When I first found out I was pregnant with my daughter, I was instantly overwhelmed, so I proceeded to do what I normally did to process any new information in my life – I went out for a run. The miles cleared my mind and gave me the space to solidify my emotions. I came back joyful about the new chapter in my life, though apprehensive about the things that I would lose. Running was at the top of that list. It seems so silly, but it’s a constant in my life that keeps me steady. I am happy to report that through careful research and hard work, running has never left my life throughout the process of having a child. Countless training miles, many races (topping out at a marathon and half ironman triathlon so far), and one spunky little 3-year-old running buddy later and I am still going strong. I’d like to share what worked for us in learning to run with a plus one.
From the beginning of the journey…
One of my biggest suggestions to women who want to continue running after they have a baby is to never stop running during the pregnancy and post-natal process. Of course, each pregnancy is different so you must talk to your doctor to make sure that physical activity is safe for you. If you stay active throughout pregnancy in whatever way you can (running until about 8 months and then swimming and walking worked for me), then it will be much easier to resume following your birth. Also, use some time in the last long weeks of waiting and sleepless nights to research what running stroller you want and buy it as one of your early baby purchases. Don’t wait until they are old enough to run in it to buy one, and make sure to buy the car seat adapter when you’re ready to start walking. I personally think that if you want to train for races or other goals other than light jogging, then this is a worthy place to splurge a little and get a great stroller.
Once your little one is born, start walking with them in the stroller with the car seat adapter as soon as you are ready to leave the house. From the first time my daughter went in the stroller, I tried to keep it a happy place for her. If she didn’t enjoy being in the seat, I would take her out and put her in a carrier and just push the stroller. All the time spent pushing while walking really allows you to get the feel of the stroller. Walking also helps you feel better, get outside, and gently get back into activity during the healing process.
I was lucky enough not to have a C-section, but if that is the case for you or if you had any complications, you should get your doctor’s approval before any activity. In the early days, going solo for short distances for me was less stressful because I didn’t have anyone else’s schedule to conform to, so we could go whenever we wanted to and go at our own pace so that I could easily attend to my daughter’s newborn needs.
Working your way back up
As you feel better and your baby is a little older, try incorporating short bursts (slowly for only 100-200 yards) on level ground to help your body feel what it feels like to run again. When you are healed but your baby is not ready to run in the stroller yet (2-6 months) and you are lucky enough to have someone watch them for a bit, try to get out and run without the stroller to rebuild your strength and endurance before adding a large weight in front of you.
Six months is the generally accepted age when it is safe for a healthy baby to run in the jogging stroller forward facing without a car seat. We talked to our pediatrician and this age was her recommendation, but, again, all kids are different. I started my daughter out with a special head support pillow, but found that a rolled-up blanket around her head worked just as well.
Keep the environment fun
From the first time that she sat in the jogging stroller, I tried to keep a consistent, happy, and fun environment so that her association with running with Mama was positive. Nurse or feed the baby right before a run. Give them a favorite toy or comfort item or even a new toy that they have not seen sometimes to keep them entertained. Learn what time of day works best for your child. Playing music on my cell phone tucked into one of the pockets always kept my daughter calmer when she was a baby.
One of the most important considerations is to dress your infant appropriately for the weather. A baby who is warm or cool enough is a happy baby. Consider that if it is cold, they will get a little bit of wind on them and be a bit colder than standing still or even just walking. If it is warm and sunny, their legs often stick out of the shade so apply sunscreen or put a light blanket over them. The stroller is beneficial because you can easily stash extra layers and supplies for yourself and the baby.
I had a “crying rule” with my daughter that when she started to cry or fuss, instead of stopping right away, I would pick a landmark in the distance and if she was still upset at that point, then I would stop and try to address the problem. More often than not, in the two or three minutes it took me to get there, she would have settled down. This way, I could continue the flow of my run but had a concrete plan to calm her down if necessary. Make sure your stroller has a place for a water bottle so you can stay well hydrated and take care of your needs too. Once you have established a routine for yourself and your baby that works for both of you, you can focus more on the actual running.
Getting your running groove back
Sometime soon after you start stroller running, it is very helpful to ask someone to come run with you. Through the course of a run, switch off between running with the stroller and running without it so you can feel how your form is changing when you grab the stroller and you can make adjustments and try out a few positions to see what gets you closest to your actual running form. When you are starting out, try to run more with time goals instead of distance goals in mind. Keep in mind that you will most likely be slower with the stroller at first and learning to be flexible with incorporating another little person’s needs and rhythms into your runs. Try to find a paved bike or walking trail to run on instead of just sidewalks; having to cross streets can be unnerving and waiting on signals can break up your rhythm when running as well as disrupt your child if they are napping. If you don’t have this option then try to stay moving while waiting as it can help to keep your flow and keep the baby more content.
Know how the stroller works
Finally, know your stroller and how it works. Know how to change the tires, adjust the brakes if it has them, and adjust all the straps. Spend some time familiarizing yourself with all the features so you don’t get stuck dealing with an issue when you are miles from your car. Have fun! Enjoy the experience. Your attitude will directly affect your baby’s mood and how successful the run will be. Enjoy the freedom of doing what you love and sharing it with your child. Know that your running will evolve as your child gets older and you will cherish the time together in new and rewarding ways. Most importantly, continue setting goals and pushing yourself to achieve them.
Suggested items to always bring on a run with a baby:
- Cell phone
- Formula for baby or any accessories necessary for you to nurse
- Extra warming or cooling mechanism (warm jacket can work for you and to put over your kiddo and extra water bottle to pour on you or dab on the baby to cool off)
- Blanket (for warmth, to use as a shade, or to wet and use to cool down)
- Diapers and wipes
- Pepper spray/self-defense tool (obviously up to you, but consider that you are extra vulnerable with a stroller if running during less busy times).
- A Tire Pump can always be handy in the event of a flat
Check back in tomorrow for my follow up post on tips for running with a toddler as your child gets older and more active on their own and as your running journey further changes.
Editors Note: Kirby uses a fixed wheel jogging stroller. For those of you with the swivel wheel option, it is important to lock the wheel while running or on trail. Find more safety tips here. Additionally, our friends at BOB have some great video resources for maintaining your stroller