guilty for doing so. Heck, show me any mother who works full-time and trains for long distance races and I’ll show you a woman who at least sometimes cooks quick meals for her family (unless she’ s lucky enough to have a husband who doesn’t run and does all of the cooking. Now wouldn’t that be a dream?).
As mothers we already feel so much guilt, right from the beginning. There’s guilt if you don’t breast-feed, guilt if you don’t use cloth diapers, guilt if you don’t stay home to raise your child, guilt if you don’t always cook organic, healthy home-cooked meals, guilt if you leave your child with a sitter, guilt if you don’t enroll your child in the “best” preschool, and on and on it goes. We don’t need to feel guilty if we’re doing the best we can and our children are taken care of. Truly, it’s OK to leave your child with your husband while you go for a run, even a long run for an hour or more.
My husband was always fully supportive of me, whether it was my decision to go back to work full-time after the birth of our daughter or my running when our daughter was young and he had to watch her. I know not all women have as supportive husbands, however, which is sad to me. The ability to get out to run is such a mental break for me and my husband was able to see that I’m happier when I’m able to run, and likewise, I’m a better mother to our daughter. If only all husbands could understand this, I believe they would also be more supportive. If you can’t rely on your husband to watch your kids, try trading off watching each other’s kids with another mother runner in your area, or ask a friend, co-worker, relative, or someone else you know and would trust your kids with.
So yes, being a mother is hard and being a mother runner is even harder, especially if you work full-time as well, but I’m here to tell you it can be done. What about work/life balance, you may ask? Honestly, it doesn’t exist, at least not in the perfect 50/50 balance. Some days you may feel like it’s a struggle just to keep your head afloat.
There will be days where you have to work late in the evening, you have to go into work late because your child had a doctor appointment, you have to leave work a little early to squeeze in a run, you skip lunch so you can get in a run, you have to set your alarm for a crazy hour in the morning so you can run before work, you have piles of laundry that have need folded for a week, your bathroom hasn’t been cleaned in over a month. Any of this sound familiar? If you’re a mother runner, I’m sure at least some of it does. We’ve all been there. And you know what? It’s OK. Now stop beating yourself up and get out there for a run!
Are you a mother runner? Do you or did you feel guilty for not being a “perfect” mother?