Making it work: marathon training as a mom

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Silas is almost 2, and as I look back at my running achievements over his short life, I can’t help but feel proud.

Last year included two half-marathons and a number of shorter races, which I managed to train for while working a full-time, demanding job. Now I am less than two weeks away from running my first marathon.

  • I ran 20 km on Sunday in one of my final long runs. Not pain free, but got it done. Stats here. 

Logging miles upon miles to get to the finish line is never easy. Throw a child into the mix and the dynamic of finding balance in life becomes even more tricky. But I am here to tell you it is possible – not only that, but it makes you feel good.

Running is a gift. It’s a place to focus, work out the day’s problems, dream and plan. It’s for me and me alone. This might be why I enjoy running solo. It sounds cliche, but I know that if I am at peace with myself, I am a happier person and a better mother.

It’s also a way I can take control of my body and my health. To work on improving my speed, endurance and strength (both physical and mental).

Everyone is busy, not just moms. But there is a particular part of motherhood that involves giving of your whole self every waking moment. It often feels like there is absolutely no time to spare.

So here is my secret to fitting running into the equation: make it a priority.

The top priorities in my life: 1) family 2) career 3) running/health

When you have that figured out, you quickly realize all the rest can fit in the tiny cracks that surround your busy schedule, and it doesn’t matter if that other stuff (i.e. house cleaning, Facebook, painting my nails) doesn’t get done.

Everyone has different priorities, but I have chosen to make running mine. It matters to me and I know it makes me a better person.

Here are a few other ways I make running fit in my life as a mom:

  • Plan ahead: I roughly know what days I’m going to run, the distance and what time will work best. On my days off, I typically run during nap time to maximize time with my son. On weekdays, I opt for early morning runs.
  • Be flexible: Sometimes things don’t go as planned. Like I am just about to head out the door for an early morning run and I hear “mama!!!” So I keep on my running clothes and try for a lunchtime run. If that doesn’t happen, nighttime treadmill run it is.
  • Use the running stroller: We usually get out for one stroller run per week. It’s tougher than running without but my son loves it. He says “wheeeee!” when we go fast and “runrunrunrun!” I love it.
  • Set achievable goals, gradually: I didn’t start running again until a good two months after giving birth. After that, my first goal was a 5K by Christmas, when Silas would be six months old. I was so proud to finish! Then, four months later, I ran a 13K race with another mama. Three months after that, it was a half-marathon, followed by another one in the fall. I kept running through a December run streak to keep my base strong before launching into marathon training this past January.
  • Be realistic: I don’t try to be perfect. I miss some runs and mis the mark on my mileage many weeks. I love French Fries and McFlurries as much as I love a good protein smoothie. Many  days, I don’t get enough sleep or drink enough water.

Sometimes I feel like an imposter in running gear.

But I guess that’s also part of the appeal. I’m working on becoming someone I never realized was possible. And that will always be a work in progress.

 

What to look for in a jogging stroller

New mothers are often faced with overwhelming purchasing decisions on everything from cribs to car seats, cloth diapers to breast pumps. For many of us, jogging strollers are just another item to worry about as the baby’s due date approaches.

For a mom who runs, a good stroller can be your ticket to freedom, fresh air and exercise. But how do you know what stroller is for you and your wee one?

We own a BabyTrend jogger, which is OK but certainly not the Cadillac of running strollers.

 

Caroline Mackay, registered nurse, StrollerFit Saint John instructor and self-described stroller “connoisseur” offers her wisdom on the topic. She has owned several strollers and has taught StrollerFit for five years.

“I would like to offer some guidance to those who feel they don’t know where to start in this area which can be very overwhelming,” she says.

Read on to find out what jogger she recommends, and tips to help you decide what stroller is right for you. (Please note this post is not sponsored, and is solely based on Caroline’s opinions and experiences.)

Post-baby fitness: a Q&A with Caroline Mackay

Running after baby

How do you know if you should invest in a jogging stroller? 

Jogging strollers help with the ease of pushing your little one while moving at a faster pace than walking. They are often three-wheeled, with a front wheel that either swivels or is fixed. (You want to have your wheel fixed when jogging). Four-wheelers exist but look like all-terrain vehicles. This was my first stroller, the Quinny XL. It could go over sand, snow, or dead bodies. This is the stroller you want in the zombie apocalypse, but turn on a dime – it does not. 

