(I started this right after Ellie wrote her article, but like I say below, Bad-Ass Mother's can't do everything, so it didn't get finished in a timely fashion. But since today is Mother's Day and because I am speaking on this very subject at a running store this Tuesday, I had some good motivation to get this done).
A while back, Ellie Greenwood wrote an article about the paucity of women in ultra-running and many people suggested that motherhood may be a major deterrent to participation. Some of the commenters suggested that women who could juggle training and parenting were bad ass. As a mother of two kids, a full-time physician, and an ultra-runner, I am here to tell you it can be done! Here are my tips to becoming a Bad Ass Mother (or Father!).
Plan your run time
-“Early to bed, early to rise…makes a Mom healthy, wealthy, and able to get in her daily run.” If you are a stay at home mom, you probably have more flexibility with your time, but as a working Mom, the best way to go is to get the run in first thing in the morning. By evening there are just too many things to derail you: tiredness, hunger, working late, kids activities, etc. Get up and get it done!
“But I am not a morning person,” you wail. The trick to becoming a morning person is to go to bed early. If you have gotten enough sleep, it is much easier to get out of bed. Set a bedtime and stick to it. I run 3-4 days/ week at 5 am and try very hard to be in bed by 9pm. Find friends to run with to make sure you don’t hit snooze one too many times.
- Set a regular schedule and stick to it. This not only serves as designated time for your run, but it also helps your family accommodate your schedule. My husband knows not to plan any late night Sunday activities, because I have an early Monday appointment with the track! My kids aren’t surprised when Mom and Dad aren’t home for dinner on Wednesday, because it happens every week.
Lighten your load:
-“Outsource” mom duties. Baby sitters are great parental surrogates to gain a few hours of time for yourself. If you can afford it, consider hiring help to clean the house. Get help with the yard. Yard service is expensive, but neighborhood teenagers are often eager to earn a few bucks pulling weeds, raking leaves and mowing lawns.
-Get help from your spouse. Studies have shown that women do more household chores, even when both partners work full time. While it may never be equal, there may be ways to pass some of the duties off to your spouse. Ask him to get the kids ready for school or cook dinner one day a week so that you can get in a run.
-Raise self sufficient kids. Anita Ortiz, the only mom to win Western States in the last 25 years (and maybe ever), stated that her teenagers made their own lunches and did their own laundry while she was training. My kids are much younger (6 and 8) and not quite capable of those things, but they are responsible for packing their own backpacks, getting dressed in the morning, and cleaning their rooms.
-Use the kids as Training Tools: Running with a jogging stroller is not that much fun, but remind yourself how strong you will be from pushing that mass all around the city. Older kids can keep you company on their bicycles. And if you have kids, Congratulations!-You birthed yourself a great set of weights for all kinds of strength exercises. Put them on your back and do lunges, stair climbs, and squats. Whenever I do this, I get a GREAT workout because my kids never want to stop and they always want everything to be equal, so I have to do everything with both my 38 pound weight and my 52 pound weight, er, I mean kids.
-Run during kid activities: Two nights a week Liam takes karate. That’s free babysitting (well, its not free, but it is a free perk that comes with tuition). I often drop him off and get a short run in the nearby neighborhood. I have also taken the kids to the park and run laps around the playground. Maybe not a glamorous or highly exciting run, but it can serve to get 5 miles in.
-Get creative: With kids, you may have to get a little creative as to when you schedule your workouts. Consider two short workouts in a day instead of one long one. If you work, run commuting may be a way to get in some of your weekly mileage. I have also done a “Run swap” with another mom, where I dropped my kids off at her house, went for a run, then watched all the kids while she went for a run. I know one mom who rode a bike trainer during her kids’ soccer games.
-”Treadmill” is not a dirty word: I like to say, “If you put the kids to bed and go run on the treadmill for an hour, your friend will think you are SuperMom. But if you put your kids to bed and leave them in the house alone while you go out for a run, your friends will report you to Child Protective Services.” Yeah, sometimes you have to resort to a treadmill. If you are really serious about running, consider purchasing one for your home. I know many parents (including myself) who run on the treadmill while the kids watch TV. But you don’t have to have a home treadmill. Gym treadmills can also be a valuable tool for late night, early morning, or rainy day runs when you just might not have the motivation to get outside. And many gyms have fairly cheap babysitting services.
-Be Ready to Go: Sometimes opportunities pop up that you hadn’t planned for - you get off work early, the kids get invited to a friend’s house, etc. I keep a set of running clothes in my car at all times for just such opportunities.
- Consider Trading Miles for Speed: I’ve already talked about why I like speedwork (and recognize that not everyone agrees). But I also think focusing on speed for one or two workouts a week can be an efficient way to increase your fitness level with less time needed to finish a workout.
-You can’t be perfect: In our ideal world, we would all cook homemade meals, do lots of volunteer work, take foreign language classes, and have perfectly clean houses. But the reality is we can’t do everything. Pick the things that really matter the most to you and then MAKE THE TIME for those things. If working out is one of those things, then put it on your schedule. And then don’t beat yourself up for picking up take-out or not making your bed! And if you have to miss a workout or two or even a whole week because something comes up, don’t stress about not following a plan to the letter.
-Some is Better Than None: A lot of people get stuck in “All or None” mentality. Maybe you can’t fit in a 45 minute run today, but see if you can do 20 minutes or even 15. Or maybe you can get in a walk or a hike with the kids, but not a run. That’s better than just blowing the whole day off when things get hectic. I also think a lot of people avoid signing up for races, because they can’t commit to doing every training run. But most people could finish an ultra (or shorter distance race) with a lot fewer miles than a typical training plan calls for. Maybe it won’t be your best run ever, but you can still be out there enjoying the trails, the people, and a lot of fitness benefits.
-Don’t wait till the TO DO list is empty: I have a few friends who really want to run a marathon, but they keep saying they want to wait until they are less busy so they have more time to train. We live in a fast paced world, and there will always be too many things on the “To Do” list. So put running on it, too!
-Get Over Mommy Guilt: Ok, I know this is a hard one. As moms we are always worried if we are doing enough and trying to do the best we can to be good moms. But good moms need time for themselves, too. This is not only good for your own mental health, but it is a good example for your kids, too. It is okay for you to have an activity just for you. Your kids will love you just as much when you get back from your run. I promise!
- Don’t compare to Non-Moms: I actually have friends that get up after 8am on a Saturday morning and then go for a run. Other friends take a nap after their long run. But they don’t have kids. You know what, they probably have cleaner houses and more stylish wardrobes. They probably read more books and do more social activities than I do, too. But life without kids is a different world. I am not saying one is better; they are just different. Don’t try to compare; it’ll never match up.
Keep Family First
Yes, you can be a mom and still find time to run and even train at a high level. But don’t get so involved in running that it is squeezing your family members out. Give your spouse time to himself, too, so that he can pursue the things he loves. In our house, that means I run long on Saturday morning and Mac gets Sunday for his long run day. Have a regular date night with your spouse. Every Wednesday evening, Mac and I go for a run and then go out to dinner, often just the local pub with many other runners. But it is still time we are spending together without the kids and it allows for some adult conversations. And make sure you hit all of your kids’ big events, like school plays and piano recitals, even if that means messing up your training for a weekend.
Happy Mother’s Day to All the Moms out there. You are already Bad-Ass Mothers, but don’t let parenthood keep you from your running goals. With planning, dedication, and creativity you can train for and run ultras or whatever else your running goals may be.