Motherhood can get messy—so we thought it was about time we get real about what being a mother runner actually looks like.
Building a family is a beautiful thing, but it’s not all new-baby smell. Motherhood brings challenges—sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes hilarious—that are often deemed inappropriate for public consumption, kept far away from the perfect family photos gracing holiday cards and Facebook covers. But guess what? Hiding the messy stuff can make us feel more alone—and we deprive others of the opportunity for a deep belly laugh or the sense of meaningful connection. Here runner-moms share stories from their journeys—no filter applied.
Dorothy Beal, Leesburg, VA
In 2003, I became a marathoner for the first time; in 2006, I became a mother. Both journeys have been exhausting and rewarding. I now have three children and have run 32 marathons. Running has given me strength and taught me it’s okay to be weak. It’s during our weakest moments that we find our strength.
A few years ago, my husband and I legally separated, I moved out of our house and lived alone for the first time in my entire life. I went from being around my kids all the time to seeing them 50 percent of the time, with them being in school for part of that. Needless to say, instead of things getting better, they got worse. I went on antidepressant medication when my husband and I reconciled. He didn’t want to become a family again if I was depressed—it sounds insensitive and it might be—but he just couldn’t handle how low I was.
I moved back home. I wanted to be a happy mother to my children, but the truth was, I still wasn’t happy. During this time, I also went from feeling strong and fast on runs to feeling dizzy to the point of falling, fainting and not being able to perform like I wanted to.
Running had always been something I’ve turned to when feeling down, but some days I could barely get through 3 miles. I even dropped out of a marathon last year—my first DNF to date. I went to doctor after doctor and underwent tests up the wazoo, but nothing came back positive. Through all of this, I fell into a deeper sadness than I had ever felt before, sometimes not showering for a week at a time. I think that many mothers can relate to this. There is such a stigma with depression—many people don’t talk about it. As a full-time blogger who is all about positivity, I didn’t want to share this publicly and struggled in my own mind.
Finally, we considered that my antidepressants could be the root cause with rare side effects such as irregular heartbeat, excessive sweating and dizziness. It was a process to get off the particular medication and find a solution that worked. Now months removed, I’ve never been happier.
This journey made me realize I had a crazy, unhealthy relationship with running. All I cared about was getting faster and running more miles. No matter what, I felt like a failure. Now I don’t sacrifice sleep and run myself ragged all in the name of a PR.
I don’t regret anything I have dealt with. It’s what I had to go through to find happiness in myself as a mother and as a runner, and honestly even to find happiness within my marriage. I run less these days, not because I have to but because I want to.
Miyoko Beetem, San Diego, CA
I ran my first post-baby half marathon about a year after Alexis was born and surprised myself with a personal best.
Becoming a mom is the hands-down hardest thing I’ve ever done. It is truly amazing, but it challenges you, physically and emotionally, like nothing I’ve ever experienced before.
There are so many things about becoming a mom that people don’t talk about—how normal it is for nursing to be really difficult, how bonding with your baby often takes weeks or months rather than being instantaneous or how much trauma your pelvic floor can sustain from pregnancy and childbirth.
I was surprised by all the things I learned to be completely commonplace for mothers but that no one ever talks about. I try to be really open with my story and new-mom highs and lows to help shift this culture.
Melissa Cramton, Sturgis, MI
At age 19, I unexpectedly found out that I was expecting. At the time, I felt overwhelmed, knowing that life as I knew it was going to change drastically. When my daughter was born, we learned she had Down syndrome. As someone with big dreams who traveled the world, I would never again be able to pick up and go on a whim.
I let my health slide and gained a significant amount of weight. In a moment of desperation, I printed out a couch-to-5K program. Running didn’t come easily. I was so embarrassed by my lack of ability that I would stop running and walk when cars drove by. Then came race day. About a mile into the 5K, I knew I couldn’t finish. I kept going for a few more blocks and then I just gave up.
I could have let that be the end of my running but I didn’t. I saw my daughter fighting for her health, enduring open-heart surgery and countless other treatments. She never gave up, so neither would I. I trained for and completed my first 10K, doubling the 5K distance that had humbled me.
