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5 Tips For Moms Who Want To Run

18 May

I am participating in the 2012 Wordcount Blogathon, which means one post every day for the month of May.

Today’s post is also a part of the 2012 Fitness & Health Bloggers Conference Blogger Challenge, in which bloggers are invited to write about an aspect of women’s health.

James and I taking part in the Whitby Waterfront Races

At the time my older son was conceived, I was an active runner. I wasn’t as into racing as I am now, but I was in good shape and I hit the road regularly. Running was logistically easier in those pre-baby days, when I didn’t have to worry about whether I’d had enough sleep and who was going to watch the kids.

I had intended to continue running throughout my pregnancy, but my body had other plans for me. Pregnancy wreaked havoc with the fluid in my inner ear, so I developed the inconvenient tendency to simply fall over without warning. This obviously meant that running would be too much of a risk, especially during the tail-end of winter when there was still a lot of ice on the ground.

After my son was born, I started running again, but only for a few months before I got injured. That was when my six-year break from running started. There was always something that kept me out of it – injury, illness, post-partum depression, plain old garden-variety depression – before I finally found the right motivation to start running again in earnest three years ago.

Combining motherhood with running can be a tricky endeavour, especially when you add a full-time job and special needs parenting into the mix. But with a bit of practice and planning, it is possible to strike the right balance, and it is very worthwhile.

Today, I offer you some tips on how you can successfully combine running with being a mom. These tips do not come from any books or websites. They come from my own experiences.

1.       Lose any preconceived notions of what a female runner “should” look like.

Pregnancy and childbirth can really do a number on a woman’s body image. Our post-baby bodies include new wobbly bits (unless you are blessed with spectacular genetic material), larger-than-before breasts that now serve a practical purpose, and stretch marks that make our bellies look like a railway network. Some of us are self-conscious about the way our bodies look, and we are reluctant to go out in public wearing shorts and tank tops.

We tend to have this idea that in order to run, women have to be skinny and flat-chested. I get a lot of women telling me that they would love to run, but cannot because they are not built for it, or because their breasts are too big. From experience, I can tell you that those are not good reasons not to run. I am not skinny by any stretch of the imagination, and I am definitely not flat-chested. Barring any serious medical conditions, anyone who wants to run can run, no matter what size or shape they are.

Yes, it is true that the women who win the Olympic marathons are skinny and flat-chested, but you’re not trying to win the Olympic marathon. You are doing this for yourself. And if you have a post-baby body to contend with, wear it with pride. It serves as a reminder of the life you have borne.

2.       Remember that women have unique nutritional needs.

Women have to deal with all kinds of stuff that men never have to think about. Our bones start to degenerate after a certain age, and this increases our calcium needs. We have periods every month that deplete our iron stores and can throw our entire bodies temporarily out of synch. For the time we are nursing babies, our bodies are directing all of the good nutrients to our breast milk, leaving us with just the leftovers to live on.

There are scores of books out there that talk in general terms about what runners are supposed to eat and when. The material you read can be confusing and downright contradictory. I have come to the conclusion that different things work for different people. Whatever eating plan you end up adopting, you need to ensure that the nutritional needs unique to women are taken care of.

Here are a few basics:

  • Eat foods rich in iron and folic acid, particularly during your menstrual cycles.
  • Increase your consumption of Vitamin C: this has been shown to improve the body’s efficiency in absorbing iron.
  • As you get into your 40’s, start taking calcium supplements to compensate for the hit that your bones start to take in middle age.
  • If you are nursing, you need anywhere from 500-1500 extra calories per day, and that’s before you take into account the calories you burn while running. Make sure you are well fed on nutritional stuff, and take along an energy bar when you go running.

3.       Get the right support structure.

Whether you are small- or large-breasted, or somewhere in the middle, a good sports bra is essential. The last thing you want to deal with while you’re running is your boobs bouncing around like ping-pong balls. It is not only uncomfortable, it is downright painful. Although I speak from the standpoint of someone with large breasts, I have spoken to women who made the mistake of thinking that their breasts were small enough for them to do without a sports bra. With a couple of exceptions, they have bitterly regretted it.

If you are small-breasted, you can probably get away with getting your bra from a sporting goods retailer. Larger-breasted women could benefit greatly from being professionally fitted at a specialist bra shop that carries sports bras. No matter where you get your bra from, it is important to ensure a good fit. Not only can ill-fitting sports bras add to the bounce, they can lead to very painful chafing.