Jogging strollers are often adjustable in the handle bar height, lighter weight, and have air filled tires for a smoother ride for both pusher and passenger.

You want something that can be used for everyday use though; you don’t want five strollers in your garage – one for shopping, one for walking the dog, one for traveling, one for running… many husbands will attest to this as it takes up garage space. Also, with most strollers, you want one that will accommodate your growing child.

It is not recommended to run with a child under the age of six months but most moms want to be out walking before that. A stroller with a car seat attachment is nice for when baby is young so as to not wake them so mommy gets her sane time. Having the three-wheel stroller in a swivel position will allow you to maneuver easily at the grocery store, etc. whereas a fixed wheel tends to be longer (think yacht) than many strollers. 

What qualities should a mom/dad look for in a jogging stroller?

Value for money is my goal but it is like a car and has to feel right or you won’t want to use it. The stroller has to be the right height for you and if there is a second user, ie. your partner, you may want to take that into consideration. Wrists need to be aligned with forearms, not at an angle. 

The angle that your child sits is another consideration. The BOB strollers have a reclined angle that older children don’t love if they are not used to sitting back. The Joovy is the same way though, as a friend who owns one points out, if they don’t know any different, it doesn’t bother them. The Chariot is pricey but super versatile and can convert to winter mode with ski attachments and bike attachment. I think that brand has the best set-up for infants I have seen- a sling/ hammock inside with a sleeping bag over top. You never have to worry about your child getting cold in that thing. 

That’s another feature to be aware of: a weather shield. High-end models have accessories that cost extra but weather shields fit snug and keep rain and wind out and are totally worth it when you run into bad weather. Also, babes are usually lulled to sleep by rain and they must take pleasure in the fact that mom is drenched and they are snug as a bug.

Would you ever recommend buying second-hand?

Absolutely! Buying baby gear is sort of like renting… you pay to use it, then sell it to someone else. The top-end brands hold their value and keep performing well if looked after. I bought my BobStroller second-hand and well-used for $300 and it is still my favourite stroller. I can lock the front wheel if I like, it is light, easily foldable and durable.  If you are lucky enough to find a Chariot second-hand, it will be worth the money. Always test out the gear before buying though, a broken brake or missing piece to a harness to be a deal-breaker.

How much should you expect to spend for a decent jogging stroller?

Strollers are on par with road bikes it seems. You are looking at about $700 to start for a new jogger. Accessories are extra, i.e. the Chariot does not come with a jogging wheel and runs about $100+ and note that all jogging stroller front wheels are different! I foolishly made this mistake when I went to a bike shop looking for a wheel to fit my import. I ended up paying big time shipping fees for a special wheel. This is why second-hand is the best way to go.

What are your top three recommendations for running strollers?

1. Look for a stroller that will meet multiple needs in your growing child’s life and won’t take up too much garage space.

2. Make sure the stroller is the right height for jogging – this is higher than walking.

3. Shop around, ask your friends (and me!) what they like about theirs and why. And then try theirs out. And then ask them if they want to sell it. Top Brands are: BOB for jogging and everyday use, Chariot for versatility in multi-sports and infant-carrying, Quinny XL for multi seat configuration.

Any other helpful tips for buying strollers?

I do want to note that jogging strollers are for people who are serious about running and need to get their running fix. Running with a stroller is not like running solo, you use different muscle groups and it is a heck of a lot harder. If you are someone who just wants to get out with baby, attend Stroller Fit classes, then most strollers will do the trick.  Even the classic Graco strollers will meet most needs of moms who do Stroller Fit. Those things are super light-weight, durable, fold down like a dream… and are considerably less expensive. 

What stroller do you recommend?

The BOB Revolution.

Stroller Fit is Tuesdays and Thursdays 9:45 a.m. and 10:45 a.m. in Saint John’s Rockwood Park. Classes are full for the May session, but will be ongoing throughout summer. For details, check out the Facebook group.

A mid-week run

My training plan calls for four runs per week for a total of 16 weeks. It all seems very doable right now.

