Becoming a Running Mom: Losses and Gains

The gains of being a momWith new babies from Tea, Barley and me and Turmeric about to join us, it seems like there’s a Salty baby boom going on! For those pregnant, it’s both an exciting and an unnerving time. All first time moms wonder how their lives are going to change with the arrival of a baby, but most don’t think too much about how their athletic lives will change. But it’s different for us runners. Now a seasoned mother of three, I’d like to share what I lost and gained in running after becoming a mom.

Lost: Thoughts that my body was holding me back. Maybe if I were a few inches taller, I could sprint better. Maybe if I dropped a few pounds, I could run faster.

Gained: A greater appreciation of my body. I love the red blood cell oxygen boost your body hangs onto in the year after pregnancy, the increased pain threshold after enduring child birth, but, most importantly, the complete amazement that if your body can grow an actual human being inside it, then it must be a powerful thing!

Lost: Mild obsessiveness about my stats. I used to be somewhat obsessed with my weekly mileage, making sure I reached my goal number each week. With track workouts, I’d get upset if I didn’t hit my targets. Races always filled me with a sense of pressure, wanting to perform well and not embarrass myself or disappoint anyone.

Gained: Open-mindedness and a laid-back attitude. I still have mileage and workout goals, but I’m much more flexible about them. Most of the time it’s just getting in what I can. I’m a mom first and a runner somewhere else down the list, so if it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen. If anything, being a parent teaches you that you cannot control everything, and you just have to let some things go. I still want to race well, but if I don’t, my kids don’t know the difference between a fast or slow time. They’re just excited to watch me run.

Lost: Comparing myself to other runners. She looks more like an elite runner than I do. She’s wearing all-matching kit; she must be really fast and have a sponsorship. Is that really all these people at the invited athlete reception eat the night before a marathon?

Gained: Becoming a role model for my three daughters. It doesn’t matter what mommy is wearing (wow, she got out of the house without any spit up or poop on her clothes?!). It doesn’t matter that she didn’t have time to make an all-natural-organic-cage free-locally sourced gourmet meal, so she’s eating an old apple sauce pouch she found in the diaper bag; at least it’s fruit. What matters is she’s out there, showing us that exercise is important and part of a balanced, healthy lifestyle.

Parsley and her girls

Lost: The ability to just get out the door and go for a run. This was probably the hardest thing for me in the transition to kids, especially with a baby. I’m on their schedule, and that doesn’t always allow for running.

Gained: Perpetual training partners. I love running with my kids in the stroller, and they love it too. It’s uninterrupted time together. We talk and keep each other entertained. In addition to my kids, I’ve also gained other running friends I didn’t previously run with, since I’m slower and don’t worry about pace when pushing the running stroller.

Lost: Bladder control. Turning down the homestretch in my first race after having my first child, I peed on myself. I didn’t even know I had to go to the bathroom. Kegels, kegels, and even more kegels solved that problem, but I’d still say pelvic floor and abdominal separation issues are often overlooked by many women who have given birth.

Gained: A stomach of steel. Maybe it’s because when you’re hugely pregnant your organs are all shifted around and baby is sitting on top of your insides smushing everything, but post-pregnancy I have a stomach of steel. I used to have to wait several hours after eating before I could go out for a run. Now I feel like I could down a hamburger and immediately head out for several miles.

Lost: A sense of rivalry with my competitors. I used to scope out my competition. I’d Google their names, check out their fastest times and race results. I’d compare myself to them, and often base my performance off of my competitors rather than my individual time or place.

Gained: A sense of pride over my competitors. This is not a statement of arrogance or conceit, rather a sense of pride as in self-accomplishment. An often debated topic among the Salties is if being a mother makes a runner’s achievements mean more. I strongly argue yes. I’ve simultaneously worked two jobs while completing graduate school, but nothing drained my time and changed my running like having kids.

I used to think I was busy and had little free time. Since becoming a mother, I can’t imagine what I did with all my free time before having children. So it’s an accomplishment to be able to fit in running, let alone actual training, and racing in addition to everything else in life while caring for little ones who are completely dependent on you for everything.

