Secrets of a Badass Single Mother Runner
Please excuse any typos, as I am currently high…high from running, that is. Endorphins are coursing through my body. The feeling is so good that I hardly realize how sore I am from running a half marathon. That will come tomorrow. Right now, I am so full of joy and happy brain chemicals that I feel like I can do anything. As a single mom, I do try to do it all. Or at least enough. To make sure my family stays healthy and strong. It is not easy. But, then again, most things that are worth it rarely are.
First things first, a note about what this post is not:
- a humble brag about how awesome I am in an attempt to solicit complements.
- a “what’s your excuse?” post designed to make you feel guilty about not running half marathons or working out.
- an invitation to hear about how I am neglecting my children.
I hope that this post:
- gives you some ideas about how to incorporate fitness and/or self-care into your life.
- makes you feel capable of setting a goal and achieving it.
- motivates you to bet on yourself in the race that is life.
I ran my first half marathon about 14 months ago. In 19 degree, blustery weather. On a rough trail with knee-high grass, snow, streams, rocks, ice, mud, steep hills and animal feces. It was awesome. It was horrible. So, awesible? Horrisome? No, seriously, winter running is not for the weak and this race was NOT a pleasurable experience. But, I did it. I had only been running again for about eight months after the birth of my son and had followed a detailed, 16-week training plan prior to the race. Before I started training, the longest run I had done had been about 7 miles. Nothing to sneeze at, but certainly not 13.1. I ran three to five days per week, leaving my baby and preschooler with my husband or heading out in the early morning before everyone else was awake. I ran in all types of weather – 20 degrees, 90 degrees, rain, sleet, snow, wind, sun, fog, early morning, afternoon, evening, and night. I was more diligent than a postal worker when it came to getting my miles in.
I did it. It was not fast, pretty, easy or enjoyable, but I did it. And then I ate pie.
My life has changed dramatically since I ran my first half. I am now a single mom, have a new job dedicated to helping victims of violence, and live in a new home in a new city. One thing that has remained a constant in my life is running. And it is and perhaps always will be important to me. I get asked all of the time how I do it. How I find time to work out, while working full time and raising two young kids by myself. Here’s my tell all, the secrets of my success, including blood, sweat, tears and poop. This wouldn’t a running parent post without at least a little bit of poop.
I believe I can do it. And I have become my own biggest fan. Whether it is running a marathon or a 5K or my personal goal of six half marathons in a year, or simply doing something active every day, it’s possible. Things will come up or get in the way, but parents have a way of making magic happen. We have to be resourceful and creative. We may need to adjust our expectations or goals and it won’t happen without hard work or in the same timeframe as was possible before having children, but if you are willing to give it your all, you can do it.
I set reasonable and achievable, but moderately challenging goals. Just like with any life change, if you try to bite off more than you can chew or set goals that are too challenging, you’ll likely never get there or get hurt trying. Yes, trying and failing is better than not trying at all, but it can be really discouraging. And getting discouraged while trying something new can lead to quitting. There is a time and place for quitting. It is not day two of an overly ambitious training plan or after not running your first 5K in less than 30 minutes, when you didn’t really have time to realistically train towards that goal. I really want to run a marathon someday, but right now, I have a full time job, two kids under six, few childcare options and prefer to spend my time training for several half marathons this year. For someone else, a reasonable, achievable, moderately challenging goal might be a 5K or simply running for a mile without stopping. Know yourself and your limits and push past them. If you don’t know your limits, spend some time getting to know yourself before you set your goals. But, I encourage you to really challenge yourself to try something outside of your comfort zone. Something a little bit painful. Not the pain that comes from pushing through an injury, but the burn in your muscles from a few more lbs, minutes or miles.
I prioritize fitness. It is my drug, my self-care, and my strategy for keeping my body, mind and emotions in a healthy place. I work out six to seven days a week. Some days that means getting up an hour early, spending my lunch hour at the gym or working out at night after the kids are asleep. Other days, it means I utilize free child care at the gym, put my kids in the jogging stroller or ask my parents to watch the kids for an afternoon, so I can run. When I tell people that I work out every day, they react in one of three ways:
- “Wow! Awesome!”
- “That’s way too much! *begin planning an intervention*
- “Don’t you feel guilty for sacrificing precious time with your kids?”