If you have just had a baby, be aware that the size of your breasts probably changed during your pregnancy. Don’t assume that what fitted you before will still fit you now. The same applies to moms whose babies have recently been weaned from the breast. As your body’s production of milk slows down, the size and shape of your breasts may alter.

Nursing mothers who want to wear breast pads should take precautions to ensure that they don’t shift during the run. When I ran as a new mother, I secured my breast pads with surgical tape and that worked well enough.

4.       Make it a family thing.

You don’t have to force your husband and children to go running with you, but at least enlist their support. Tell your significant other about your intentions to run, and let him or her be a part of the planning. You will need someone to watch the kids while you are out, and if that same someone massages your aching feet at the end of the day, so much the better! Most running moms I’ve spoken to report having supportive partners, and that makes all the difference.

For those with young babies, running can be logistically very easy. All you need, apart from your running gear, is a baby jogger – a three-wheeled stroller designed for motion. Look for a baby jogger that can be adjusted to have the baby forward-facing or rear-facing. These strollers do not have wheels like regular strollers, they have tires that look almost like bicycle tires. That makes them suitable for a variety of terrains and weather conditions. Not only is this a fun way to bond with your baby, pushing the extra pounds as you run is a great booster of upper body strength!

Running with older children can be immensely enjoyable as well. My younger son, now six, is showing an interest in running. He ran his first kiddie’s race last year, and he plans to more. I often take him out with me on a Sunday, just for a kilometre or two, and then I drop him off at home with my husband before heading out for my longer run

5.       Enjoy the me-time

People run for different reasons. Some runners are competitive, and are in it to win the races. Others want to get fit, or lose weight, or address some specific health issue. Some people simply run because they like it. Whatever your primary reason for running is, use it as an opportunity to switch off from the day-to-day business of parenting. Allow your mind to wander a little – bearing safety in mind, of course. Get an iPod and listen to some music. For a busy mom, it can be incredibly liberating to pound the pavement for a few miles. It is a great stress-reliever, it loosens the joints, and it refreshes the mind. When you get back home after your run, you will feel ready – and eager – to step back into role of Mom.

Disclaimer: The information given in this blog post, or anywhere on this website, is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional.

(Photo credit: Kirsten Doyle)

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Let Go Of The Guilt For Mothers Day

13 May

I am participating in the 2012 Wordcount Blogathon, which means one post every day for the month of May.

I have a tendency to take on too much. In this regard I am very much like most moms. Whether it’s genetic wiring or just a normal part of motherhood, trying to do everything for everybody is just what we do.

From time to time, we get challenged on this by well-meaning people who say things like, “You have so much on your plate. You really need to learn how to say no.”

Yeah, like that’s going to happen. We can’t possibly say no, because, you know, we’re doing it for the children. All of the late nights, and the hours spent doing laundry, and the long commutes to full-time jobs – we do it all for the children.

While this is perfectly legitimate most of the time, there are times when we use the “for the children” line simply because we cannot process the idea that it’s OK to actually do something for ourselves once in a while.

For instance, when people ask me why I run, I tell them that it’s for my son, to raise funds for autism. It is true that this is what got me back into running after a long break, and it is also true that it helps a great deal with my motivation. But let’s be honest – there are other ways to raise funds for autism that don’t involve entire Sunday mornings spent running instead of with my family. When it comes down to it, I run because it makes me happy , but I’m darned if I’ll actually say that out loud.

My husband has this computer game that he plays most evenings. It’s one of those war games where tanks blow up other tanks – a guy game that I, as a woman, don’t really get. He says he plays this game to unwind and release some stress, and I completely understand that. He works hard and he does have a lot of stress to deal with. It’s perfectly reasonable that he would need an outlet. But when I play my computer games at the end of a long, stressful day, it is under the cloak of intense guilt. I feel that the time I’m spending actually enjoying myself should instead be spent doing something for somebody else.

I know I’m not alone in this. I ran an informal poll on my social media feeds asking fellow moms for their views. Here’s some of what they had to say:

Kerry says that she feels guilty when she does things for herself or buys herself anything. “Can’t get a hair cut, the child needs one first. Can’t buy a new pair of shoes. Too much guilt!”

Tammy had a one-word answer to the question of whether she feels the guilt: “YYYYEEESSSSSSSS”

Hollie poignantly said she doesn’t feel the guilt, “because it’s very rare that I do anything for myself.” This is in a similar vein to Ruth, who says that she doesn’t feel guilty as such, but she’s simply lost the hang of doing things for herself.