Running became a constant in my life. I failed at my first race but that didn’t make me a failure. It was simply the beginning of my running story. In the same way, my life didn’t end with motherhood. Yes, I had to stop traveling as much, but my beautiful daughter brought me places I never could have gone on my own.
Paula Villadelgado, Elk Grove, CA
Running and motherhood are part of a mutually beneficial relationship in my life. While on a race course recently, I was struggling and wanting to quit. I was doubting my abilities, but then I remembered my boys. I recalled all the lessons that I tell them about doing hard things. I remembered my youngest, who had just started to learn to walk, and those thoughts pushed me forward. Running is my way to remind myself that regardless of the situation, whether on a run or when being a parent, I have the strength to get through and to become stronger from it.
Harmony Davis, Pullman, WA
My life as a wife, runner and mother of three changed drastically just over a year ago. My husband, Ryan, died at 38 after a four-year battle with cancer.
Cancer destroys dreams and steals able bodies. During his fight with sarcoma, I ran. I ran through the chemo, the radiation, the surgeries and the recovery. One of the chemo regimens involved us being separated. Ryan would spend up to 10 days in a hospital that was over an hour away, being hammered daily with drugs. When he returned home, he felt horrible. Just as he was starting to feel better, it would be time to return to the hospital and do it all over again. We did this for six months. I ran through it all. Ryan didn’t quit, so I wouldn’t either. He always said: “What can we try next?” After many failed treatments, we turned to clinical trials. Clinical trials are hard, very hard.
I ran three marathons during those treatments. Even though his chance of survival was grim from the beginning, we never believed that would be how our story would end. We mentally would not accept it. As the cancer spread, we just fought harder. I turned to running for mental toughness. It helped me cling to any kind of normalcy and small reminders of my old life. I ran because I knew what I had to come home to was going to challenge me more than any long run ever could.
Ryan died unexpectedly after a trip to the emergency room. I didn’t get to say goodbye and neither did my children. When Ryan died, I decided I would not run again for a very long time. Even though I knew he would have wanted me to, I couldn’t. I had pushed so hard for those four years that I didn’t have anything left. Months went by. My kids would ask on the weekends if I was going to go for a run. I would make up excuses. Running exposes emotions and I wasn’t ready for the depth of loss and loneliness to surface.
Then one day, I just ran. I didn’t go far, but the sun, the road and the rhythm of my feet all soothed my aching heart. I am a runner again. This time, I am not running for Ryan, my kids or a cause. I am running for me. Every run that I am able to feel my lungs burn and legs throb, I am reminded of my strength and able body. As a mom, I don’t just get to quit. I run, fl exing my muscles, searching for hope along the way. You don’t get to run away when the fairy tale falls apart. You have to run straight on through it to the other side.
Alysia Montaño, Berkeley, CA
You can like pink, dolls, dresses, bows and flowers in your hair, fingernail paint, makeup, kitchen sets, cooking and ballet—but you don’t have to.
You can also like blue, ninjas, superheroes, pants, hats, face paint, dirty hands, tool sets, fixing things and contact sports—but you don’t have to.
I only separate these lists to show you the way that, in raising you, Momma has seen these things grouped. Momma notices that people impose what a girl “should like” and what a boy “should like.”
My message to you, my brave, smart, funny little girl, is that you can like and be whatever you want. The options are all available for you to like, love, laugh, flourish, create and just be. My hope for you is that the future continues to be bright and that you might recognize all life has to offer. My hope for you is that you not be restricted by society’s ideas. My hope for you is that you may see these separated lists of things as things—that’s all they are. They have no label for who may or may not enjoy them. My hope is that you see this separated list and merge it, mix it up, throw in more things you find fascinating to you and throw out whatever you don’t.
Furthermore, you are not bossy; you are assertive. You are not pushy; you are a leader. You are not loudmouthed; you are outspoken.The world is yours, little one. You can do and you can be…you! I love you, Momma.
Nicole Keilman, La Mesa, CA
We celebrate the triumphant stories of motherhood, but I think it’s important to talk about the not-so-great experiences women have in hopes of becoming a mom.
