5 Tricks to Running as a New Parent

Finn is camera-shy but is a great cheerleader.

I’d be lying if I said that my running habit is the same as it was pre-baby. (And let’s be honest, the mamas out there would roll their eyes and never believe another word I write if I said that.) This post isn’t even going to go into the physical aspect of running post-baby (I’ll save that for another time). But over the past six months I have learned a few tricks to make running “work” with a new kiddo.

1. Get Creative
Yes, there is the jogger stroller, which, to date, I haven’t tried. (I’m excited to throw my son in the Thule Urban Glide, but he’s only just six months and to be honest, I like the alone time when I hit the road!) Unless you have an infant insert to make the car seats work with the jogger, babies aren’t supposed to ride in them until about six months anyway. That makes getting a run in when you’re flying solo with childcare a little more challenging.

In order to get around that whole “I-can’t-leave-my-kid” thing, I have two favorite workouts:

+Put the kiddo in the stroller, park the stroller in the infield of a track and run laps. I did this while on maternity leave and when we didn’t have to wake up for anything. (And when the weather wasn’t complete garbage.) I could see the stroller the entire time, although, I couldn’t hear the baby if he yelled. You really come to terms with how big a 400-meter track is when your baby is sitting in the middle of it. After each lap, I’d run over, give my son a kiss (and make sure all was well) and continued on. This approach was also a good way to get back into running because it forced a short break after every lap.

+Park the kiddo in front of your house and run hill strides or sprints. I live on a hill and have a nice front porch that’s perfect for baby to spectate, er, coach. (The neighbor once saw the baby before he saw me. I assured him I was keeping an eye on him.) Normally, I run the entire length of the hill, but when the little dude is on the porch, I shorten the distance so I can see him the entire time. In order to make the workout challenging over such a short distance, I run full sprints, as opposed to longer, slower strides. The whole workout is only about a mile, but hey, it’s better than nothing (which brings me to my next trick). Oh, and if you don’t live on a hill, you can just as easily run sprints or strides on flat ground.

2. Learn to Love the Mile
Any mom (or partner) knows that sometimes you just can’t get in the miles you want to or plan for. Among other things, motherhood has taught me to take what you can get. Pre-baby, I would’ve said if I can’t get out for at least three miles, it wasn’t worth it. Not anymore. I’ve run three times in one day, about a mile each, because that’s what the day allowed.

Once, I ran to an appointment, ran back home, and then ran around the block a few times when my husband got home to get three miles in for the day. Another time, I used the running trail behind my office to run until the daycare (which is located next to my office) called for me to come over and feed the baby. I got a mile in. After I fed him, I ran two more.

In these instances, I try to add some pickups to get a little bit more of a workout in, but ultimately, I’ll take what I can get.

3. Give Yourself X Amount of Time in the Morning. Then Add Another 20 to 30 Minutes.
I’m fortunate enough to be able to run in the middle of the day at work. But I prefer the morning run, so I use the lunch run as a last resort. (Woe is me, I know.) Over the past six months I’ve learned that you always need more time to get ready (for work, for going out, for answering the door, and yes, for running).

These days, I set an alarm for about 6 a.m. to run. “To run” now includes either feeding my son if he’s awake or pumping before I head out. Both of those things take about 30 minutes, meaning I don’t get out the door for almost 45 minutes after I’m up. I’m usually late to work.

10 miles, core work, diaper blowout. We both did two of these things.

4. Choose Wisely: Post-Run Shower, or Strength and Stretch
Yes, I do shower, but hear me out. When I get back from a morning run, if the baby is still sleeping or doesn’t need my immediate attention, I’ll get in some light stretching and basic strength work (can’t neglect that pelvic floor!) before I hop in the shower. But if the baby is awake and I can no longer ignore him, I have to choose: clean up or strengthen my weakened post-baby bod?

I almost always choose the latter. That just means I’m walking around sweaty and mostly naked while I change, feed, and dress the little guy. But I know if I don’t do my bird-dogs, bridge raises, hydrants, and planks right when I get back, I won’t do them. And that will be bad. Worse than if my son is covered in my sweat. He’s been covered in, well, worse.

5. (Almost) Always Choose a Run
I’m tired. All of the time. It’s an exhaustion that is like a dark cloud that never goes away. But, like all parents, I must press on. If I took a rest day every time I was tired, I’d literally never run anymore.

On the days when my alarm goes off and the baby isn’t awake, I often roll over and think, “Maybe I should just sleep.” And then I remind myself he’ll probably wake up any minute anyway, and if I don’t go, I’ll be mad. It’s cliche, but I’ve (almost) never regretted a run.

That being said, you need rest (regardless of whether you’re a parent or not) and it’s important to listen to your body. Yes, it’s tired, but if you’re feeling run-down or feel symptoms of illness coming on, a run will only make it worse (trust me, I’ve tried and learned the hard way). But if it’s just, “Man, I wish I could sleep right now,” you’ll probably enjoy the extra 20 minutes at the time, and then later wish you’d laced up.

What other tips do you have to offer?

Runner's World editor by day, mom by night (and day, let's be honest). Sub-20 5K, seven-time marathoner, track-workout lover. Always in search of a great burger.

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  1. on #2: you should see my Strava! I can always ID a runner with a toddler by the familiar pattern of park pit-stops and miniature runs.

    I’ll add that if you live in a city, an errand-run (combined with, say, order online and pickup at Target) is an excellent way to get some easy mileage in. We also have regular commenters who run-commute to and from work, which is another great strategy for anyone who’s busy, not just parents.

    1. Thanks for the Run Commute shout-out! Pre-kids, I got up early and ran before work, post kids (who wake up crazy early!) that was not a possibility. I put my kiddo on the bus fully decked out in my gear and immediately hit start on my garmin and zip off to work. I have a shower at work, so that cuts down the morning routine at work.

  2. Pimento and I love to compare notes on post-kid post-run showers. Totally not necessary if staying home with a baby who will love you no matter how gross you are. Also, much rather have greasy hair than weak abs! Ha!

  3. A question I regularly ask myself on the days I am not feeling a run…am I really THAT tired or just normal amount of tired….I’ve learn to quantify and just about always opt for the run. The consistency makes me feel better overall, and has also helped me be more accountable to myself about not skipping things without good reason.

    Similar to your 1 mile notion, something over nothing. Even if it’s a short run or a few minutes of stretching or the worlds shortest quickest strength circuit, I celebrate something over nothing. Consistently doing something makes me fell better, but that has meant changing my mindset about what counts (like you mentioned).

  4. Definitely agree with the “always choose a run” bit. I wake up mad early to do my running while everyone else is asleep (and I’ll be glad to gain back 10 minutes when I don’t need to pump any more). I have one or two mornings a week where I KNOW I am not running and can sleep in, so on those run days when my alarm goes off, I just push through it. That’s what afternoon coffee is for!