Mothers Day is May 8!
Since there are now more female runners in the US than male – 21.8 vs 20.2 million – and 57% of race entries are women (!) – Mothers Day is more noteworthy than ever. Obviously, mothers comprise only a percentage of these overall numbers, but we wondered: What are the challenges? Can you raise children and lower your race times at the same time?
For this very non-comprehensive survey, we asked Pam Smith and Sarah Lavender Smith (no relation!) their esteemed thoughts – – –
Happy Mothers Day! Are you going to do anything special on May 8 – a run, or, not a run?
Mother’s Day of course celebrates being a mom, but I usually get a pass to NOT have to do all the “mom” chores that day. I will get out for a run, but this year it will be pretty short because I will be in taper mode. In our area, Mother’s Day is just about the perfect time for starting vegetables so I love spending some of the day in the garden.
Sarah Lavender Smith:
Funny thing is, May 8 is my birthday, so my birthday has always been combined in some way with Mother’s Day and an unusual tradition called Big Gymkhana. I have a tradition of doing my age in pushups, so I’ll hit the floor for 47 sometime that day! This May 8 I’ll be with my kids (Kyle, almost 15, a freshman; and Colly, 18, a senior) down in Ojai (Southern California), where they attend a boarding school called Thacher. This school is a second home to me — I grew up there as a faculty kid and went to high school there, as did my dad, and my grandpa taught there, and it’s where I met my husband. My kids have become passionate about riding and gymkhana (which was my first love, before running), so on and around May 8 I’ll be focused on helping my kids fulfill their equestrian passions in events like barrel racing, pole bending and rescue race. I’ll run up to campus (just a couple of miles from our rental), help them muck out their stalls and groom their horses, and then I’ll finish my run on trails through sagebrush and chaparral back down to the valley.
It brings me so much satisfaction as a mom to see my kids being adventurous and collaborating together. This is the best Mother’s Day and birthday present I could ask for. I’ll do a long run midweek so I can focus on them that weekend.
Do you ever feel stretched thin trying to both be a good mother and a good runner? Any suggestions or things you’ve learned?
Absolutely! I want to be able to train to my full potential, but sometimes that conflicts with being a good mom. Like how can you run long on Saturday if your kid has a softball game?? And when you do run long, how can you come home and still have enough energy to take care of kids?? For me, getting up early is the best solution. Weekdays, this is time when my kids are still asleep, so running doesn’t take away from parenting and on the weekends, it means I get a jump start on the long run so I can be home for afternoon kid activities. I think a great deal of flexibility is needed, too. I change my long run days to best fit what activities we have that week. I do a lot more road miles than most trail runners because it is the most convenient and it takes less time. And I think it is important to remember that skipping a couple of workouts is not going to derail the whole season – I’d much rather my kids remember that I was very supportive of their activities than think I am out running all the time!
Absolutely. From preschool to grade 8 it was quite stressful, which I realize now more in hindsight, since I transitioned to empty-nestdom this year with both kids away for high school. I am working more and consequently busy and fulfilling my back-burnered professional aspirations, but it seems easy compared to having two kids at home with their schedules to manage. When they were younger, I compromised my sleep a great deal, to squeeze in runs early morning so I could be in “mom mode” to get them up and ready for school, and I carried a lot of guilt about spending at least half a day or longer on the weekend running. Some suggestions: Let go of the guilt. Let your kids get themselves ready; let your partner take control of the situation. Escape the trap of “they need me to do this” and let them figure it out without you — and respect the way they do it, rather than being critical.
Having my kids at boarding school for high school — and seeing their self-reliance and other positive character traits blossom — affirms the value of letting kids take ownership of their routine as much as possible, and also helps me recognize the hazards of parental over-involvement i.e. helicopter parenting. Go out on your Saturday run and let them take care of their day. If they’re bored and unscheduled, that’s a good thing, as it usually triggers imaginative play. One last suggestion: Put your relationship with your partner first, and nurture it, rather than putting your significant other or spouse on “autopilot” while being overly focused on your kids. Having a healthy marriage/partnership will benefit your kids more in the long run.
Is there any truth to the so-called “Paula Radcliffe Effect”, whereby a woman becomes a stronger endurance athlete after having a child?
I was in residency and not training seriously when I had my kids, so I don’t have any personal experience with it. I think most of the physiologic changes of pregnancy would revert to baseline after 3-4 months. But I think women are mentally tougher after childbirth and I think being a parent can give you a greater sense of purpose so that you become more focused on things you believe are important.
Yes, but I think it depends on the individual. Some new moms just don’t want to run, and that’s OK. But if you get back to running postpartum, you’ll find you’re burning calories like mad in order to run and nurse and handle being sleep-deprived; this will help you lose weight and get in shape really quickly. A lot of moms also run while pushing a running stroller, which adds to strength. I had some of my best road-racing times when my firstborn was 1 to 2 years old. I think new moms bring extra passion to their running because it’s their “thing” — their individuality or identity separate from caregiving. Running becomes a precious time in the day away from the little one. Also, if you’ve put your career on hiatus for child rearing, then running becomes an area in life for ego gratification. I’ve seen a lot of young new moms focus on running because their career is on hold, and they appreciate the satisfaction and steady progress that running brings them, which is not a bad thing!
Any last thoughts, words of wisdom, or things people should know but just don’t get it?
I think women tend to be overly hard on themselves and it gets worse after having kids because you want to do everything perfectly for your children. But being a good mom doesn’t mean you have to spend every minute with your kids. Running is not only a way for moms to carve out a little quiet for themselves (so you don’t go berserk next time your kid throws a tantrum) but it also can serve as an example for many values we want to teach our children (hard work, dedication, fitness, goal setting, etc.). Time to start ignoring that Mommy Guilt. Well, at least for a couple of miles!
Don’t pressure your kids to run. Encourage them to be athletic and outdoorsy, but don’t worry about whether they run or how well they run. Let them discover their “thing”—their own athletic passion—and don’t be upset if it’s not running. My daughter is into circus arts and horsemanship; my son is crazy about baseball and also loves horses. They both like camping and hiking. I’m confident they’ll discover running in their own way and on their own terms as adults, and it’s best not to push it now.
BIOS – – –
A full time physician and mom of two kids, Megan (12) and Liam (10). Race Highlights: 2013 Western States champion, 2014 Angeles Crest 100M champion and CR, 100M track WR, 2014 100km National champion, selected for US 100 km national team five times, 2013 Competitor Magazine Ultra-runner of the year.
(Recommended: Western States 2014: One Great Big Fake Orgasm)
Sarah Lavender Smith
Started running more than two decades ago and began specializing in trail/ultra running in 2005. She has raced some 70 ultramarathons and marathons, with several wins and podium finishes at Northern California trail races. Highlights of her running career include twice finishing as a top female and top 10 overall in the Grand to Grand Ultra, a 170-mile self-supported stage race; finishing first rookie, fourth female and sub-22 hours in her first 100-mile race; and getting a marathon PR of 3:05 at age 39.