Marathon Mom

Since becoming a mom in July, 2012, I’ve achieved personal records in the 5k and half marathon. In April, this sleep-deprived, busy mom ran the Toledo Marathon 35 minutes and 45 seconds faster than a 19 year-old me with no responsibilities.

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Photo Credit: Danielle McKay, my awesome best friend who waited for me at the finish line!

You think that is a coincidence?

Running 26.2 miles may be hard. But being a mom is harder, and it’s given me a competitive edge not matched by the best training program out there. You see, a standard training program can only tell you so much—when much to run, what to eat, how much to rest.

But that’s where it ends.

Anyone who has run a marathon knows that making it through training, and then the race itself, is as much mental as it is physical. This mental toughness isn’t something you can learn from a book though. It comes from lived experiences. From trying times when you have to dig deep, quiet your fears, and keep moving on.

For me, it comes from being a mom.

From learning the importance of trusting my gut to finding the perfect time to run (it is always after the baby poops but before your partner has detected the smell), read on to find out about all the things I’ve learned about running, and myself, from motherhood. Then leave a comment to let me know how parenthood has impacted your running!

1. Perfect runs aren’t born from perfect conditions

In the same way you don’t have to be a perfect parent to raise a happy, well-adjusted child, you don’t have to have perfect conditions to get in a great run. So it’s raining and cold. Or you’re tired and cranky. Or your favorite pair of shorts are in the dirty laundry (this one seriously happens to me all the time). It’s okay. Get out there and put one foot in front of the other. The way I see it is you either get a great run or a lesson in perseverance. Win-win.

2. Do it now. Later won’t come

My free time is precious, and with a toddler, there is very little to be had. If I don’t use my “me time” wisely, I’ll quickly end up with back log of dreams I wanted to pursue but never did. So when I commit to something like running a marathon, I commit to do it now. I set aside the time, and whether I’m feeling like it or not, I lace up my sneakers and hit the road. Because in Mommyland, it’s now or never.

3. Educate yourself, but always follow your gut

There is a lot of information out there about to properly raise a child. It’s up to you to pick and choose what works best based on your unique situation. Same holds true for running. The training plan that helped your friend reach a PR might have you sidelined with an injury before you make it to the starting line. Or the newest and best pre-race meal might send you to the port-o-potties instead of into the corrals. You know your body. Listen to it.

4. Sometimes the best thing about a finishing a hard run is that it’s over with—that’s okay

Just like the best thing about a tough parenting day is crawling into bed with a full Netflix queue, the best thing about a really hard run can be that it’s over with. Pat yourself on the back for surviving and don’t look back.

5. A few bad runs don’t make for a bad race.

A common inner monologue I had the first few months of my son’s life went something like this. “Oh no, this kid will not stop crying. He’s been crying all day. He’s going to keep crying all week. I think he might cry forever. This will never end. This is my life from now on. I can’t do this.” I’ve had the exact same thoughts while training for a marathon. A couple bad runs with tired, sore legs and I’m convinced I’ll never make it to the starting line, let alone finish the race. Surprise, I did. And you likely will too. Everyone has bad training runs. Plan on them. Work them into your training routine the same you would any other workout. View them as your mental toughness training, because that is just as important to build up as physical strength.

6. Don’t use Google to diagnose running injuries—ever. An achy knee is sometimes just an achy knee

I once convinced myself that Oliver had leukemia. Turns out it was something called Roseola. Had I waited for the doctor appointment instead of endlessly searching Google all weekend I would have saved myself a lot of grief. The internet can be great for gathering information, but it can also be great for freaking yourself out. If you’re really concerned, seek the advice of a medical professional.

7. Enjoying the process is just as important as the finish line

I don’t mean you have to love every single run. I don’t enjoy every day of being a parent. But if you can’t find joy in the journey, you are going to be miserable 99% of the time. Focus on what makes you happy about running—socializing with friends, getting outside, the strain of your muscles as you speed down the road. Because those are the things that are going to keep you going when the finish line is out of sight.

8. Flexibility is as important and preparation

In parenthood and in running, you can’t plan for every potential setback. Sometimes, unexpected things happen and your ability to adapt will be what sees your through. Instead of focusing on every problem that might arise, focus on developing a general problem solving strategy.

