March 2019 - RUNNING & WALKING
By Shelly Binsfeld
It has been over a decade of juggling being a mother of four and a runner. Both take devotion. Both I love. Yet, they try to steal my attention from each other. The guilt of running when I could be home being a “better mother” or the frustration that I missed my daily run because my child needed me all day long, play tug of war on my heart. For sure I love my children more than running. Hands down they will win in that war. However, I have gained insight through these years to know that running makes me a better mother. A dose of fresh air and the freedom of running renew my spirit and energy to be patient and caring with my children.
My youngest now is 10 years old, and she has older brothers to watch over her when I need to escape for a run. However, there were so many years that I could not escape. In fact, even though I had access to a treadmill at my local YMCA, I still needed one for my home.
For instance, if my husband was traveling for the week on business and one of my kids got sick, with the rest taking their turn on the couch through the rest of the week, I would need, yes need, to run in my home, where I could still care for my sick family and get daily exercise. The treadmill was well used through those years.
I also depended on the YMCA’s childcare, where they could play with friends as I got my one hour of social time with other runners. The guilt of needing a daily run, weighed heavy no matter how devoted a mother I was the rest of the day. Being a runner was not just about a reprieve from my daily role but also my link to friendships with people from all walks of life and in many different stages of life. I gained much wisdom and had many laughs running by their side.
Lifting my stroller into the back of the van was actually easier when my running fitness was on the high side. I had more muscle and mobility. With the work hours of the mothering role extending past daylight hours, into the night, my body needs to be healthy and strong. Running provides the opportunity to be a fit parent.
Running when my children were younger was not the only time that running enhanced my parenting skills. Now, as my children are in upper elementary to high school ages, running is just as vital in my life.
Recently, I have been depending on my daily workout of running to relieve built up stress from the day; a chance to do something where I am in control of the outcome. My day never goes as scheduled and I have to give so much mentally and emotionally to my children, including all the time driving from activity to activity, fitting the errands in between. I need to have one hour that contains a simple mission, run forward. Fast or slow, uphill or downhill, it doesn’t matter as long as I get to run. When I am done, I feel refreshed and empowered.
In our culture of achievement, it is too easy to get sucked into pushing my children to be highly successful. I have found through striving for and accomplishing my own goals, I can allow my children time to develop and grow at their own speed, throughout their childhood. It takes the pressure off them and allows me to tap into my own ambitions for the sense of accomplishment.
I spend many hours at pools, fields, rinks, trails, and everywhere else it seems. By being a runner, I can relate to my children’s experience in athletic endeavors too. I understand the discipline they are building. When disappointment strikes, I can empathize with them. Or when dealing with soreness and after workout hunger, I can point out resources to help them.
Most of all I can model devotion and hard work. Last summer entailed high-mileage weeks with at least two longer runs each week. I would enter the house, calling out for water and an orange, without an ounce of energy left, having run until I could not take another step. Then straight to my yoga mat and personal fan I went. They met me there asking, “How far this time?” They saw me struggle and conquer.
My children and I share in the joy of running together. This past polar freeze my son and I ventured out for a 10-minute run in -17 degrees weather. We laugh together as we run, and share our high school running stories. When I have a difficult time heading out the door, I ask for help, “Please, just run my first couple miles with me.” In hopes that after I drop them off, I can finish my run with ambition. We are in this together.
Since mothering wins against running when playing tug of war, they have grown to respect each other. My running training plan is more flexible, but still challenging. Using a rolling seven-day mileage goal, or 10-14 training schedule, allows me to adjust my volume to match the needs of my family. I am patient to choose my racing events to fit within the family calendar puzzle. Selecting shorter distances, when there is less time to run, and longer distances when I have fewer daily demands. I only use one hour to train on busier family days. Alternate training locations are helpful, like using the YMCA treadmill, while my kids are doing their own exercises or play time. Many fields and roads near my children's’ activities have turned into my training ground. I feel less guilty since I know that my one-hour of running results in a better 23 hours as a mom.
The mothering and running arrangement feed, nurture, and grow each other. They enhance, influence, and support each other. They are better together.
Shelly Binsfeld (firstname.lastname@example.org) of Elk River, Minn. is a competitive runner, wife, and mother of four children. Her running joy is to guide others through their training as a USATF coach and Pilates instructor.