Running Next To Mom: Measuring Yourself Against Women Who Do It All

English: English long-distance runner Paula Ra...
Some women do it all for themselves and for their kids. It’s amazing…and intimidating! (img via Wikipedia)

I’ve been married for 2 years, and my husband and I do not plan on having children. Nope, not ever. I don’t mind spending time with other people’s kids (most days) but I know that I will be content not to have any of my own, and I’m comfortable with the knowledge that I have zero maternal interest or instinct.

There is nothing wrong with not wanting to be a mom, even though grocery store strangers may too often smile smugly and say “Oh, you’ll change your mind.” According to Time Magazine, the current birthrate in the U.S. is the lowest in recorded American history, so I know I’m not alone in my preference.  Still, some days it doesn’t seem like there are lot of other people out there with similar plans. For the most part it feels like most women I know over thirty are making serious strides in the baby-making department, or at least heading in that direction. The Spice Rack here at Salty Running is no exception, you may have noticed!

Runner-moms have a dedication and drive that I can’t wrap my head around. I’m not a total slouch, by average American standards, but I know that my life is a heckuva lot simpler and less stressful by average parent standards. I am usually pretty good at not comparing myself to other runners; when I find out another gal is a mom AND a runner, however, it’s game over for my ego. The little I am able to do just doesn’t seem to come close to what the indomitable runner-moms do, and all with kids in tow.

How do you do this, runner-moms?? (image from
How do you do this, runner-moms HOW?? (photo credit:

I appreciate the runner-moms I am privileged to know. They are sensitive, understanding ladies who never pressure me to act or feel a certain way about life OR my running. Still, I have to admit that runner-moms make me feel a little bad about myself. This is not because they actively try to make me feel bad at all – quite the contrary! It’s because I am easily awestruck by women who seem to do everything I do (work full time, run, have a social life, etc.) but do it while also juggling carpool madness and ballet lessons and breast feeding and helping with impossible math homework. <Insert brain-explosion noise here>

As a runner and avid reader, I regularly encounter runner-mom blogs, books, and articles. Motherhood + Running is a pretty popular topic combination, and runner-moms are great at encouraging each other through pregnancies, trying-to-get-pregnant phases and fertility battles, postpartum challenges, and all the child-rearing stages that follow. I can’t relate to most of what they write about, but I respect them all the more for knowing things I don’t. Still, all this mom stuff does leave me feeling somehow… left out of the loop.

I don’t know what it feels like to grow a baby bump and cannot dream of what it must be like trying to run with one. Shoot, I can’t even tolerate a hydration belt, let alone an extra little body strapped around my midsection! And making a running comeback after birthing a child? Yeah, I have trouble making a running comeback after a couple days of eating too much pizza or Chinese takeout. I can’t fathom the idea of being a mom or mom-to-be and still making it out the door to train. Or race. Or accomplish any sort of personal goal beyond maintaining a single shred of sanity.

When I accomplish a running goal, I typically enjoy the feeling of pride that comes with it…until I realize that the handfuls of moms around me did the exact same thing, and then some. Talk about an internal buzz kill! I admire runner-moms, and I recognize that I should not allow myself to have such a serious inferiority complex when it comes to them. It’s hard, though. As a non-mother, I feel like such a slug on the days when I skip a run for no reason other than sheer laziness, only to hear/read that the runner-moms of my acquaintance had a far rougher day and STILL managed to get their miles in. They rarely boast about it, but I still can’t help but feel like I don’t quite measure up to that level of running commitment.

At the end of the day, I try to remind myself that we’re all on different journeys and I should focus on mine. In a place like Salty Running, however, it’s hard NOT to notice what the resident runner-moms are up to. I read about Ginko’s Baby Story or Salty’s post-baby comeback quest, I see that Catnip is Coordinating Breastfeeding and Racing and Mint is teaching her son how to train for a half marathon. What am I doing with MY training time? Compared to all that, it seems that I’m doing very little! And so, my irrational and unnecessary inferiority complex rages on…


Am I the only one who struggles with this?! Do any other childless (I personally prefer the term “childfree”…) runners ever feel like they don’t quite measure up or fit in with the supermoms in our midst?