But still, there are days, like today, when even a 5 km run seems nearly impossible.

I was originally planning on getting my run over with first thing in the morning on the treadmill, but that plan was thrown out the window after Silas ended up waking up in the middle of the night and moving into our bed. There would be no sneaking away to run.

After patchy sleep, my energy was lagging all day. But the afternoon sun and bare pavement were beckoning. I instantly regretted not taking advantage of a lunchtime run, and vowed to get out after work with the jogging stroller.

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It was glorious! Just above zero Celsius and it was so nice to take advantage of the extra daylight we have been experiencing. Spring was certainly in the air.

My pace was slow – close to 7 min/km – but it was steady. It was so sweet to look down and see the little pom-pom on my son’s hat, and his mittens grasping the stroller tray. We saw dogs, kids and city buses and heard “choo choo trains.” We went “wheeee!” and “bump, bump, bump.” Running with a toddler is fun, almost working the same way a podcast or great music can take your mind off things.

As we rounded the final corner onto our street, I heard his sweet voice say, “hommme.”

This was just another lesson that even 5 km runs can seem daunting, but they are always worth it in the end.

 

 

Never regret a run

Life has been crazy, but I’m still running.

Thank goodness for that.

My training has been far from perfect, but it’s happening. Through being on solo mommy duty during weeknights, through a persistent bug that went through our house, through travel, through work stress and somehow, through my very, very limited “alone time,” I’m finding (making) time to run.

Signing up for races is the best way I know how to make it happen.

So since my last post, I’ve signed up for another half-marathon. I’ll be running the half at the PEI Marathon on Oct. 18. Prince Edward Island is our family’s favourite place in the Maritimes, so it should be a treat.

Since I ran 10K at the Halifax Blue Nose in May, followed by the half at Marathon By the Sea in Saint John then the half at the PEI Marathon, I should technically qualify for the Maritime challenge medal. Unfortunately, I signed up one day late and so I’m out of luck. Wah-wah. I’ll have to settle for being a Maritime champion on the inside.

So here I am, three weeks away from half-marathon no. 6. Crazy! I’m trying to stick to the plan as closely as possible, but I’m really only squeaking out three to four workouts a week. Still, I feel like I’m improving very gradually, getting stronger as the season progresses.

A couple weeks ago, I ran the Hampton 5-miler for the fourth time. I did not beat my personal best time of 42:30 from 2013, but I definitely held my own at 43:58. To be honest, the whole time I was thinking about Silas, who was under the weather. I felt kind of selfish for even wanting to do the race.

I often wrestle with this kind of guilt, especially when running takes time away from him. But I keep telling myself that taking care of my own health and making time for exercise will make me a better mother.

I may find it hard to get out the door, but I never regret a run.

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Training for Half Marathon No. 5

The last couple of months have been a bit of a blur. I returned to working full-time, my baby turned one and somewhere in there, I trained for my fifth half-marathon.

Today I ran a nice, slow and hot 10K, for my taper long run. I ran from the west side to uptown and back. It was beautiful along Harbour Passage. It was toasty but manageable. Next weekend it’s 21.1 km – my first half-marathon post-baby – at Marathon By the Sea in Saint John.

Although I’ve managed to consistently get my weekend long runs in, the rest of the week has been lacking. Not much cross training, and only a couple other short runs.

Since my husband and I work opposite shifts, we haven’t needed to put our little guy in daycare. However, this means when I’m home, I’m on my own, which makes it hard to get those runs in. Jogging stroller to the rescue. Even if those runs are ultra-slow, and during the hot late-afternoon hours, at least it’s something.

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As a new mom, I’ve realized that while running is still important to me, it’s certainly not my top priority. This has changed the way I’ve looked at training for this half-marathon.

While I started with the best intentions of following a training plan with speed work, tempo runs and the like, it just didn’t happen. I just ran short runs when I could, and long runs on the weekend. That’s it.

For previous half-marathons, I meticulously tracked my pace, my workouts, my diet and my outfits. My selfie ratios were off the charts. Now, my phone is filled with baby pics. Who wants to look at my sweaty face when there’s a much cuter one next to me?

