“Mother Runners” everywhere are breaking barriers, crushing goals, and getting after it. Whitney Heins, founder of The Mother Runners, equips and empowers mother runners everywhere through informational resources and inspiration. In this guest post, Whitney explores the obstacles and challenges Mother Runners face and equips claim their strength and resources to overcome.
We also have Whitney on the A to Z Running Podcast talking about How to Support Mother Runners. Check it out!
15 Obstacles Facing “Mother Runners” and How to Overcome Them
One of the main perks of running is its spontaneous nature. No need to prepare, just put on your shoes and go. But that’s not the case when you become a mom. As a “mother runner,” running is no longer spur-of-the-moment. Other people are depending on you. They need you. Thus, obstacles abound.
However, taking the time to run as a mom is more important than during any other time. If, as moms, we aren’t healthy and happy with ourselves, then we can’t be the best moms we can be. Countless mother runners say when they return from a run, they come back a better, more patient mama. We moms need our run time to recharge and set good examples for our families. Therefore, mother runners everywhere have figured out ways to overcome obstacles, so we put our best feet forward for our families.
I’ve rounded out 15 common obstacles standing in the way of mother runners running and how to overcome them.
Running while pregnant.
Most mother runners know that trying to get a PR while pregnant isn’t a good idea (or even possible). But we also know that continuing to run while pregnant isn’t just good for our headspace, it’s good for baby, too. To do this, we’re awesome at listening to our bodies—not to push them too hard and not to let our heart rate get too high (aiming for below 140). We also know how to master the art of peeing outside and finding slower running buddies to keep us within range. Check out the ultimate guide for running while pregnant here.
Running after baby.
Trying to get back into running after having a baby requires an epic amount of patience. But that’s incredibly difficult during a time when you yearn to feel like your old self again and crave time to feel free when every second of your day—and night—is spent caring for someone else. How do mother runners prevail? By (again) listening to our bodies. Elite marathoner and pro runner for Adidas Neely Gracey says, “If it feels forced, stop right away (both mentally and physically). Everyone will respond differently. No one knows how you feel except you, so trust your instinct.” American Ninja Warrior Rose Wetzel has created a plan for postpartum runners that makes getting back into shape less daunting by prioritizing one goal a day like fitness, nutrition, or self-care.
Running with a cluster-feeding baby.
Running while nursing can be downright uncomfortable and inconvenient. There were so many times that my babies fell asleep before I could nurse them, would wake up hungry, and I would have to sprint home. Or they just wanted me nearby no matter how full they were, and would go ballistic, and I had to (again) sprint home. This time is temporary but for mother runners going through it—we survive by staying close to home when running or recruiting our partner’s help. This means he may have to put on your fuzzy pink robe to smell like you to soothe the baby. Or, you may go for family runs and he can push the stroller while you run on the track. Check out more tips for running while breastfeeding here.
Training for a race with a stroller.
Running with a stroller is no joke. It is physically hard to push it and mentally hard to keep kids happy in it for a duration of time. Moms know to bring snacks, stroller-only toys, tablets with cases, and to play a bevy of games like “count the squirrels.” And guess what? You can actually train for a race with a stroller. Alyssa Bloomquist qualified for the Olympic Trials in the marathon nailing her track workouts with a stroller. Her secret? Guide the stroller rather than steer it. Also, forget about pace. Let your heart rate be your guide. Learn how here.
Running on a treadmill.
Trying to run on the treadmill while entertaining your kids is no easy feat, but mother runners everywhere have mastered it. As they see it, the treadmill is not a “dreadmill,” it’s a tool for them to get to do what they need/want to do. Mamas put their treadmills in play areas with gates up around the equipment. Special toys are only available during mama’s run time, and, yes, sometimes screen time might be employed. Sleeping babies in rockers are positioned within reach of running moms. (If you need a clean podcast for your runs with little ears around, check out the A to Z Running Podcast.)
Your child wakes up a million times in the night.
When you have an infant or a sick kid or a kid that just doesn’t sleep well, you’re running on empty almost all the time. Sometimes a run will help invigorate you. And sometimes it will break you. Mother runners have learned to trust their guts on this. If just the thought of an easy run is draining, we don’t go. If we have an important workout, we may push it back or even skip it—knowing that sleep is more important. If we run when exhausted, we not only risk a poor workout, but risk getting sick or injured.