This post was originally published on July 30, 2014.

I'm a nomadic runner who loves moving from city to city with my husband and Great Dane. I write about training with a Type-B personality, battling bad running habits, and becoming comfortable with sub-3 marathon racing despite my race-phobia. After a soul-searching year away from running, I'm thrilled and terrified (thrillified?) to be making a major comeback in 2018!

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  1. Great post! I love hearing from “child free” ladies as it always helps me to understand my friends who have made similar choices.

    I would like to say that for every race you see a so-called super mom running, there are tons of moments that are not so super– moments that make you consider if you are doing it right or making selfish choices for wanting to run.

    I would also say that you adapt to your life because… what’s the alternative? Just like writing a paper in college was “the end of the world” or a move was the “hardest thing you’ve ever done” or not having the right cereal is life ending for my three year old, whatever you are dealing with is the challenge you meet. No one’s stress is more or less valid; we feel the same.

    Finally, I imagine that a lot of those nagging feelings are due in part to all those ladies in the grocery stores telling you that you will want kids. I’m sorry that people don’t get it. I wish people would back off and let others live their own lives! Congrats on being so self-aware and not letting peer pressure push you into a lifestyle you might not want! I admire THAT!

    1. I wish the self-awareness was a little deeper-rooted, but it’s kind of a new thing, so I’m still working on it… 🙂 And you’re totally right — we all have such different, personal challenges that it’s like comparing apples to oranges when we look at someone else’s life and wonder why we aren’t doing what THEY seem to do with ease. It’s all relative. Good reminder!

    2. Lemongrass has a great point about the guilt-factor…I personally find that rather than feeling like a super-mom, I feel like a very mediocre parent, because I’m not actively engaged in spending time with my kids, doing laundry, cooking/cleaning or any other domestic type things to make their lives better. Running is something entirely for ME, and I confess I’ve even sneaked around to get in a run because it feels like such an indulgence. I didn’t anticipate becoming a parent, certainly not the way it happened (I found myself adopting two toddlers at the age of 24 while I was in grad school…can you say wake up call?) – so you never know what life will throw at you. Enjoy your freedom while you can, you never know when you may end up caring for another life, be it a parent, sibling, close friend OR child. This is an awesome post, and YOU are awesome for bringing this perspective out into the open. Run on!

  2. This was a very brave post to write – thanks so much for your perspective. I have enormous respect for you and what you have accomplished with your running, and whether or not you are fitting it in around kids has no influence on my feelings about this. Good for you for making the choices that work for you and your family, and here’s to a culture of super-runners, not just super-runner-moms.

    1. The Salty ladies make it pretty easy to be brave around here…thanks! Cinnamon helped me out a lot on this post. It’s been a long, crazy thought process! Lots to think about and sift through, and it’s always evolving in my mind…but it was good to try and set down part of it in writing… 🙂

  3. Loved this post! I am not a mom, or even a wife for that matter – although I do hope to be (both) at some point in the near future. I am much younger than some of the wonderful women (moms) that I often run with. After a 20 miler on a Sunday morning, when I can’t wait to fill my belly with protein and curl up for a nice nap, I don’t envy those moms who have to go tend to multiple little ones and forego a few hours of complete relaxation and recovery! I am still not sure how they do it. So, while I completely 100% empathize with everything in this post, a few thoughts:

    1. Only positive things can come from being exposed to such driven, passionate hard working women!
    2. You are most definitely exposed to a very disproportionate number of said “super moms” than the average american (who probably doesn’t even realize these people exist)
    3. MOST importantly. We are all on our own journey. We all come from different backgrounds, different support systems, and we all have different things that motivate us to get out there. Keep doing you!

    1. As one of those ladies who must dash home and tend to little ones after my long runs, I appreciate your pity! Haha. Seriously though, those are some words of wisdom right there. Thanks for taking the time to share!

    2. Love your reminders — thank you! And I totally hear you on the protein + nap post-run routine. I can’t imagine having to pass that up, either!

