Mom Guilt: Exploring the Experiences of Being a Mother and Training for and Running Marathons II: Results and Discussion

Mom Guilt: Exploring the Experiences of Being a Mother and Training for and Running Marathons II: Results and Discussion


Many psychological strategies were identified by participants that were helpful in enabling their training to occur and/or getting them through training or a race (e.g., listening to music, positive self-talk). However, to ensure alignment with the study’s purpose, this theme represents identified strategies that coincided with facilitating the ability to train and compete for a marathon event throughout early motherhood. Jennifer mentioned an implicit strategy when asked if she thought being a mother impacted her event:

When you’re a mom, nothing ever goes to plan, you kind of have to be able to make a quick decision or you have to improvise. Maybe that is a strategy. I don’t know if that would be a coping strategy where maybe I’m used to interruptions or things not going as planned and you just have to kind of make do with what you can, with what you have, at the time. I don’t know if that’s a skill you learn from being a mom.

This section includes two strategies that participants utilized throughout their training season, including: (a) eliciting social support, and (b) comprehensive planning. These sub-themes are described in further detail below. It should be noted that overlap exists between these two themes because planning is often required when eliciting social support.

Eliciting social support. All participants identified key individuals who were instrumental in providing running support, including (a) husbands, (b) family and friends, (c) running buddies and/or groups, and (d) social media.

Husbands were identified as providing encouragement, emotional support, and home and child care support. Family and friends also offered emotional and child care supports, and opportunities to run. Running buddies and/or groups, as well as social media, were seen as providing opportunities for reciprocal emotional support while supporting feelings of being part of a community outside of their family and home.

Husbands. The majority of participants acknowledged their partners’ instrumental roles in supporting their training. Jennifer recognized: “I couldn’t do it without [my husband]. The long runs and stuff like that, he always makes sure that I get out and then you know, he’ll take the kids or whatever, work around schedules that way.he’s my biggest fan.” Andrea admitted her husband “had no interest in [running], but he’s my number one fan. He’s a huge supporter.” Natalie also asserted that her husband’s level of support increased when he saw her finish a marathon last year: “He had kind of an ‘aha’ moment of, ‘oh, she’s just quite good.’ I think that helped a little bit, he started to respect it a little bit more and understand why I take things that seriously.” Maria’s husband, who was also a runner, was more than supportive:

A motivator and a quasi-coach for me, too. To have your partner interested and engaged in your running has been a massive help. He’s encouraging of me doing these events, he doesn’t resent this. He loves it when I’ve been involved. For him, it’s fun to watch me do it. It’s become an “us” activity.

Family and /riends. Family and friend support was a big part of how participants were able to train or take breaks, and to have help with child care, especially during races. Jennifer admitted that “it takes a village” to raise a family and acknowledged that, although her family is not close in proximity, her friends are supportive: “My family lives outside of the city, but I have a really good core group of friends and neighbours here in the city.” Charlotte’s friends offered opportunities for her to run and to spend one-on-one time with her husband: “Our friends are amazing because they’ll come and say: ‘I can stay with [child’s name] for an hour if you two want to go out for a run.’ So, we do have that luck with our racing friends.” Maria made friends in the neighborhood running club she joined:

The people within the club are really amazing and very supportive and they do everything they can to help you get your training plan in order. The babysitters that we have are older kids of people in the running community. It’s their kids who are watching our kids because they know how difficult it is to try and get the runs in and so they’ll get their kids to come and help babysit.

When it came to family support, the majority of participants spoke of their parents, and specifically mothers, as being the most supportive. However, participants expressed mixed feelings about this support. One example of this dissonance was that Natalie’s mother “would never come watch me run a marathon because she just thinks that’s too extreme,” but her mother “ended up coming to take care of [child’s name] so that [my husband] could come to the race.” As Andrea explained: “I’m a first generation Canadian so they don’t understand why I do some of the things I do.” However, she went on to discuss that once her mother recognized the importance of running in her life, she offered many times “to take the kids for a couple of nights if I’m going away for an event. Then it’s a bit of a relief for both me and my husband; he’s not always the one with the kids.” Participants also spoke of the benefit of being able to count on family when their children were home from school sick. For example, Leigh said:

I was home with her. I was home from work and wanting to get a run in, and my husband was at work, and I think there was one time I called my mom to be at the house when she was napping so I could go for a run.

Running buddy and/or groups. All participants acknowledged training with running buddies at some point during their training, especially for long runs that tended to occur during the weekend. Charlotte completed much of her training on her own due to her son’s sleeping and feeding schedules, but ran with friends on the weekend: “Once a week I have a group of girlfriends that I’m able to do part of my long runs with.” Similarly, Jennifer said she did most of her training on her own, “except for long runs,” which she preferred doing with a friend.

Jennifer found it challenging to coordinate with her friend, who was training for the same event, due to both being mothers with two children. It was difficult to coordinate their schedules, due to their motherloads and schedules. Before she became a mother, Natalie had joined a running club and had a coach. Having a child made her schedule too challenging to run with a group: “The difference is I do the workouts alone now. Before, I used to train with my team.”

