Mom Guilt: Exploring the Experiences of Being a Mother and Training for and Running Marathons II: Results and Discussion
Impact of Motherhood on Running
Participants noted changes within themselves after becoming mothers, especially concerning training and participating in marathon events. Participants outlined four main sub- themes: (a) increased running tolerance, (b) how children’s age group and associated activities impacted training, (c) post-race experiences, and (d) being a better mother because of running. There were numerous obstacles that impacted the participants’ training, but many were not exclusive to mothers. Those obstacles included: injuries, weather, improper nutrition, and not attaining goals. For instance, Leigh experienced an injury before her last marathon: “I rolled my ankle 10 days before the race.I was not paying attention.” She also noted that weather impacts her training: “Freezing rain or extreme cold get in the way.”
Increased running tolerance. Participants attributed being able to endure more physical and mental stress while running to the impact of being a mother. During a training run, Suzie was able to visualize her daughter’s face, which helped her to finish: “I was kind of in a funk with my run. Then, I was remembering [child’s name]’s little face.a little visual cue to pull myself out of a funk when I was feeling a little down on the run.” Leigh explained that she developed an “internal fortitude” after becoming a mother:
I have one friend who is also a mom who’s also a very serious runner, and I think we’ve talked about our best running performances have come since we have become mothers because there’s a resiliency that we were not called upon to tap into before and we feel like parenting calls, like you’re more aware that you have that gas left in the tank when you’re parents. You’re also aware of it with running.
Natalie seconded that by saying:
Prior to having kids, it doesn’t feel as hard as it used to be. I have more mental endurance now. I gave birth naturally and I don’t know if that mentally changed the barrier for me of what is really a lot to endure. I am able to push a lot sooner in a race now and work harder. I get more out of myself on race day than I used to be able to. I’m more doing it for fun now. This is my thing and my time to do something for me.
Children’s age and associated activities. The age range of the participants’ children and the activities that their children were involved in impacted participants’ running. Although not a prominent challenge identified across the eight participants, one participant spoke of the challenges of breastfeeding while training. Charlotte had an infant, which meant that her “pre- race rituals” changed: “I need to pump milk in the morning. I won’t get to do a warm-up like I need to because I’ll have a baby now.” She also explained how she changed the distance of the event she participated in, due to breastfeeding: “I was originally signed up to do that 100 kilometre race, but then it ended up being that I’m still nursing like almost every three hours. So, two weeks ago I switched down to the 50k.”
Leigh pointed out that although she had challenges with toddler parenting, it was easier to leave the house when her child was an infant: “I’m also aware that, right now, even though there are some challenges we’ve faced related to toddler parenting, that when my daughter was younger it was easier to leave the house than it is now.” Jennifer seconded that it was easier to leave when her children were infants:
When I was marathon training with a baby, your baby goes to bed at six, seven at night, to go for a run when your husband’s home, versus now I have two boys and you’re running here, you’re running there. I’m less flexible with my training now.
Jennifer admitted that her schedule became impacted by her children getting older, making it more challenging: “I find that the older my kids get, the more of a schedule they have, I’ve had to figure out ‘when am I going to get my runs in.'” Andrea noticed a similar trend, which caused an internal struggle for her: “As they’ve gotten older, it’s gotten more challenging because they have more activities. I feel like it’s really unfair that I keep asking my husband, ‘Can you take them to swimming today?'”
Post-race experiences. Since becoming mothers, more than half of participants spoke of how their post-race experiences changed. Although not unique to mothers, participants noted feelings of increased confidence and a sense of achievement resulting from their races, as illustrated by two participants: “I was confident that I could do something close to that time, but it was also a healthy dose of surprise.feeling of accomplishment and a feeling that that went even better than I had expected” (Suzie), and:
I was just so happy. I was proud. It was an accomplishment, something that I never thought I would do, and I was able to do it. That day, with ease almost, it wasn’t a struggle to complete it and I never expected to ever be able to do that. (Amy)
However, these positive feelings were identified as being short-lived; all participants noted that they had adapted their post-race experiences because of being a mother, and they often went home and back to their families promptly after finishing their event. Andrea felt pressured to get back: “I drove back from there and immediately changed my clothes and jumped right back into my day.” Leigh still races quite frequently, but acknowledged, “I don’t hang around as much.” Charlotte was able to enjoy the post-race atmosphere from a distance:
You cross the finish line, then you’re handed your baby. All of a sudden, you’re reminded again. I’ve got [child’s name] in my hands, and you want to go through all the emotions of ‘I just ran this race and it’s great’ and ‘let’s take some photos’, but it’s not like that. I sat on a bench and was breastfeeding [child’s name] and I’m sore. You want to sit there and chug a chocolate milk or do all those post-race things, but you’re reminded the second you cross that finish line, you’re a mom again. I found that really hard.
Being a better mother because of running. A theme that emerged across several participants stemmed from the positive feelings that emerged from running. Participants believed these benefits had a positive impact on both themselves and their families. For example, Charlotte was curious about the impact that running had on her as an individual and as a mom: “It makes me a better mom and it makes me happier and then the time that I spend with [child’s name] makes me better. It’s a good thing I do all this running because if I didn’t, would I be such a good mom?” Amy recognized that running brings balance to her life: “It makes me more balanced and more appreciative of the time that I do have when I am home, and I can focus on the kids and knowing that I’ve had my time and now this is my time with them.” Andrea acknowledged that running helps to de-escalate emotions when dealing with a “family issue”: “I’ve definitely said ‘I am angry right now, I need to go for a run. I’ll be back and be more clear- minded’ and it’s true. I’ll actually be a better person when I come back after a little jog.” Similarly, Maria acknowledged that “the training pieces are so important because I find that I’m better, because of them, with the kids.” Finally, Natalie explained that her son also benefitted from the positive outcomes that came from her running, “Because I know that those things [mood, self-esteem, and sense of fulfillment] are important not just for me, but my son benefits from having a mom with those things that are doing well.”