      Sidenote: My husband and I brought home a 9-week-old Great Dane puppy a couple weeks ago — it’s my first dog ever, and it has given me a tiiiiiiiny little taste of what I would assume motherhood is like. Having to get up in the middle of the night…cutting my stretching short to take the puppy outside…planning my running routine around how long the puppy can be alone at the house, etc. I love him, but dog ownership just confirms what I’ve said here in this post: I’m definitely not cut out to be a mom to humans. I will be proud of myself if I survive puppy motherhood! 🙂

      1. I know this comment is super old but since this post was just re-posted I’m seeing it for the first time and just had to comment… I LOL’d because I know exactly what you mean! My boyfriend and I plan on getting married and having kids eventually, but this summer we got a puppy (probably actually about the same age as yours–we found her in June at ~8 weeks–but much smaller!) and we constantly talked about how it’s like “kid-lite” or a practice kid!

        Like, obviously you can’t leave a kid at home alone while you’re at work, so that’s a huge bonus with dogs, and the dogs grow up a lot faster… but for those first weeks of sleep deprivation, coming home for lunch to let her out, and constantly improving the puppy-proofing of our home as I lost more and more shoes and underwear, I felt like I got a glimpse 🙂 Man it was hard!!!

  4. I love this post! Before I had kids I hated that it seemed like all the “women’s” sections of the running sites talked about were bras, pregnancy and running strollers. Like women runners are only different from men in that they have boobs and babies. And then take out the babies and/or the boobs and well, then what? I think it’s great that there’s a lot of support out there for mom runners. But even that often doesn’t resonate with me – it’s often in praise of doing it at all, rather than doing it well. See, the concept that women who are mothers who run are by definition awesome amazing super heroines is not only not true, but it’s also alienating to others who can’t check off those boxes. People are awesome for their actions, not their status and the whole moms who run are so amazing kind of elevates status over achievements, etc. (And I’m not talking about being fast or anything. I mean considering who someone is by what they do – all their achievements, their attitudes, their generosity, etc. – rather than their status as a mother runner, nonmother runner or even a runner at all).

    1. Well said, Salty…well said! 🙂 I DO see that a lot in female/mom-centric running spheres, magazines, blogs, etc. If you’ve got a womb and you run, you’re awesome. If you’ve got a womb and you know how to use it AND you run, you’re even MORE awesome. There’s this automatic awesomeness that runners like to confer on each other, and I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with building each other up or fostering camaraderie within the running community…not at all! But I agree that our defining features (ie: that which we consider awesome, and that which we consider awesome in others) should stretch beyond our status as runners. It should even stretch beyond our status as mothers, I would argue!

      I definitely think that’s part of my dilemma: I easily fall into the trap of letting my status as a runner define me. When that definition doesn’t also include all the challenging things that moms do, it elevates them one step up on the awesome ladder in my mind. If I were more careful about making sure that my self-worth and self-understanding included more than just my ability to run and train, I don’t think I’d struggle as much with this. Thanks for the thoughts/encouragement…this has been super helpful for me!

  5. This is such a great post and perspective – thank you. I am mom to a 5-year-old, and I have to say, running and exercise has actually gotten easier for me since becoming a parent. Before my son was born, I was still busy, but my schedule was fairly flexible, and I found myself putting off runs and bike rides until I “felt like it,” which was often hours after they should have been completed (or never :). Now, my time is much more limited, and I have gotten a LOT more disciplined about my runs and workouts. I used to find running on my lunch break annoying, but now that it’s often my only option, I’ve found that it’s the most efficient way to fit in a mid-week run (I’m a single mom, so often running in the morning or at night are not options). I also view exercise as my “me time” during which I can relax, think, and find peace, which makes it a lot more enjoyable than it did pre-kid. Everyone has different challenges, and I don’t necessarily think that parents are more awesome or harder working than non-parents.

    1. Yes! I used to stress so hard about when and where I’d run. Now I have one option most days and I Get.It.Done. No other choice!

  6. We all have challenges with our time, whether it be kids, work, volunteering, hobbies. You can always compare yourself to someone who seems like they are doing more. I work part-time and know I couldn’t find balance if I worked full-time.