Half of the participants were training with running groups during the data collection period; however, all participants had been involved in running groups in the past. Amy acknowledged that she would not have been able to complete her first half-marathon training without support from the Running Room: “I would never have done this without them.” Suzie noted that running with groups was one of the strategies she used because she found running by herself more difficult: “That’s harder because then you’re like, ‘okay, it’s all me.’ So, definitely running with people. I like the social aspect, that’s why I go to the Running Room as opposed to just running by myself all the time.” Jennifer also agreed that she preferred group training: “I find group training for sure for me, yes. Absolutely; [it] works a lot better.”

Social media. Social media was mentioned by half of the participants in the context of giving and receiving social support, as a strategy and motivational tool. Andrea spoke to the accountability and reciprocal support that was available in a Facebook group she was a part of:

The accountability of this Facebook group is great because if I miss a workout, I go on there and I tell everybody, I’m like, ‘I’m so pissed off, I didn’t do this today.’ Then they’re like, ‘well don’t be dumb, go out tomorrow and fix it,’ because it’s a really good vibe. Good people who will listen if you need it. But, we will also motivate you to keep going.

Although experiences with social media platforms are not unique to mothers, participants felt that Strava, an application used as both a social media platform and activity tracking application, was a “source of motivation on the social sphere” (Suzie).

Some participants believed social media had both positive and negative influences. For example, Leigh spoke to her positive and negative experiences with social media:

It is a motivator, but it can mess with me because I have a lot of people on [Strava] who don’t have kids and who are younger.I get a lot of jealousy of people who can run like 14k on a Wednesday morning and I’ve got to wait until 8:30 PM to do it and then I never have time to do the 14. I have a little bit of lifestyle envy when it comes to Strava. I also get feelings of insecurity or comparison when I see people [on the app] who are training for the same races as me, running a lot more than I do.and that’s what they have time for and I really don’t. That can certainly be upsetting, and reminding myself that I can’t compare myself to people who have more free time than me, who don’t have kids.

Comprehensive planning. Planning was an integral strategy for participants to remain on track with their training and daily life activities, and was identified as being comprehensive in nature. This included: (a) ‘fitting’ in runs when they could, (b) coordinating child care, (c) ensuring open communication, and (d) balancing roles and responsibilities.

Fitting’ it in. Many participants did not have a scheduled time for their training on a day-to-day basis; they acknowledged fitting their training in wherever and whenever they could.

The term “fitting it in” was used frequently to explain using active transportation to and from work, training in the morning while their children were sleeping, training on their lunch hours, or scheduling their training around their children’s activities. Jennifer acknowledged the amount of time required to train for a full marathon: “I think that it’s the time, right? You have to fit it in. That’s why I try to be efficient.” One of the ways in which Jennifer tried to be efficient was by completing her training in the morning, before her children were awake: “I reverted to trying to get up early in the morning and get my workout done, then at the end of the day you have more time.” Andrea also scheduled her runs in the morning or used her lunch hour at work to train:

Usually I’m a morning runner, I know that if I don’t do it first thing in the morning or at lunchtime at work, it’s not going to happen because I know I can give myself every excuse in the book not to do it when I get home.

Before having children, Natalie did most of her training in the evenings. However, since having her first child, and due in part to her husband’s schedule, she had to fit in her runs by “learning to make sure that it gets done in the morning.” Suzie was adamant that she would not be a morning runner, but managed ways to fit in her training: “I’m not going to wake up at four in the morning to do my runs when it’s dark out; I get it in when I can, but have to be happy with that.”

Active transportation and running during lunch were planning strategies used by participants to ensure they completed their scheduled training plans. For Leigh, training around her work schedule, through “run commutes” or using her lunch hour, allowed her to train and decrease the amount of guilt she felt: “Either running home from work or doing a run at lunch, I find, is the only way to not feel bad about being away from home.” What helped Leigh fit her training in was “having the people closest to me aware that I am working towards these goals.

Flexibility is important and being willing to move things around here and there.” Further, Jennifer would partially commute home on the subway and then run the rest of the way home: “I try to do that twice a week.” Natalie acknowledged that she would often take her child to daycare with her running stroller, and that it would be the only time she could fit in runs. She stated that “sometimes that makes a huge difference.” Suzie admitted that “training for a marathon takes up a lot of time; a lot of my free time as well. I try to get it in either on my lunch hour or sometimes I run to work instead of commuting.” Andrea was able to recruit some of her co-workers to run during their lunch break: “At lunchtime I can get my coworkers to come with me.”

Another strategy, that participants used to navigate the their children’s activities, was by scheduling around them. Two participants discussed being able to fit in their runs despite having to schedule around their children’s activities: “Luckily, we’re able to schedule around the kids’ activities. They both have activities on Saturday mornings, so I can’t get out and run on Saturday morning[s], but I can get a run in in the afternoon” (Amy), and “I just schedule around what they have. Next week, they have swimming in the morning and a birthday party in the afternoon. I will do the run in between hours for the training run and hire a babysitter” (Jennifer).

