When I looked at my calendar Sunday morning to start planning out my next week, I was surprised to see that Mother’s Day happens to be this weekend. How did I not know it was right around the corner? Well, mom brain probably has a lot to do with it. But regardless, happy Mother’s Day to all the mother runners out there! To celebrate, I thought I’d share how running postpartum (because we’re always postpartum) helps us all in this wild journey of motherhood.
My Running Postpartum Journey
I’ve shared in a couple of different venues that my husband and I experienced pregnancy loss before we had our son. So my path to becoming a mom started off rocky and hard, to say the least. While I had always struggled with fairly manageable anxiety, after the birth of our son it just blew up. I felt like I couldn’t relax, I had a compulsion to control as much as I could, and I just found myself not enjoying those first few months.
Which is not abnormal. Being a new mom is a hard job, with or without mental health struggles. But because I realized I wasn’t doing well, I knew I had to find a way to take better care of myself. I looked to my past, and the things that had helped me manage my anxiety symptoms before motherhood. Running and working out was definitely a huge piece of the equation (along with some therapy, honest conversations, and getting some decent sleep).
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I feel so fortunate to have had the safety net of running in those early days. Truly, I don’t know how I would have survived without the sport. Which is why I want to encourage women everywhere to find the thing that lights you up, and to make sure we resist the temptation to let life get in the way of it. As moms, it’s too easy to put everyone else’s needs first. But taking care of ourselves is non-negotiable. Whether it’s through running, or painting, or rock climbing, we HAVE to carve out time to pursue our passions.
For many of my friends, that passion is running. As a mental health therapist, I know how much a sport like running can positively impact every aspect of our lives. But I wanted to get some other opinions, as well. I asked my fellow mother runners how they believe running helps them to be the best mom possible, and here’s a few of our answers.
How Running Makes Us Stronger Moms
Running Gives Us Time
First and foremost, we need to accept and appreciate that moms everywhere could all use more of one thing. Time. There’s always something to do, and not enough time to do it. Which is why it can be hard to prioritize getting on a pair of sneakers and getting out the door. But this is exactly why running can be so beneficial.
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Running gives us time to focus on ourselves. A few peaceful miles to hear our own thoughts, listen to music that WE actually like (sorry Elsa), and move our bodies. And for many moms, running is one of the few, precious opportunities for us to engage in a social activity that doesn’t involve kids sports, school activities, or play dates.The running community is filled with other moms who are there to join you for the miles, and laugh at the fact that you realized your 7 year old hadn’t showered in 4 days last night.
Running Gives Us Space
As much as we may not want to admit it, moms need space too. From what, you might ask. Well, from being touched every 3 minutes, from being needed every 2 minutes, from meeting the demands of others, and quite frankly just from the noise, sometimes. Do we love our families? Definitely. Do we need a few hours without them a couple times a week? Same answer.
Running Gives Us Endorphins
The runners high is a real thing, and it’s not just about how good it feels to move almost effortlessly. It’s also the amazing feeling of finishing a four miler while watching the sunrise, or seeing a new mile PR on your Garmin. At this point it doesn’t take a scientist to tell you that exercising has positive impacts on hormone regulation and brain chemistry. In the words of the great Elle Woods, “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people don’t shoot their husbands.” Solid point there, Elle.
One of my favorite quotes is a Latin phrase translated to mean, “the healthy mind resides in the healthy body.” It’s meant to highlight the natural relationship between physical and mental health. Taking care of our physical bodies helps us remember we are worth caring for, and instills a sense of peace that can be lacking in sedentary life.
It’s hard to stay on top of your mom game if you’re one sassy comment away from setting the house on fire, and it’s a known fact that runners return home to their families 10% less murdery than when they left. And I think that’s a good thing for all of us!
For more information on the relationship between exercise and mental health, take a look at this excellent article from Psychology Today.
Running Supports our Health
While we’re talking about the emotional benefits, let’s not forget the physical health benefits. Running is clearly a great form of exercise. It stimulates and supports the cardiovascular and respiratory systems, and it can go a long way to reduce the risks of type 2 diabetes. The weight-bearing strength exercises that help you run stronger and more efficiently can also help prevent osteoporosis.
It also allows moms to set a positive example of actively caring for and prioritizing physical health. We all know that kids do what they see, not what they are told (unfortunately). Which means that if you want to raise active, healthy kids, your best bet is to be an active, healthy person.
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As much as I love my alone time when it comes to running, I’ve definitely carved out a few runs each week to take my kiddo to ride his bike along with me. I may miss out on listening to my favorite true crime podcasts, but I do get a certain peace of mind knowing he won’t be spending all day playing MineCraft.
Running Gives Us Goals
As a therapist, one of the greatest struggles I heard from new moms was feeling like they were constantly becoming less of “themselves.” Their lives, interests, and activities were becoming smaller as a result of constantly focusing on the tiny people they were responsible for. And running can be an excellent way to push back against that natural tendency.
Running gives moms the opportunity to chase goals and dreams that don’t revolve around anyone but themselves. The goal of finishing their first 10k, running a faster half-marathon, finishing out a tough training run, or just not quitting when the running gets hard. And trust me, it gets hard. Having goals to pursue that are just for us helps us to remember that we have a purpose outside of, and in addition to, motherhood. And it is so important that we never lose sight of that concept.
Running Reminds Us of Our Own Strength
Finally, and arguably most important, running is a constant reminder of our own strength. Being able to run one mile further than we could a month ago shows us that our bodies are capable of doing incredible things. It reinforces the fact that these bodies that have birthed babies are still strong, capable, and trustworthy.
When we’re feeling overwhelmed, run down, or discouraged by the voice in our head that whispers that we’re not good enough, running can shout back that we can do hard things. We can run races. We can raise incredible human beings. We can set healthy examples. And we can prioritize our mental health.
Motherhood will test you, on a daily basis. It will rob you of sleep and patience. It is not for the weak. So when you reach those breaking points, you can remember that you are the person who kept pushing towards that half-marathon finish line, even when there was a perfectly good Uber just two clicks away. You are strong enough to tackle the roads, the trails, and motherhood.
And that’s why running helps us to be just a little bit better at this mom business. Happy Mother’s Day!