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October 16, 2012

Tips for New Parents on the Run

Written by Dena Evans

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Few life changes will have a greater impact than the arrival of a newborn.  Both the physical challenges for mom, as well as the stark changes in family schedule and breadth of responsibility for both parents can justifiably upend priorities.  This can wreak havoc with the comfortable patterns of habitual runners.

Chances are, unless you have had a very quickly moving adoption, you have been well aware that changes in your running routine await the arrival of the new bundle of joy.  Very likely, transitions have already occurred for mom with the ups and downs of pregnancy.  Whether a quick return to work or flexibility for extended parental leave is on the horizon, here are a few tips and ideas for runners in the throes of new parenthood:

Consider how baby gear purchases, such as a stroller, can assist you in the eventual pursuit of a return to running. Yes, that sounds crass – you are about to enjoy one of life’s greatest blessings, and running should come to mind?  Well, if there is anything that you intend to continue doing on a regular basis after your baby comes, it probably saves time and money to anticipate how you can manage that practice within the context of your baby’s first few years at home.

For example, many running families use a jogging stroller (or a stroller with that capability) for their primary stroller.  Initially, it can be used for regular stroller duty, particularly now that many jogging strollers can attach baby carriers and inserts allow for extra padding with newborn babies.  When eventually jogging becomes appropriate with the little one, everyone is used to the new gear, how it fits in the car, the baby finds it to be a smooth transition, and more enjoyable / contented baby running might result.

Moms: set a completion goal, but no sooner than 6-12 months after giving birth.  Dads: choose flexible goals in the first year.

While the experience of every mother is different, having a goal to shoot for can often inspire (to lose weight, to re-grasp a feeling of independent personhood, etc) when life seems completely turned on its head.  Set a goal too soon, and it may become a needless stressor, both logistically, and physically, when the body is out of shape and sleep is minimal.  Set a time goal too soon after giving birth, and the unpredictable physical aftermath of motherhood can create frustration.  By a year, many moms are beginning to recognize their bodies again, and having a date to look forward to (as a return to the experience of being an athlete) can be a very motivational tool.  Just enjoy your first goal race after baby to celebrate how far you have come.  Use subsequent goal races to return to previous fitness and pace levels.

New dads are also saddled/ delighted with the many transitions of fatherhood, but many times must navigate a tricky landscape of an initially supporting role in the physical sense.  Without the obvious setbacks of pregnancy and giving birth, it may be enticing to set a big goal, almost in celebration of the new family member.    However, in this particular instance, it is worth considering flexible goals.  Neither of you quite know how you will feel physically or rest-wise as these dates get closer, and the last thing needed is more stress.   One option to keep dad on track could be to pick a distance goal with three or four options in 60 day range.

Have patience with your body after baby (yes, dads too!)

For many first time parents, the adrenaline of new parenthood eventually wears off, but many nights of limited sleep remain.  Schedules change and keep changing.  Things like foam rolling, stretching, strength routines, and other ancillary activities may be cut out to preserve what little time remains to run.  Unsurprisingly, aches and pains might crop up, and the legs might not recover as fast.  Control what you can control.  Consider occasionally modifying your running routes and other patterns to avoid a fruitless comparison contest with your well-rested self.

For moms in particular, resist the urge to return to serious training until you are cleared to run by your doctor.  Be sure to progress incrementally.  Just like a marathon recovery that is too short, a postpartum running injury may not crop up immediately.  Rather it often surfaces after the premature progression has been established over several weeks or months.

Shop and prepare for running with body after baby.

One of the most common roadblocks to a successful return to pre-baby running fitness can be the first few efforts out the door.  For many moms, postpartum bodies feel like complicated new appliances with misplaced instruction manuals, what with the likely weight gain and the new demands and dimensions of various body parts.  All of us know better than to establish self-esteem from outside appearances, but without a couple running items that fit, it can be that much harder to get out and get started.  Having a high impact / supportive sports bra and shorts that fit your current size can make a difference, and are worth shopping for even in advance when you have more flexibility in your schedule.

When it comes time for stroller jogging, find the bike paths.

Just as parents at their wits’ end will drive a baby around the block, hoping to induce sleep, the stroller experience for your baby / toddler can vary wildly from soothing to disruptive, which in turn may have a direct impact on your ability to reintegrate running positively into your daily life.  Bumpy roads, streets with many stop lights, turns or undulations may be your only options, and by yourself, you might barely notice these parts of the route.  However, the stroller years might also serve as a chance to get to know the flat, off street routes in your region better than you might have before, and allow the jogging stroller experience to emerge as a positive parenting interactive time rather than a struggle of wills.

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