When you have children, it often feels like your time is no longer your own. From the early days of endless nappies and feeding on demand, to the years of school runs and constant ferrying to play dates and after- school activities, grabbing a few minutes to drink a hot cup of tea or pee in private can seem impossible. But even though you might feel like running has to take a back seat while you juggle your family’s needs, it really doesn’t have to. What’s more, taking the time to go for a run a few times a week gives you the chance to recharge and relax, helping you feel calmer, happier and more able to deal with life’s challenges (yes, even the challenge of an angry, tantruming toddler). Here are our top 12 running hacks for busy mums everywhere…
To ensure you actually make it out for a run, you will probably need to manage your expectations somewhat. Instead of mourning all the free time you used to have (oh, for those lovely hour-long mid-week runs!), start focusing on what you can do with the time that’s available to you right now.
“In my pre-parent life, I took spontaneity for granted, generally training when I wanted, where
I wanted and for as long as my heart desired,” says Chrissie Wellington, four-time World Ironman champion and mum to Esme, 19 months. “I also faffed a lot, wasting time getting my clothes sorted or downloading podcasts to listen to on my runs. Since becoming a mother, I’m increasingly time efficient and organised, and seize small windows of opportunity with both hands. It’s worth going for a run even if I can only do 15 minutes.”
Getting into the mindset that every minute counts could see you making the most of a 10-minute window of time, where otherwise you might not have bothered. “A 10-minute run is better than nothing at all,” says Mel Bound, mum of two and founder of This Mum Runs (thismumruns.co.uk). “One of the biggest barriers is thinking that if you don’t go out for an hour it’s not worth it. A quick run around the block still does you the world of good, gets you out the door and makes getting out the next time even easier.”
Writing your training sessions in the diary can make them seem more concrete, meaning you’re more likely to make your family commitments fit around your running, rather than the other way round. “Get it in your diary, ideally as a regular slot every week, so it becomes a habit,” suggests Bound. “Let your partner and family know it’s there and it can’t be moved.”
Meeting up with mum friends can be a great way to boost your running time, if you all have the same agenda (or even if you don’t!). Plan a play date at someone’s house, and as well as a cuppa and a chance to compare sleep deprivation notes, you could get some exercise in. While one or more of you stays and plays with the kids, the rest of you can pop out for a 20-minute or half-hour run, safe in the knowledge your little one is happy, entertained and safe. On your return, simply swap! If your mum friends aren’t runners, this could be a great time to introduce them to the idea (sharing is caring, after all), or they could use the time to go for a walk. “I’ve exchanged childcare with sporty mothers,” says Wellington. “They look after Esme while I run and I reciprocate the favour.”
As with play dates, trips to the park can work in much the same way, but because you’re already all out and about, you can turn it into a circuits session! While one of you pushes the kids on the swings, the other can complete a lap or two of the park as quickly as possible. Then simply swap. If the kids get bored of the swings, no problem! There are the monkey bars to hang from, the roundabout to push, games of chase… the options are endless! Keep swapping between running and playground games for an all-round workout.
This is a great way to get out running with a baby or toddler. A running buggy is a good idea rather than your regular buggy, as it will have special adaptations making the ride safer and more comfortable for your little one, including a locking front wheel, suspension system, handbrake and wrist strap. As with any new exercise, start out slowly, as you learn to adjust your running style. Also, remember your baby should be six months or older, to make sure their spine is strong enough to withstand the additional impact.
While a running buggy can seem like a big investment at first, remember it will save you forking out for both costly gym membership and creche fees! Check out the Britax Revolution Pro, £455 (right, britax.co.uk), and find more recommendations in our article on how to choose the perfect running buggy.
Parkrun is a great way to get a 5K in at the start of the weekend. The free, timed, weekly runs are perfect for all levels of runner, and what’s more, with the 2K junior parkrun (for four- to 14-year-olds) now a big thing too, it’s great for all the family! Visit parkrun.org.uk.
Encourage your kids to hop on their bike or scooter and accompany you on your run. This is great for so many reasons: you’ll be able to get out for a run even when you don’t have childcare, it’s great bonding time with your kids, everyone gets the benefit of fresh air and exercise, and you get to lead by example, showing your kids that exercise is a normal part of everyday life.“By incorporating scooting into your exercise routine, you can enjoy more quality family time outdoors and make some memories, while improving fitness levels, too,” says Ben Gibson, managing director of Micro Scooters UK. “We recommend it’s suitable for children aged six-plus, who are experienced in safe scooting, to ride on scooters alongside adults on a steady-pace jog of around 20 to 30 minutes.” We love the Maxi Micro Scooter for six- to 12-year-olds, £114.95 (micro- scooters.co.uk).
Making a commitment to friends that you’re going to run together is a great way of making sure that session in your diary doesn’t get pushed aside. “Joining a community like This Mum Runs, or finding a mum friend to run with locally, really helps with motivation and removes all potential excuses,” agrees Bound.
Peppa’s nasal whine is the bane of many a parent’s life, but she does allow us five minutes’ peace, so let’s go with it. And because running isn’t just about time on your feet out on the roads, you can actually make a Peppa Pig session work for you (or Paw Patrol, or Dragons: Defenders Of Berk, or whatever floats their boat). While they’re glued to the screen, you can spend a few minutes working on your core: for example, perform a straight-arm plank, followed by side planks. Spending a minute on each takes just three minutes, leaving you time spare to make a cuppa. Ta-dah!
Even if you’ve recently given birth, you should make time for those pelvic floor exercises (because no one wants to accidentally do a little wee while they run). No time? There’s always time! While you’re sitting in front of the TV, or cooking dinner, or playing tea parties with your kids and 237 teddies – squeeze it in, ladies! “I resumed pelvic floor exercises a few days post- birth, doing them while I breastfed,” says Wellington.
Use your support network. Plan your runs when your partner is home – perhaps he can do the kids’ breakfast or bath time while you run (when Dad takes over it’s not babysitting, it’s parenting). If you’re a single parent (and if so, we take our hats off to you – you’re incredible) grandparents probably won’t mind watching (read: spoiling) the children for you for an hour or so, or friends might be willing to help out (especially if you return the favour). Remember the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child?” Rely on your village: they will get you through.
Finally, don’t beat yourself up if you don’t manage to exercise. Us mums can feel unnecessarily guilty too often. So don’t add running to the list of things that make you feel bad. Sometimes you manage to get out for a run, other times you don’t. It’s no big deal. You can try again tomorrow, when life is a little less hectic. You are only human. And you are doing a great job