After last weekend’s long run of 18.5 km, I came home utterly exhausted and slightly nauseated to find that my husband had been struggling getting our little guy down for a nap. And Silas had just fallen asleep when I walked in the door. That meant not only did I not see him all during the work week, but also during a two-hour training run, followed by a two-hour nap. And for what? To feel sore and cruddy for the rest of the day? Sometimes, it all feels like a #momfail.

All this to say that I don’t think I’ve fallen out of love with running. It’s still important to me. It’s a simple and efficient way to keep relatively fit. And I still crave the endorphins. And I love to race. But, like most things in my life, the priority has shifted. I’m still trying to figure it all out.

Next weekend, though, will be awesome. I’ve taken part in Marathon By the Sea every year since I started running in 2011 (except last year, when I had a newborn). This year’s half-marathon course is different, and, rumour has it, more challenging. I love running across bridges, and this one includes both the Reversing Falls Bridge and the Harbour Bridge.

I’m as ready as I’ll ever be. Let those sea breezes blow.

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The Saint John Harbour Bridge

He’s 1

This image is forever etched in my mind: my husband gingerly carrying our newborn in a car seat down the hall of the hospital. I carried a few bags but I kept stopping to take photos. I had only given birth about 30 hours earlier and emotions were spilling out of me. It was really hitting me that this was a huge moment. We were taking our baby home, and our lives would never be the same.

Now a year has passed and the thought still rings true. Except rather than a dream or an idea of being a family of three, we’re living it.

Three weeks ago, our son reached his chubby little fingers into his first slice of chocolate cake and devoured it. We sang Happy Birthday and surrounded him with family and friends. I always thought baby birthday parties were sort of foolish, but now I get it. It was as much about us as it was about him. Together, we made it through the most challenging and beautiful year of our lives.

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No one can every prepare you for how difficult it is to care for a newborn, as a sleepless, anxious new mother. But as time went on, and we got a little more sleep, it got easier.

Before long, we were going to Stroller Fit and baby massage classes. We made a grand event out of grocery shopping. Breastfeeding eventually felt normal and we would do anything to make Silas smile.

Just as we were getting the hang of this new life, we were blasted with the snowiest winter in 50 years. Silas didn’t really like to nap, except in my arms. I begged for a chance to shovel snow so I could get outside and breathe fresh air. Maternity leave was anything but a cakewalk.

But we had a lot of fun too: we’d go to playdates and swim dates and movie dates. I started running again. We made new friends and learned new songs. We finally figured out routines that worked for us, and eventually, Silas didn’t need me as much, which felt bittersweet.

We’ve watched our boy, Silas, grow into his own little personality. He is happy, adventurous and smart. Confident, yet sensitive. An old soul. A piece of us, only better.

One year is all it took to make us see the world so very differently. It’s so easy now to understand what is truly important.

And as our baby becomes a toddler, we’re celebrating that.

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Silas is one year old. Photo by Cindy Wilson.

Weaning

I can feel it, him needing me less. And it hurts a little bit.

He’s only 10 months old, but every day, he is more and more independent. The way he mimics sounds and daydreams in a corner with his blocks. The way he is satisfied with a sippy cup of milk instead of me. The way he no longer needs to feel my warmth to stay asleep.

As he reaches out into the world, smiling at strangers and cooing at cats and dogs, I am overwhelmed with pride. I am consumed with love. But there is also a little part of me that wants him to stay small and needy.

It’s almost the opposite of how I felt during his first weeks of life. I loved holding and feeding my newborn, but his need for me was sometimes stifling. I remember the first time I slept without him on my chest (weeks after he was born) and feeling like I could finally breathe.

But now, as his weaning begins, I know in my heart that what the lactation consultants said is true. It will be much harder on me than on him.

I find myself holding him a few moments longer than I used to after he falls asleep. I used to wait impatiently for his eyes to close, for his body to fall heavy. Now, as his little body relaxes into sleep, I find myself relaxing too, holding him closer and watching the peace wash over his face.

He feels bigger every day, and I suddenly feel the relentlessness of time. And how precious these moments are.

Silas and I on the day of my sister's wedding. Silas was 3 months old.  Photo by Amanda Barber.
Silas and I on the day of my sister’s wedding. Silas was 3 months old. Photo by Amanda Barber.