Plus adapting to the the actual physical hardship and changes your body goes through is a huge accomplishment. And when I beat women who do not have kids, yes, I feel good about myself because I know how much harder it was to get there compared to before I had children.

What have you lost and gained in running since having kids?

I have fun trying to sprint, enjoy long runs in the mountains, and everything in between. Former competitive runner (3 x marathon OTQ & trail marathon national champion) currently working through a lingering injury. I write about trying to stay competitive while raising young kids and moving into a new post-competitive stage.

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19 comments

  1. First of all, happy early Mother’s Day! I know it’s a little ways away, but you’re an awesome mama. I’ve lost my mind a little bit, but gained happiness. I also appreciate my body now for what it CAN do, instead of what it isn’t. Some days it takes reminding. Oh, and I lost a cup size (which who knew it was possible when you’re already a B-??) but not any weight..which just means I can get away with cheap sports bras!

    1. Happy Mother’s Day to you too! That’s a good way to look at it! Gained: a new wardrobe to accommodate your final (post baby/post nursing) body.

  2. Love this, Parsley! I can relate to just about every single thing. The stomach of steel one is the most surprising. I always thought it was because I only had the time to run that I had and no longer had the luxury of worrying about minor details like how recently or even what I ate before the run 🙂

    1. Ha- maybe it is more of a time thing. Because sadly (but not running related), I sometimes find myself needing to pee, but taking care of the kids/getting distracted, forget and don’t go until hours later.

  3. Happy early Mother’s Day! 🙂 I can completely relate to this, except for two things: one, I’ve always had a stomach of steel…and two, the only people I can keep up with while stroller running are other people with strollers. Heh. Being a mother who runs certainly poses some, uh, unique challenges! (No but seriously. WHAT did I do with all my free time before kids?!) However, I feel like runners who don’t have children – by choice or otherwise – might relate to this a little too. Nearly everyone’s gone through their share of setbacks or challenges, and everyone can benefit from appreciating more what their body can do 🙂

    1. Yes! Excellent point, Mango. I once had a friend who said she didn’t want kids because it would wreak how her body looked. Not wanting kids is cool for whatever reason, but I didn’t want to have to be the one to break it to her that age has a way with doing that too. Life happens and we as runners and people change 🙂

    2. Happy Mother’s Day to you too! I actually went on my first group stroller run today. Wow, that was a sight on the road!

  4. Since getting rid of my double running stroller b/c the kids got to big, I lost my favorite running buddies. I can’t say I always enjoyed running with the double but I learned to like it and when I sold my stroller I was sad that I wouldn’t have them to run with anymore. I have the treadmill now and they want to hop on after I’m done so at least they still get to participate in running with me.

    1. Hey! To all the stroller-aged-out mamas, get them on bikes! I can now run alongside my 8 year old on his bike, and my 5 y.o. is a month or two away from being able to ride too! Again, it won’t necessarily be your tempo run, but it’s a great way to get them out and about while you still get your run in 🙂

      1. Thanks for the great recommendation! Especially if you have a good paved trail where you don’t have to worry about cars.

  5. I agree on so many of your points… took my 4 year old on a stroller run today (first since last fall), and I was sad that her feet nearly hit the ground and her head brushes the top of the cover: out stroller running days are definitely numbered. We chatted along the way, talking about the sights (spring flowers everywhere and a deer that crossed our path) and she suddenly asked wistfully, “Mom, do you remember when you used to pee in the woods?” Had to laugh at all the memories from the literally thousands of miles we’ve run together. We averaged 8:16s today (so much tougher with a big girl now) and anytime I’d drop to 8:30 pace she’d chide me for “running slow.” I’ll miss these days 🙂 Happy Mother’s Day!

  6. Really love this and know that not only have things changed in a big personal way becoming a mom, I know that my running will change as well. It puts things in perspective and I could see some of these changes coming before they have even happened. Even during pregnancy I realized how much my unborn daughter had affected me, my mindset on some things, and my priorities- and for that I’m grateful. She taught me a lot without even having met her yet.