  7. I’m really glad you wrote this! I agree with a lot of the commenters on here. A very interesting perspective and it means a lot to hear views from the “other side of the fence” (as I’m also a mom to one). I also agree that we’re all on our own journey – and yours is just as important.

    If you really want to feel like you’re “doing it all” (although I’m sure most moms would laugh because we do NOT feel like we’re doing it all)…just overbook some jobs and schedule ridiculous deadlines and then ask people to call you meanie butt.* Then go for a run and voila! That’s what it feels like.

    However, if you actually do this, I’m sure you’ll find you don’t feel very different. Because running is running. We all have our good running days and our bad running days.

    Keep up the good work!

    *But please, don’t do this. It’s not worth it!

  8. Great post Chamomile! I don’t compare myself to ‘runner moms’ or moms in general because I feel there is no comparison. I am 45 , married for 23 years and we do not have children. I don’t feel like I missed anything. My mother was an abusive alcoholic and motherhood was never on my radar. My life is very full: I volunteer at a womens crisis centre, work full time, write, volunteer at my church and for a local political party and run 5x/week.
    The only thing that really bothers me is that some people feel they have the right to say the most invasive things. (my mothers boyfriend took it to an entire new level!)
    I identify with the ‘puppy parenthood’. We had a husky and 2 cats and the husky pushed me in ways that no human being ever has. But I loved her to death and miss her. Our dog made me really glad for our childless life.

  9. Thank you for putting into words a feeling that I’ve never been able to describe! Its amazing how much motherhood defines women as successful or not, in running and in other avenues of life as well. As a woman who is committed to not having children of my own, I sometimes feel as though people don’t believe I’ll ever reach my full potential as a woman because I’ve chosen to forgo kids. That is a hard judgement to run up against, its really comforting to hear I’m not alone in dealing with those feelings of inadequacy that sometimes result.

    PS Great Danes are the best dogs ever, I’m pretty sure they are the most emotionally sensitive and aware animals on the planet. I hope you get a chance to post a picture soon!

    1. Oh yes, I am very familiar with the whole “you won’t truly experience womanhood until you’re a mom…” thing. My husband and I are Christians and grew up in church, where having kids is a pretty much the expected thing to do. We’re still very active and committed to our faith and, now that we’re married, we’ve started noticing that it’s much less common to find couples at church who are specifically choosing NOT to have kids. Within Christian culture, having kids is very much the norm. Some of the most strident pro-baby arguments I’ve ever had leveled at me have been from church friends who take the “be fruitful and multiply” Bible verses very, very seriously…and expect you to, also.

      My husband and I personally believe that, while children ARE a gift, they’re not a requirement for everyone and they are not the be-all, end-all way for everyone to pursue a purposeful (or faithful) life. There is more to me as a woman than my womb! Our potential has very little to do with whether we reproduce or not… 🙂 Hang in there! I know, it can be rough sometimes.

      And YES, Danes are uh-MAZE-ing. Ours is a Harlequin — he’s 13wks old and just hit 40lbs. Sweet, smart, and sometimes very stubborn! Feel free to stalk some of our photos using the link below…and make sure you check out the first photo in the album (take the day we got him) vs. the last photo (taken a couple days ago). Same shot, 4 weeks apart. He’s getting so big!! 🙂

  10. I’m glad to see a few more – I’m a runner but not a “mother runner”. I don’t know how moms do it, and I never wanted or intended to try. (I love kids and I respect women’s choices, just wasn’t for me.) Sometimes it does feel like large mother-y parts of the world (and even parts of the running world) are a big club from which I’m (voluntarily) excluded. Thanks for showing there are other valid choices out there and how you’re living with yours.

  11. I love this so much! I have newly discovered this blog so I have been poking around the archives. I’m a runner AND a mom AND I work full time and I feel like I have finally found some writing by other people like me, though most of you all are faster. Yet THIS post is my favorite so far. It has never once occurred to me that non-mom runners might be wondering how I manage this insanity that is my life. We really are all doing the best we can with whatever we are facing at the moment and this has given me a good perspective to consider. So thank you, even quite a few years after the fact!