9. Don’t take yourself so seriously; it’s just running

Many parents have lots of high expectations for certain events—think 1st Birthday, Christmas, vacation to Disneyland. And when the inevitable hiccup happens, they loose perspective and freak out. The same thing happens in running. People fall short of goal times. Injuries spring up. It’s understandable (and okay) to be disappointed when you put so much effort into something. But after the disappointment fades, remind yourself what’s really important. Why did you start running to begin with? Chances are it’s not about the finishing time at all. If you can remember this, it will be much easier to laugh at yourself when the inevitable shit hits the fan….or should I say wall.

10. If you can raise another human on little to no sleep, you can also go for a run—doesn’t mean it will be fun

There will always be an excuse not to run. You get decide if that excuse is good enough to keep you inside. Sometimes they are, and that’s okay. But when I think about all excuses I had to step over on my way to making it through my son’s first year of life, I realize I am stronger than many of my perceived obstacles.

11. It will never feel like the right time to sign up for a marathon. Don’t let that stop you.

There is a common expression that says it will never feel like the perfect time to have a kid. That is so true. Ask any mother to be and she can probably give you at least one reason why it might have been advantageous to wait. Most of this boils down to fear of the unknown, of inadequacy, and of failure. It’s the same for running a marathon. At some point you just have to decide that your goal is important enough that you are willing to face the obstacles you are bound to encounter along the way.

12. The best time to go for your run is right after the baby poops, but before your spouse has detected the smell

You think I’m kidding, but I’m not. It’s scientifically proven that your running speed is positively correlated with the amount of poop your husband has to wipe off of the baby’s butt.

13. Whether or not stale graham crackers constitute proper pre-run fueling depends on what kind of day you’ve had

The baby is sick and has been up all night. The toddler just spilled the entire box of Cheerios and is licking them off the floor like the dog. Oh, and where did the dog go? He’s pooping on the carpet next to the crib. This is the day you grab the stale, stuffed in the cracks of the couch graham crackers and call it a win because you are managing to make it out the door.

14. Always remind yourself of the example you are setting

You are the first and best teacher for your child. If you’re having trouble finding motivation, think of the example you set by establishing a goal and sticking to it. Is it too early to sign him up?

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What would you add to the list?

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Taking My Body Back

While I was pregnant with Oliver I remember thinking about how strange it would seem after his birth to no longer be a party of two all the time. I became so accustomed to my plus one hanging out in my belly that being alone in my body started to feel like a foreign concept. Nonetheless, with all the aches and pains that accompany pregnancy, it was one I was looking forward to.

When Oliver was born and the doctor cut the umbilical cord, I thought our physical ties had been severed and I was once again my own person. Boy was I wrong. It turns out having a baby is a lot less like popping out an independent little being and a lot more like growing an extra appendage. Only this appendage enjoys swatting at my face, ripping out chunks of hair, and trying to pull my shirt down in public places like my boobs are a 24-hour drive-thru. With Oliver riding around on my hip all day, I was starting to feel like an amorphous mommy-baby blob.

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So what’s a mom to do?

For me, working out at a gym where I can send him off to the playroom for an hour is the best way to differentiate myself from that blob. It’s my daily dose of “me time” where my movements are not in response to my baby. I’m running, lifting, and stretching to feel my muscles strain and my heart pound, not to chase the dog that is running off with the pacifier or pick up the spoon that Oliver decided to throw on the floor for the tenth time.

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Not to mention, after having a baby, my body was feeling a bit like an amorphous blob even without the baby in tow, and the strong, active woman inside was itching to get back into shape. As Oliver approaches his eight month of life, I’m happy to report I’m stronger, faster, and more fit than I was before pregnancy. To celebrate my return to fitness I’ve decided to run the Toledo ½ Marathon on April 28 with the goal of beating my old record of  2 hours 1 minute and 37 seconds.

As a stay at home mom my goals for the day rarely extend beyond 1) don’t break the baby and 2) keep the apartment from looking like a disaster area. It feels good to have a goal that’s outside of the mommy bubble that is purely selfish in pursuit. It’s my reminder that there is life outside of motherhood, and the aspirations I had before having a baby don’t have to be sidelined forever.

And after I check this goal off my list, I’m looking forward to the summer when I can strap Oliver in a jogging stroller and run with my baby in tow. Not one big mommy-baby-stroller blob but one big mommy-baby-stroller blur, racing through the park. Because even though I could still go solo, sometimes it’s nice to share your passions with the ones you love. And hey, it’s never too early to start training my future running partner.

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