    One caveat is that granted I have only been a mom for….9 days now. I still don’t feel like my accomplishments when I return to running will mean more than someone else’s that doesn’t have kids. As a childless runner for years, I was made to feel like my accomplishments were less because of that even though people didn’t know me, or know other non-kid obstacles that I faced to get where I have. Sure, when I do start running again I will be proud of what I can do (even if it’s not what I could before…it will take time!) being a mom and with all these changes now- but at the same time I commend any runner on getting out there and doing it regardless of whatever personal obstacles they have. I don’t want to say I’d feel better about myself because of my status as a mom- I don’t want to make other women feel the way I did before becoming a mom. There are enough things dividing women, and female runners. I want to feel proud and accomplished with what I can do without it being tied to what other runners are doing off the race course.

    1. Hear hear! I’m a childbearing-aged female who will likely never be able to conceive after a bout with cancer. I’d be positively tormenting myself in life if I bought into the idea that a woman’s accomplishments — be they in running, work, or otherwise — are more meaningful if that woman has children. It means I’ll never be ‘enough’.

      If it helps to prop yourself up by assuming your achievements mean more than those of someone without children, that’s on you… but it’s really just you comparing yourself to your former self and all the various circumstances and advantages or disadvantages you’ve had along the way! I’m guessing that for most Salty Running moms, children were at least a choice, a cost or benefit one weighed against the other priorities in one’s life and elected to impose upon oneself. Children or not, you just never know what somebody else had to overcome to get to any given start line or finish line!

      1. I have children and it pisses me off to think of that (motherhood) as my defining characteristic. And I’m one of the Salties who would say that becoming a parent made my life very different and more complicated in a lot of ways so, yes, training and competing were more difficult after so my own performances after mean more TO ME. But I do not think a mother’s accomplishments mean more than a non-mothers just because one has kids and the other doesn’t. There’s so much more that happens in our lives to shape us on our way to that starting line and I generally don’t find it beneficial to compare people’s performances like that – there are so many variables, where do we start or end the comparing!

      2. Yes, it is me comparing myself to my former self. Having children isn’t a hardship- it’s something I’m eternally grateful I had the opportunity to experience. But compared to actual hardships in my life, whether physical or environmental, becoming a mom affected my running more in all these ways combined than anything else. So compared to what I’ve overcome in the past, children are an ongoing factor (18 years!) that will change my running. So I feel more proud of myself when I can get it done, knowing how much easier it was (for me) pre-kids.

        Of course you can’t always know what someone else overcame to get to the start line. But when you do, don’t you feel extra proud of them? Like Serena Burla, a cancer survivor, and one of the top US marathoners?

    2. Congratulations Barley! What did you name your baby girl?
      I didn’t mean this point as a way to divide women or take away from other women’s accomplishments. I meant it as how it changed my perspective towards my competitors as well as my own running accomplishments. It has nothing to do with my status as a mom, because that’s not a status- it’s just where I am in life. And where I am in life now is much harder to fit in training, let alone even making it to races,so I feel much more proud of myself when I do run well than I ever did before. Before I had children I didn’t feel like my accomplishments were any less than my competitors who did have kids. It’s just that now that I do, I personally feel like my accomplishments mean more (to me).

  7. I’d agree with all of this and add: Lost – early morning runs. Gained – a coffee addiction. My baby is 9mos, and rarely sleeps through the night. He usually only wakes once in his 11hr sleep..but it’s enough to mess with my sleep, and ruin all ambitions for a run at 4am… Thank goodness work just purchased 2 Keurigs…

    1. I feel you! I never did early am runs until my youngest was about 15 months or so. There was just no way. Sometimes it felt like the hours between 5 and 7am were the only sleep I got! And also … did somebody say coffee?!

    2. That is definitely a good one. I LOVE to run first thing in the morning, but agree: until baby sleeps through the night, there’s no way I’m setting my alarm to do so. And while I’m not a coffee drinker, I definitely up my tea consumption during this time!