When I wrote about my marathon the other day, many of you asked how I found time to train for the race while also juggling life with a new baby. Here’s the secret: I didn’t really find time — I made it. The other secret: I wouldn’t say I fully trained — let’s call it “half trained.” BUT I made it to the finish line, didn’t die, and actually came in not too far off from a PR. All in all, I was pleased with the race results I got from such bare bones training!
** Let me insert a disclaimer here saying I probably wouldn’t recommend the below “minimalist mama marathon” training plan to anyone, especially first-time marathoners. I think the main reason I was able to successfully finish my marathon the other week was probably because I’ve been running for 11 years, not because I trained for 12 weeks. Basically, I had a strong fitness/running base to begin with. Although I wasn’t in peak physical condition after giving birth in February, my legs were still capable of comfortably running 10-12 miles and deep down they remembered what 26.2 felt like. MCM was my 10th marathon and I’ve learned over time what works best for me regarding racing and training. Although training up for 26.2 miles seemed daunting with a baby and postpartum body, it wasn’t totally undoable.
If you’re a mom trying to train for a marathon, TIME is by far the biggest challenge. I wish I would have had a month or two more to really train up for the race, as well as just a few more minutes each day to tack on a mile or so more to every run. I probably won’t find those extra minutes for about 18 more years though — so I guess it’s time to get used to short runs!
So. All that said… if you are crazy enough to train for a marathon while also caring for a baby, here are my tips.
1. Invest in a jogging stroller. One of the most life-changing purchases Anthony and I made over the past few months was our jogging stroller. It gives me the freedom to run at any time in the day (weather and baby status permitting) without needing to rely on Anthony to watch A. Before we got the stroller, we would both try to trade off baby duty and workouts in the short three-hour morning window we had before Anthony would need to leave for work. It was super stressful for everyone and mornings felt so rushed. The jogging stroller has made such a positive difference in our daily routine, and allowed me to squeeze in shorter training runs that I probably would have missed otherwise.
I did a lot of research on jogging strollers and decided that the Thule Urban Glide was the best fit for us. It’s expensive, but totally worth it! Anthony and I went to the store to try out multiple different brands and styles of jogging strollers, and there was no comparison to the Thule. It’s super light, lean, and easy to fold. We knew that a bulky, cheap stroller wouldn’t get used, so to us it was a “go big or go home” type of purchase. While training for the marathon, I used the stroller 2-3 times a week. Lucky my peak training weeks overlapped with good weather!
2. Rely on dad duty/babysitting. If there are any single mamas out there trying to train for a race, I applaud you! Anthony was crucial in helping me train for the marathon by spending many mornings (and even the occasional evening — I know, crazy that I went for a run past 7 am!) with A while I fit in a training run. If you have a partner or babysitter available, ask them to watch baby while you bust out a few miles.
Shout-out to my friends Alanna and Meredith, as well as my mom and mother-in-law, who have all babysat for me while they were in town and I went for a run. Often I would wait until A went down for a nap, and then go out for a jog. All they had to do was watch her on the monitor. A few times I even took baby to the gym with me, asleep in her stroller, and dropped her off at the gym daycare while I went for a treadmill run. Avoiding the “nap trap” and getting outside for a run is possible if you can coordinate some help.
3. Schedule two “can’t-miss” runs per week. In the past, I drafted a detailed training spreadsheet for every race with target distances for almost every day of the week (!!). This time around, I had NOTHING planned in advance. The only thing I promised myself was that I’d do my best to get in two good runs every week. I worked with Anthony to arrange for baby coverage (usually for Thursday and Saturday mornings, but always subject to change!) so that I could fit in those key runs. My first run during the week was a faster/tempo-ish run in the 6-8 mile range. And then on the weekend I did my long runs (starting at 10 miles and working up to 23 miles over the course of 12 weeks or so). The goal for my remaining workouts = do whatever I could, whenever I had time! A typical week might look something like this:
- Monday: 4 miles, jogging stroller
- Tuesday: Boot camp-ish workout at home during nap time
- Wednesday: 3 miles, jogging stroller
- Thursday: 8 miles, solo with some speed thrown in
- Friday: Off, or a quick 3 miles if Anthony was able to come home early/leave later
- Saturday: Long run, solo (side note: Anyone know any ladies in the Ashburn area around my pace range? I had to do most of my long runs alone and it was super boring. More on that in another post.)
- Sunday:Boot camp-ish workout at home during nap time
So, yeah. Basically my marathon training hinged on two runs a week. Might be why I needed to take a few walk breaks between miles 24 and 26… oops.
4. Get creative with cross-training. Since I was so short on time (and sleep!) this training cycle, gym visits were rare. It was a lot easier to just work out at home during A’s nap time! I rolled out my yoga mat and did quick Nike Training Club workouts with extra runner-friendly exercises (lots of single-leg squats, hip lifts, bridges) thrown in. Shout out to REP Fitness for setting me up with some nice weights to use at home! With some basic equipment, it’s easy to get in a good workout.
5. Take it easy. It’s easy to stress out about training, and more stress was the last thing I needed over the past six months as we handled a new city, new house, new job, and a baby with a feeding tube (which is now gone, thank goodness!). With so much going on at home, I tried to keep running fun and view it as an opportunity rather than an obligation. Even when I wanted to curl up into a ball on the curb at mile 25 of the race, I reminded myself that running is a treat, not a task, and that helped me hobble my way to the finish
Bonus tip: Just do it. Like I said before, the biggest challenge I found as a mother runner is TIME. If you want to train for a marathon, you’ve just got to suck it up, sleep/shower/eat less, and get out there to run even if you feel like crap. I remember (or more like I have hazy half-memories) of many, many miles where I was exhausted at the start of my run and even more beat by the end of it. Not the perfect way to train, but I think parenthood teaches you that things aren’t perfect most of the time anyways. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other, and you’ll get there! Or, perhaps a better recommendation would be to not train for a marathon at all, and just enjoy those extra minutes of sleep Running will always be there for you when you’re ready!