Having sick kids is the name of the game as a mother runner. Sick kids often equal sleepless nights and stressed-out days—not to mention the high probability that you’re going to get whatever they have…only worse. To survive, mother runners must be flexible. That means throwing perfection aside and being happy with whatever form of exercise they can get. Neely says, “I am less focused on things having to be ideal, and happier to get them in which is liberating after years of perfectionistic tendency.” For former pro New Balance runner Sarah Brown, when her kids are sick, she doesn’t stress about missing a workout. “All of a sudden, it’s so easy to prioritize. I know where I need to be. It’s not even a question.”
Major meltdowns when you try to leave.
Both of my kids went through phases where they didn’t want me (or their dad in another phase) to go for a run. We’re talking major meltdown city. And often, distraction (or bribery) was no match for the freak-outs. (And showing them that we would leave and come back wasn’t resonating at this time either). So, we had to run early before they woke up, tack it on to another trip away from the house (work meeting…then workout), or run before we came home from work. Sarah would involve her attached daughter into her track workouts, asking for high-fives and water bottles from her cutie. It didn’t always quell the tears, but sometimes it would help.
Staying connected on the run.
Running while disconnected is no longer a luxury once you’re a mom. We need to have our phone at all times should our family need us. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to find gear that makes your phone readily available and doesn’t inhibit your running—especially if you’re doing speedwork. I have cracked numerous phones because they flew out or got dropped when running intervals. Mother runners have found the best shorts, belts, and sports bras to carry their connection. Check them out here.
As a parent, you’re immediately short of time since you’re always needed by someone or needing to do something. Mother runners have to be very diligent about carving out time to run or take care of themselves. There are a number of ways they do this. We wake up early and run before anyone else is awake. We run during lunch breaks. We break up exercise into two smaller chunks. We run on treadmills and with strollers while entertaining kids. And, we take turns with our partners or arrange for childcare, to name a few strategies. Get more ideas here.
Your partner needs “me time,” too.
Moms aren’t the only ones who face challenges to getting their runs in. The dads need their “me time” or “run time,” too. To keep resentment at bay, couples must plan and communicate their exercise wishes. We must also take turns—for instance, one person runs in the morning, and one in the evening. Or one takes Saturday for a long run and the other takes Sunday morning. Get more tips to protect your marriage here.
No time to recover.
Before kids, I would go for a long run and then lie out on the couch the rest of the day. Now, I’ll hammer out 23 miles and come in the house to change diapers, clean, and make breakfast. Times have changed. There is little space for rest and recovery. So, we got to plan it and take it when we can get it. This may mean pre-making meals, smoothies, or having a protein bar to grab. It may also mean stretching while we watch our kids play. Or we may steal a couple minutes right before bed to foam roll tired legs.
No time for injury prevention.
Mother runners barely have time to run let alone the extras like yoga, strength training, cross training, etc. So, we must multi-task. I have a foam roller in the middle of our playroom so that if the kids are playing happily for a hot minute, I will work out my leg muscles. I also have made it a habit to stretch when they are playing on the playground or in the bath. I’ll also sometimes choose a bath over a shower so I can soak in Epsom salts while I get clean. Sarah sporadically fits in bodyweight exercises throughout the day to keep her core strong, often recruiting her oldest daughter to join in.
Comparison is the thief of all joy, however it’s hard not to compare our pre-baby running selves to our post-baby running selves, or our post-baby running selves to other pre- or post-running people…you get the picture. In a world dominated by social media images touting moms who got back into pre-baby shape in what seemed like milliseconds, mother runners must work hard not to fall into the comparison trap. We practice grace and recognize that our bodies are amazing—and all respond differently to pregnancy. Our bodies are built to have babies and to run. It may take time to get our fitness back, but we celebrate all that our bodies can do.
As every mom knows, doing something for herself can come at the cost of feeling guilty or selfish because it means time away from the kids. But in order to invest in our kids, we’ve got to invest in ourselves. As 2:54 marathoner Rebecca Weinand explains, “Investing in yourself doesn’t withdraw from something else (like your kids). You’re just adding to the bank. You’re investing in yourself so you can have more funds to pull from when the kids need to make a withdrawal from you.” Mother runners have also learned that our running instills positive habits and life lessons in our kids—that it’s important to do something for yourself, to exercise, to be healthy, to work hard, and to persevere when the going gets tough.
In essence, no matter the tears that may occur when we go, we know that running is the gift that keeps on giving.
Whitney Heins is the founder of The Mother Runners (themotherrunners.com), a resource for moms who run or want to run with information and inspiration to chase their dreams. Follow her on Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook at @themotherrunners.