It can be tough to fit in running as a mom of young kids.
The baby wakes up early and won’t leave Mama’s arms, so you don’t go.
The baby skips a night feeding. You’re sure he’ll wake up while you’re out because that’s just you’re luck. And you’re not sure if your sports bra can even contain your skipped-a-feeding boobs. So you don’t go.
The toddler sees you about to leave and wails “I want to go too!” Which means your pace requires an adjustment to accommodate those short little legs.
You’re about to step out the door when you smell it. And of course it’s a huge, mushy, impossibly sticky one on a wriggling acrobat baby, and your running time just got traded for an extra bath.
Have you bumped running or another favorite workout to the bottom of your priority list because you have sweet little munchkins running around, needing things 24/7?
Over the past few years I’ve only been able to cobble together a few weeks of consistent running at a time, with months-long breaks in between. A good streak will get interrupted by a fussy baby needing extra cuddles, extra household tasks, bad weather, bad moods, another pregnancy. Recently I’ve been putting a lot of thought into how to get back into running as a mom, and have it stick.
Is it the right time?
There have been times when I knew it wasn’t my season for running, that other priorities had to be on top. In these times, I focus on how much movement is integrated into my day – getting down on the floor to play with the kids and then up, and back down, and back up… squatting down to pick them up, carrying them around (sometimes both at once). Plus you know, chores and stuff.
I’m nowhere near the level of daily movement as, say, Katy Bowman (https://nutritiousmovement.com/a-day-in-the-life/) but it’s enough to keep me fairly strong. I can carry those kids longer than my husband can!
But I like running, and I miss it. I’m just not my whole self without it.
Recently I made it out for my first run in months. I almost didn’t go, because as usual the timing didn’t work out as planned and I was frustrated. Some people like to run to blow off steam, but that’s not really me. For me it just adds to the effort, discomfort. I want running to be fun. Now, if I’m doing something actually difficult, the challenge is part of the fun. But these days, a run longer than 30min is out of range and I get mad that the most basic, short “easy” run is hard.
This irritation is a circular problem. I rarely run, so it’s hard, so I don’t really want to do it unless I’m in the mood. And so many things get in the way of having time to go out, so I get more mad, and miss the chances I do have because I
don’t like running when I’m mad am being a baby about it.
I have a mindset problem and need to find a way to get my butt out the door consistently. Here’s how I’ll be working my way back into running. Maybe it can help you, too.
How to get back to running as a mom
Get over your excuses by finding your “why”
I have a million (and one!) excuses that keep me from running, from the weather to my kids’ (non)-sleep schedules. None of them are insurmountable, though they are inconvenient. Many moms with more barriers than me find ways to get their workouts in. I can problem solve, but I need more reason than just “I want to go for a run.” That’s not deep enough or concrete enough.
So answer this question: I want to run BECAUSE…
I like time to myself – the escape, the freedom to just follow my thoughts (and 3% of those thoughts might be about something other than the kids for once!) I miss being fit enough to just go run for an hour without a second thought. Plus I miss completing big goals like half marathons. Before I got married (and immediately had to deal with pregnancy and then kids), I had done 11 halfs, but none since. And I want to run because for so long, running has been a part of who I am, and I feel somehow inauthentic without it.
You’ll have your own reasons. Once you start focusing on them you’ll feel your drive to get out the door get stronger.
Toughen up. But also, lighten up.
Stop getting mad that every run won’t be perfect. Since I go so infrequently, a bad run stands out more. But you know what? That’s just part of it. Decide to take pleasure in working through the struggle.
Stop fighting it… this is a time for some mindfulness and acceptance. This is the part of running I am experiencing right now. I don’t need to judge it, or judge myself for it.
Find the right time of day
It may be different from what was the right time in your pre-kids days, and maybe even different from your initial thought of what might work. It may vary from day to day. Experiment. Some options:
- Early, early mornings, before the rest of the family is awake
- If you stay at home, can you trade kid-watching time with another mom, so you each get a free hour ?
- If you work, are lunch-hour runs an option?
- Can your partner watch the kids right before or right after dinner?
- Is kid bedtime early enough to allow for a twilight run?
Soon after my second boy was born, I was planning my (triumphant!) return to running. It seemed like early morning would be a perfect slot. Except that little stinker would ALWAYS would wake up while I was gone. Then I felt too guilty to go out, or couldn’t relax while I was out there. As baby grew, his sleep got worse and more unpredictable, so getting up extra early when I COULD be sleeping was not an option. Just ask my fitbit… “5 hours asleep, awake 16 times” is a pretty good summary of the last year. Now, after his first birthday with slowly (painfully slowly) improving sleep, I see potential for early morning runs again.
Decide if ‘modified’ running will meet your needs
Adjust your expectations for how much time you need. Maybe carving out time for an hour-plus workout 6 days a week is out of reach. But can you get 10-15 minutes most days? It might feel like nothing, but it can add up to much more. Or, can you get that long block of time, but only once or twice a week? Use what you can get.
Would some treadmill running be an option for you? Either at home or a gym? I much, much (MUCH) prefer outdoor running for a variety of reasons, but being open to using the treadmill to start filling the gaping running hole in my life has helped. We recently joined a gym that has a childcare room so I can let the kids play while I get a workout in. Now I just need the little one to work through his separation anxiety so he’s not crying the whole time, poor thing.
Try running while pushing one or two kids in a jogging stroller. I’ve been resistant to this, because it doesn’t feel as relaxing or free as I want a run to be. I use our double-jogging stroller frequently for walks but I have rarely run with it. Pushing one kid in a single is a little more doable.
Of course, this is one of those areas I need to get over my objections to (see above), because even if jogging-stroller runs aren’t perfect, they would help me get fitter so I can enjoy my “free” runs more. Plus, nothing says “running as a mom” quite like it. I always admire the stroller-pushing running moms I see out there, and I secretly want to run up to them and beg them to be my friend and go on stroller running dates with me.
I do have one other problem with the stroller though – which is trying to balance my kids’ need for movement with my own. Stroller time for them is basically just sitting time. So unless I feel like they are both needing some downtime, I hesitate to strap them in. Perhaps though, shorter bursts would be doable. A 15 minute run is still better than no run, and I can handle the idea of them taking that kind of break. I could run us to a park where they could play a while before the run back. Short spurts might be more doable in the crazy summer heat and humidity anyway.
Involve the whole family
Having a race on your calendar is almost always a good motivator to get you out the door. Now, if you were all about the PRs at road races before, you’ll want to adjust your expectations. Focus on fun and inclusiveness. One of my favorite memories is of my then 2-year-old son “running” part of a 5K with us.
If running is something the whole family does and enjoys, the opportunities to do it will grow.
Make your needs known
This might be the most important item on the list. The opportunities are there somewhere – but you often need to hand off kid responsibility to someone else, which means you may need to ASK. A big part of why I get so frustrated with not being able to go out is that someone is not reading my mind and creating chances for me to go. Completely reasonable, I know.
I hope working through this list will help you keep you running as a mom (or get back to running as a mom, if you’re in the same boat as me). I realize I’m not sharing any grand wisdom here. I’m just thinking it through, and hopefully helping you do the same.
What struggles have kept you from getting your run on? And more importantly, what has WORKED for you?