All but one of these responses are inappropriate. I am well aware of my training (and rest) needs and am an adult. I am a way better parent when I workout and take care of myself. Not only does it allow me to get out frustrations and deal with the trauma of working in a helping profession, but it seriously does wonders for my self esteem and mental health, in addition to my physical health. It makes me feel strong and amazed at what my body can do. It has improved my body image and enabled me to love myself a bit more. Also, I am modeling a healthy lifestyle for my kids. And it makes them want to join the club. My family has become very active and we have a great time together.
I have learned to give myself a break. I take care of myself when injured and adjust when life alters my plans. I let go of things I can’t control, modify my training schedule when injured or sick and don’t let skipping a workout because I am home with a sick little one or the kids are up past bedtime ruin my day. Even professional athletes incorporate rest and recovery into their routines. Rest helps you avoid injury, recover and go stronger, harder and longer the next time.
I cross train. Every week, I add other activities like cycling, weights, kickboxing, and High Intensity Interval Training (H.I.I.T.) into my training schedule. Even though running is my bliss, adding these other activities helps improve my running, keeps me from getting bored, is fun and is doable when the weather sucks. Running on a dreadmill (spelling intended) is about the least enjoyable thing imaginable. I can maybe do seven miles max before I feel like stabbing myself in the eye. So, I take group exercise classes and do videos at home when the weather is too shitty. While I love running year round, I can’t do so with my kids when it is below 20 degrees or pouring rain. Classes and free child care at the gym have been awesome. On top of my regular training schedule, I try to do yoga at least five days a week. This allows me to feel centered and calm, while stretching and strengthening muscles. It’s a great way to end the day and wind down from chasing around kids. Speaking of chasing around kids – some days my workout is playing soccer or tag in the back yard or taking turns swimming laps with my mom, while watching the kids splash around in the pool.
I only compete against myself. I know that I am unlikely to win races. Unless I win the lottery and have tons more time to train. And even then, I am 5’2″. No amount of training will make my legs longer or enable me to compete with a six foot tall person of equal ability. I train to achieve new heights and conquer new challenges. I train for life. I try to beat my own personal records, and when I try new activities, I set new goals and then try to smoke them. I don’t compare myself to friends or other people in the race. Life is relative. For me, running 30-40 miles per week is doable and fun (some weeks), for you it might be amazing to run three miles. For someone else, 50K runs might be their thing (shudders).
I accept that things will go wrong. And I don’t let these things become the end of the world. When your daughter has to go potty and you are three miles from the nearest bathroom (and there’s no way she’s going to pee outside and how dare you suggest such a thing), you run like the wind and consider this your speed training for the week. If you have multiple children, you probably have experienced a car ride disagreement, but what if “Mom, he’s touching me” happens in the jogging stroller and you have five more miles to go? You try to teach your kids how to stay calm and resolve conflict, and turn up your tunes. Just the other day, I ended up throwing a peacoat over my sports bra and running tights after a run to attend science night at my daughter’s school. So glad that someone didn’t offer to take my coat. And when shit happens…literally? You deal with it. You are a parent – parents are shit experts. I have pooped in the woods in 15 degree weather and changed poopy diapers on the running trail.
I make choices. Making a commitment to train for a race or work out regularly may interfere with your social life and your sleep. I have to admit, I would probably rather run 10 miles or take a yoga class than go on a date or out with friends. I take advantage of every kid free hour I get to get miles in. I am still looking for a person whose idea of a fun date is taking a spinning class or going for a run. And sometimes I stay up late, get up early or use vacation time to get my workouts in. I definitely don’t get as much sleep, but I am a single parent so I don’t get much sleep anyway. I might as well be kickboxing at 10 pm or 6 am instead of worrying about things I can’t control.
I get support and help when I need it. From my parents and friends. From my online fitness group – the most badass group of women on the planet. From professionals – finding the right program, the right shoes, the right form and evaluation of injuries or issues often requires consultation with or care from a professional. Don’t power through pain or assume you know everything and don’t feel too intimidated to seek out advice or help.
I know it’s worth it. For my health, for my happiness and ultimately, for my kids, who deserve a healthy, happy mama. Get out there and find your bliss. Drop me a line when you do. I will see you on the running trail. Do me a favor and pretend you don’t know I was just pooping in the woods. Let that be our little secret.
All images belong to the author, all rights reserved.