I’m writing this sat on the couch with a beer, the remains of some fish and chips, and an empty ice cream bowl. The children are asleep upstairs and our border collie is snoring. It’s not how I imagined I’d be writing this blog. But then, I didn’t think it was going to take me three and a half years to get around to it.
A lot has changed since then, the main one being children (one is three-and-a-half, and the other’s one). The other big change is time, which has started speeding up and slowing down as it pleases. At the moment, I’m in a ‘slow’ phase, because I’m injured. It sucks but instead of going out in the dark for a run, I can sit, gobble takeaway and finally write the blog post I’d have written back then… about the things I wished you’d told me about running as a parent.
#1 It’s not all bad news
I know right now, with a newborn on your lap, you can’t believe there will ever be an end to the late-night feeding and pooing fiestas, or the ripple of wobbliness that goes all the way from your breasts to your knees. But however you feel right now, your baby might one day be a good thing for your running.
People have speculated for decades on whether childbirth might improve athletic performance. There’s not much research behind it, but plenty of mums says they came back faster after their first baby (including one I saw on Facebook the other day, who in 2015 ran a 1.45 half marathon, in 2016 had a baby, and in 2017 ran a 1.28 half marathon… inspiring!). And then there’s Paula Radcliffe, who won a major marathon with a 10-month-old. Here’s what might happen to you:
There could be a benefit from extra red blood cells and relaxin after childbirth, according to research from Michigan State University
All those hormones (yep, the ones that make you burst into tears at Postman Pat) may also improve your ability to burn fat and the delay the point at which you ‘hit the wall’
Or it might just be all the running up and down stairs with baskets of washing making you improve
Of course, there are also dozens of other reasons why people might get faster. A big one is mindset: when you’ve finally picked out that last piece of playdough and have got nothing but the wind in your hair, of course you’re going to run like hell.
#2 Mud is your friend
Right, like you don’t already have enough cleaning to do?
The thing is, when you first come back to running after squeezing out a baby (or having one cut out) your abdominal muscles have been stretched, your ligaments are squidgy, and your internal organs have spent nine months in weird and wonderful places. That makes soft, cushioned trails – the flat, easy ones at least – a great running surface.
Trails are lower impact, stengthen your core and connective tissue, and all that running in beautiful places may be better for your mental health, too. And yes, I’m biased, but when you get out onto the trails after a day tripping over duplo and rocking a screaming baby, you will feel like yourself again. They will make you remember what running is all about. Consider it jumping in puddles for grown-ups.
#3 The hardest part of running isn’t running
…it’s getting out of the house. And then coming back in again.
No matter how supportive your husband/mum/babysitter, from now on, running will fill you with maternal guilt every time (actually, let’s call it parental guilt, as plenty of dads get it too). This means that the second you walk back in the door, you’ll start cooking dinner, putting two loads of washing through, tidying the house, mopping the bathroom, taking the kids to the park and perhaps, at some point, having a bite to eat and a shower (with at least one child in the bathroom with you).
Looking after children is physically demanding and will be your new warm-down ritual, ending with you eating biscuits in a heap watching Great British Bake Off. And that’s why…
#4 You’ll cry at every finish line
For the next few years, you won’t be able to finish a race without reflecting on how much you’ve been through, what a moral support your children are and how amazing it is that you even made the start line.
That’s because it is amazing. How many packed lunches, coats and nappies did you have to sort just to get out of the house? And while you were training, how many times did you take a child to hospital, sit rocking a baby through bad nights (probably teething), or catch some snotty nursery bug? It’s amazing that you run, let alone race. It’s amazing that any of us run.
#5 You’re not the only woman who hates kegels
Do them. Even if they make you want to vomit.
#6 One day you’ll miss running with a buggy
At the moment, it’s a chore to collect drinks and snacks, find the dog lead, locate house keys, load a baby into the top seat of your Phil & Ted’s pushchair, load a toddler into the bottom, unload the both of them because the toddler will absolutely never ever go in the bottom seat again, load them back in again and stumble out onto the street only to be asked moments later… ‘Mummy, why are we going so slowly?’.
Pretty soon, though, that toddler is going to be a preschooler who’s too big to fit in either seat and can’t even be bribed with the promise of watching Paw Patrol on his tablet. Your running partner and fellow explorer is gone, just like that.
And oh dear, now you’re crying again, because this magical pause in your life known as ‘having young children’ is almost over. And you feel, quite understandably, a bit sad… but really, a whole world of amazing things are opening up again. And feel very proud that, whatever your fitness and speed, you are still a runner.