Although some participants were less structured in fitting in a run whenever they could and not necessarily using a set schedule, some participants explained that they had training windows due to home and family life. As Natalie mentioned, training schedules change once children are born. Charlotte learned that she needed to take advantage of her training windows to complete her training on a regular basis: “My window is a lot earlier, 6:30am, and that might be it for the day. Sometimes my window is pretty small. If it’s raining, you’re going out and you’re doing your run because that’s your window.” In the past, Charlotte had the option to change her running window, especially if the weather was bad, but now she is forced to brave the elements.

Childcare. Many of the participants used babysitters, daycare, and before and after school programs to support their family’s child care needs. Natalie noted:

When I went back to work and he started daycare, I found out I had more energy to train. Now that he’s been sleeping better and I feel less burnt out than I did as a stay-at-home mom, I would say it’s not as easy as it was before I had a kid, but I feel better now.

Maria was surprised when she stayed home from training one weekend: “When [my children] realized that that babysitter who they’re used to having on Sunday mornings isn’t coming, [my children] got sad.” Maria was surprised because she did not realize that her children enjoyed being with the babysitter while she and her husband were training.

Sometimes use of a babysitter depended on husbands’ schedules.  Participants spoke about their experiences regarding child care when their husbands were at work or travelling. Suzie’s daughter’s best friend lived next door: “I was able to go to my class because I dropped my kids off at their place for dinner and then I went to my class. And the grandmother fed them, and I just picked them up.” Jennifer had to plan for childcare while her husband was away: “He’s leaving town this weekend and next weekend, and then the weekend after that is my race. For me, it’s a matter of trying to organize babysitters so I can do my training runs.” When Natalie’s husband’s shift changed, she considered “having a babysitter on Sunday to get that long run in.”

Open communication between family members. Ongoing and open communication between the participants and their husbands, and sometimes their children, was imperative to maintaining their training schedules. Participants referred to using two types of communication: (a) literal conversation with their family about how things were going when it came to family life and their training, and (b) forms of visual communication, such as calendars. Two participants recommended checking in with family-husband and children-about how they thought the participants were balancing their training. Maria advised to “always check with your family to make sure they’re feeling okay and good with what you’re doing” regarding training, because they could be a good measure of whether or not the participants had too much on the go. Andrea said: “I listen to cues from the family.” Andrea’s husband was able to vocalize when he thought she was taking too many races on by saying, “I think you should ease up on this.”

Jennifer used a chalkboard to organize and visualize the family’s schedule for all members to see “so the kids know; my husband knows to look at it Monday to see what’s going on.” Additionally, Natalie used:

An old-fashioned agenda planner; that’s instrumental. I look at the week ahead to see what I have on the table for work, what my partner has on the table for work, and for hockey, and make sure I plan out everything to know. ‘Do I have to get up at 5:30 to run? Do I need to run commute this day because of X, Y, and Z?’ I map it all out and every night I have a good idea of what time or how I’m going to get in my run the next day.

Balancing. Several participants described their efforts to balance all their roles and responsibilities, including running. The challenge of maintaining balance was due to the diverse nature of family life, and of being a mother. Amy described how juggling had been present before she started running: “Before, I didn’t have running, it was still always a juggling act. The kids have their activities, we have work. Add in running, makes it more of a juggling act.” Two other participants explained their experiences with balancing their lives: “It’s a balancing act and trying to figure out how you can fit things in so that things can work” (Maria), and “now I have my own lab, and I have a research program as well. I try to balance the best I can with running and having two kids and trying to race” (Suzie).

Sharing roles and responsibilities was an aspect of the “balancing act” that required constant management. All participants had significant others, with whom they shared familial responsibilities. Participants often recognized that the roles shared with their partners were imbalanced. Maria noted that her husband had more opportunities to run than she did: “It may not have been equal at the beginning when we were trying to juggle with the first kid. He had been going out more and I had to speak to him and go, ‘Hey, this isn’t fair.'” Leigh noticed imbalances in her role-sharing due to her training that kept her “away three to five days a week for an hour to three hours. Certainly created tension around responsibilities, and guilt.” Andrea spoke of guilt associated with sharing home care and roles with her husband:

There’s a lot of guilt associated with feeling like I’m not doing my part. I think the division of labour right now is okay. I do most of the cooking, I do more of the cleaning. I’m consciously cognizant that I’m the one that steps out of the house more often.

The sharing of responsibilities often involved one parent stepping in while the other stepped out, as participants discussed taking turns in various responsibilities with their husbands: “We’ve been more of a tag team, I watch the kids while he’s playing tennis and he watches the kids while I’m running” (Suzie), and “I pick them up, bring them home, [husband’s name] watches them, I go, run. [Husband’s name] does that time” (Maria). Charlotte had a similar experience when it came to taking turns:

Sometimes it’s tricky, but what we do is we’ll do a lot of [child’s name] handoffs. I’ll go for my run and my husband will hike with [child’s name], then we’ll switch, and I’ll take [child’s name] for another hike or I’ll take him home and my husband will run home.

Share this:

Leave a Reply