The last two years were very eventful. In September of 2015, my husband and I tied the knot and in 2016, I ran my first-ever marathon. Next up: My husband and I were ready to start a family. We were so excited when we finally saw those double lines! We sat in the OB-GYN’s office, doting on our incredible ultrasound photo and talking about baby names.
Two weeks later, I was doubled over in pain, struggling to walk into the ER. After a few tests in the hospital, I was told what I somehow already knew: “Your uterus is almost completely emptied.” We were devastated. Looking back, I’m still not sure what was hardest: the emotional pain of hearing those words and telling loved ones the sad news or the physical agony.
There’s more awareness than ever about how common miscarriages are, but here’s what people don’t tell you: You may experience actual labor contractions (I did and they are awful) and SO MUCH BLOOD as your body lets go of the pregnancy. The days following my miscarriage were a mixture of tears and confusion. I was so used to waking up with morning sickness, fatigue and the feeling of being “pregnant.” Now those feelings were gone. My body was left completely exhausted by the toll of the miscarriage.
About a week later, I had the energy to go for a run, the first since I had found out we were expecting. It was so bittersweet. I couldn’t shake the sadness that came with the loss of the pregnancy, but I couldn’t help but enjoy the freeing feeling. I wasn’t planning on going very far, but that morning I ran 8 miles at a pace I have never run before. Every mile seemed to help shed a small layer of the sadness, anxiety, embarrassment and pain, bringing me closer to this new normal.
Six months removed, the word “miscarriage” still sends goosebumps down my arms. I have accepted that it just wasn’t our time and we’re optimistic for the future. I’m even training for the Boston Marathon.
Celeste Goodson, Franklin, TN
I was seven months postpartum and found myself still struggling to run. I was dealing with a heavy pelvic feeling that wasn’t getting better, despite doing some basic core exercises postpartum. All of a sudden, I felt an incredibly heavy feeling in my pelvic region, like my organs were falling out of my body. Even as a medical exercise specialist, I couldn’t figure out what was going on down there. After giving birth, I had experienced incontinence, diastasis recti (separation of the abdominal wall) and now this. My OB-GYN determined I had mild prolapse and recommended surgery.
I felt frustrated until I researched more and realized I needed to improve how I strengthened and stabilized the inner core muscles. I wasn’t ready to resort to surgery yet. I worked on my pelvic and abdominal weakness in the same manner that I would prepare for a race—with a training plan I designed for myself. Not only was I able to avoid surgery, I started running a few months later!
I worked my way back to my pre-baby fitness level and now help other women through my program ReCore.Pregnancy and recovery are not the same for everyone. There is no award for the quickest birth or quickest return to running!
Oh, That’s Nothing…
I did an early-morning stroller run with a running shirt covered in (my baby’s) poop. He had a diaper blowout just before we headed out the door, so I turned back and changed the nappy. I failed to see, however, that I got some poop all over my hip and back as I carried him into the house. I only discovered it about 1K into our run, when I just couldn’t shake the poopy smell. And by that time, I knew that I would not be able to go home, change and finish my run in time before work. So I just ran in the poopy shirt and got it done! —Karien
Is That So Wrong?
Sometimes I’d rather not have my kids at my races! Yes, I love seeing them at the finish line and adore them observing me being healthy and all that, but after running my heart out for whatever distance, I don’t want to immediately cross the finish line to “Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom…. can you….can you… can you….when are we leaving…ow! Stop touching me…Mom! He hit me!” You get the idea. Sometimes I just want to cross the finish line and enjoy a beer with my girlfriends and only worry about me for another hour. —Allie
Worth the $
One time I called the babysitter over, because I did not want to take all four kids out with me on a run! LOL! —Amanda
He’ll Be Fine
There was one morning when I was standing by the back door ready to leave and heard footsteps upstairs. A little voice called down, “Mommy?” It was my son. I held my breath, stood really still and pretended not to be there. I heard him walk back down the upstairs hallway and go into my room, presumably to wake up my husband, and that’s when I snuck out the back door for my run. —Sarah
In a Pinch
My daughter caught me borrowing her diaper rash cream for my chafed thighs. Later that day, she told everyone at lunch that I had diaper rash, but it was okay because I was using her medicine. —Susan