People – specifically, fellow moms who have abandoned running…as well as jogging and walking – often ask how I do it. How have I managed to continue running consistently, without jeopardizing my career or ignoring the demands of my increasingly large family, which currently includes four children and three dogs? Following the last conversation on this theme, I gave some serious thought to what I’ve done to pull off a successful 15-year training program. Here’s what I came up with:
1. Attitude: running is way more than “just” exercise. I agree with Larry Shapiro, fellow academic and author of
Zen and the Art of Running, that running is as essential as breathing is to my living fully. I literally find not running to be painful; I swear, my muscles begin to ache as if I could actually sense them atrophying and muscle tension in my neck and shoulders turns to migraine headache. Hence, I’ve always prioritized running. A morning run – or walk on a rest day – is among the first things on my daily agenda. Period.
2. Find a running partner: get a dog. I’ve heard more than one health care professional say that the quickest way to improve your fitness is to get a dog and walk him. We got an Alaskan Malamute – Shunka Wacon – who required at least two extended exercise periods a day. We’d run in the morning, then walk again in the afternoon. Because Shunka looked like a wolf and outweighed me before he was a year old, I felt safe running anywhere, from trails in upstate New York to dimly lit streets in Southern California.
2. Nurse and run. When my eldest child, Quentin, was born, I learned very quickly that I had only a brief window of time to run (or eat or work or whatever) following each nursing session. I used to get up before Quentin was due to wake up, and then dress for running from the waist down before getting him up to nurse. Afterward, I’d tuck Quentin in bed with his dad, finish dressing, get Shunka, and go. Later, as a single mom living back at home, I’d run before Quentin woke up, but after nursing his sister, Reiley. My mother and sisters stood in as ready substitutes for dad.
3. Get a running stroller. Once I was back on my feet and living alone, the
Baby Jogger was my “freedom stroller.” A gift from the kids’ dad, my first running stroller literally saved me. In order to get my run in before getting all of us ready and out the door, I had to be in my running shoes and on the street before dawn. I wouldn’t even wake the kids before strapping them into the stroller, tucking chocolate milk in sippy cups and snacks into the mesh pockets located conveniently on outer edge of each seat. Then I’d park them on the porch while I leashed the dogs (yes, I was crazy enough to get a another dog – a mutt adopted from the pound). And the five of us would be on our way.
4. Invite the kids to ride along. Not surprisingly, each of my children, in turn, became independently mobile before he or she was old enough to leave at home alone while I went running. Not a problem. They joined me on their bikes, scooters, or roller blades. When we first moved to our current hill-top home, I used to slow to a walk going uphill so that eight-year-old Quentin and six-year-old Reiley could keep up with me and Parker (in the aforementioned running stroller). I think the most cumbersome this family running team effort ever got was when my youngest sister, Terri, lived with us and joined in the run. There were mornings when we’d trade off pushing Olivia in “Bob” (I replaced the double Baby Jogger with the much lighter and more maneuverable
Bob Ironman) and being pulled by Ayla (Shunka’s successor Malamute), while Quentin, Reiley, and Parker weaved in and around us on their scooters.
Most days now, it’s just the dogs – Ayla and Cooper, a quick, short-haired Vizsla who’s a better suited to Southern California’s heat than our beloved Arctic breed – and I. All of my children except five-year-old Olivia can stay at home while I run, even if I get out after their dad leaves for work. Sometimes they don’t, though. Parker occasionally accompanies me on his bike; a couple of times a week, Reiley takes Cooper and runs with me part of the way. I’m glad they do. Of course, I appreciate the idea of simply putting on your running shoes and hitting the road; I just don’t think I enjoy it now as much as I once did.