Sara, a single mom of special needs kids who really needs a break, reports that she recently considered canceling a vacation so she could buy a car seat for her child, who doesn’t even need it yet. And Nicole said that the few times she doesn’t feel guilty, she starts to feel guilty about not feeling guilty!

I wonder why that is, just why we moms are able to turn guilt into even more of an art form than the Catholics. I mean, we are fully prepared to acknowledge when other people, like our husbands, deserve a break. Why can’t we do the same for ourselves?

If we got just a little bit better at slowing down once in a while, and unashamedly doing stuff we enjoy simply because we enjoy it, maybe we would feel less overwhelmed.

I have great admiration for the moms who strike more of a balance, the moms who take a stand for themselves and say, “You know what? I deserve this and I’m going to enjoy it without feeling guilty about it!”

Fellow mom Marci says she used to feel the guilt, but not anymore. “I found that doing *me* made me calmer and more available to my cherubs!!! Best thing I could’ve done for the family.”

Marci is one of several moms who have managed to make peace with the idea that they are as important as the people they take care of. As Jacquie says, ” If I don’t take care of ME, who’s going to take care of THEM?”

Randi agrees. “I realize that if I don’t take care of me, I’m going to be grumpy and not a good mom.”

Today is Mothers Day in most parts of the world. It is a day when, if we’re lucky, our families take the time to let us know they appreciate us. Why don’t we do that for ourselves as well, and for each other? Let’s give ourselves a much-deserved pat on the back and acknowledge all that we do.

And let’s make a decision to take care of ourselves and spoil ourselves once in a while, without feeling guilty, not just today but always.

Because we deserve it.

Happy Mothers Day.

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sergemelki/3519265411/. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.)

Taking Care Of Mom: A Story Of Survival

29 Mar

I don’t usually take calls on my cell phone during meetings, least of all calls from numbers that I do not recognize.

Answer the phone, said a little voice in my head. It was the same little voice that has guided me many times in the past, the little voice that I always listen to, because when I don’t, I regret it.

I excused myself from the meeting and answered the phone.

To my surprise, it was the lady at the pharmacy down the road from my parents’ house. My mother had come in to the pharmacy to fill a prescription, and while she was there she had started complaining of abdominal pain. Could I please come and get her and take her to a doctor right away?

Bear in mind that this happened in a country that did not have 9-1-1. I was definitely a better and faster bet than the local ambulance service.

I made the fifteen-minute drive to the pharmacy in about eight minutes, only to find that my mother was not there.

“I’m sorry,” said the lady at the pharmacy. “We couldn’t wait. Your mother really needed to see the doctor immediately, so Michael drove her.”

I didn’t know who Michael was, but that was the least of my worries. I thanked the lady and drove to the doctor’s office. I was ushered into the consulting room immediately, and Michael – who turned out to be a kindly delivery man – was free to leave.

My mother was lying on the examination table writhing in pain. Her body was burning up with an ever-climbing fever and her face was the colour of paper. The doctor, who I had known for years and who had always, up until this moment, been completely unflappable, was trying everything she could. Although she was displaying an admirable calmness, I could see undercurrents of desperation.

An ambulance had been summonsed. It arrived and ferried my mother off to the hospital, with me following in my car.

At some point during all of this chaos I got in touch with my dad and my brother, who were out of town on separate business trips. While I took care of admission paperwork at the hospital, they were trying to get themselves onto last-minute flights home.

With the admin taken care of, all I could do was wait. I discovered that hospital waiting areas are every bit as bleak and depressing as movies make them out to be. After what felt like hours, the doctor came out to see me. The bad news was that my mother had an infection so severe that her kidneys were failing. The good news was that the fever was under control and the pain was being managed. I was allowed to go in to see my mother. She looked dreadful, but with the pain and fever taken care of, she was at least able to talk a little.

She was very afraid – and who wouldn’t be? I was terrified myself but trying hard not to show it. The doctor came back into the room and gave my mother some milky-looking medicine. She sipped the cloudy colloid as I gave her assurances that she was OK, she would be OK, the doctors were taking care of her.

I’m not sure when my dad and brother arrived. All I know is that at some point, they faded into the hustle and bustle as people entered and left the room, trying to get my mother’s body to work the way it was supposed to.

This story has a good ending. My mother recovered and thankfully she is in good health.

On some dreaded day – hopefully a long way in the future – I will lose my mom, because no-one lives forever.

But I am eternally grateful to whatever powers prevail that that day, Mom stayed with us.

For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Cedar challenged me with “She sips the cloudy colloid. ” and I challenged Leo with “Tell a story that makes a lot of use of contrasts, like light/dark, big/small etc.”