13 Tips To Balance Running And Being a Parent

Life is always a balancing act, with shifting priorities and responsibilities, and we sometimes eliminate activities we deem nonessential in order to focus on more important tasks. Running, for example, may fall to the wayside once children come along.

While everything seems to change when you become a parent, however, with a little imagination and planning, running can remain a part of your life even when your children are very young.

In this article, I will share some of the ways I was able to keep covering the miles when my children were young.

Everyone has their own particular circumstances, of course, so every suggestion will not work for every person, but if you have decided running is important to you, these ideas may help you discover ways to fit running into your life.

In this article we’re going to get into the weeds on how to keep up your running habit when you start a family, specifically:

  • 5 Reasons Why Parents Should Make Running a Priority
  • Why You Need To Learn How To Say No To Things (+ a few suggestions for where to start)
  • 5 Tips For Running With Your Child
  • 7 Tips For Scheduling Your Runs.

Ready?

Let’s jump in!

13 TIPS TO BALANCE RUNNING AND BEING A PARENT

My Background

I’ve always enjoyed running, and even when going to school or working, I found it relatively easy to find time for a daily run.

While pregnant with my first child, I continued to run and, somewhat inexplicably, did not give much thought to how I would keep running once I gave birth.

Once my son was born, however, I quickly discovered that my days of simply grabbing my shoes and heading out the door for a run whenever I wanted had come to an end.

I was initially somewhat overwhelmed with my new responsibilities and lack of sleep, but, with what I see now as unfounded optimism, I figured things would soon smooth out and I would resume running. When my son was three months old, however, I returned to my full-time job and still had not gone for even one run.

Moreover, my husband became the stay-at-home parent, and it did not seem fair for me to arrive home after being gone for nine or ten hours and expect him to remain in charge while I went out for a run.

He clearly needed a break and time to take care of his own work projects and I, of course, wanted to spend time with my child, whom I had not seen all day.

Faced with this situation, I feared my running days might be over, at least for a while.

Knowing that running was key to maintaining my sanity, however, I decided it was a priority, and with a little creativity, planning, and flexibility, I was able to run as many miles when my children were small (a second son came along three years later) as I was before we had children.

Here’s my guide to how to be a running parent!

13 TIPS TO BALANCE RUNNING AND BEING A PARENT
Finish line smiles with my son after a half marathon!

5 Reasons Why Parents Should Make Running a Priority

New parents are often so exhausted due to lack of sleep and so overwhelmed with their new responsibilities that even finding time to shower or eat a proper meal is difficult.

In this setting, going for a run can seem logistically impossible, if not outright frivolous, and taking a break from running may feel like the only feasible option.

If you have previously embraced running, however, and know that covering some miles on a regular basis will be good for your physical and mental well-being, there is no reason to stop once children are in the picture.

In fact, it is entirely likely that running may give you the extra energy and patience you need to handle your new parenting responsibilities.

Here are the top reasons you should use to justify your running practice, whether to your family or to your self!

  • Running is an effective form of exercise that you can do on your own, at a time and duration that suits you and your schedule.
  • Running has huge mental health benefits – getting some headspace can be reason enough to go for a run, and your family will notice your mood improvements!
  • Running gives you that time on your own, whether it’s to listen to a podcast or just to your own footsteps, that makes all the difference in your day-to-day wellbeing.
  • Running can help you live longer and be more active later in life, meaning a daily workout can actually be an investment in quality family time!
  • A parent who runs regularly is demonstrating to their kids the importance of healthy habits and exercise – you’re being an even better role model when you run!

So, we’ve established that it’s in you and your family’s interest to continue running.

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The Cardinal Rule : Learn When To Say No

If you have decided you would like to include running in your routine, it is important to first consciously acknowledge that running is a priority (not the priority, of course, but definitely a priority).

By making this mental clarification, you will find it easier to arrange your day and make decisions in a way that allows you to carve out time to run.

As you have a limited amount of time and energy, and as parenting consumes much of that time and energy, it is important to minimize your other obligations as much as possible if you want to include running in your life.

Look For Opportunities To Scale Back Your Commitments

There are many areas where scaling back is reasonable, at least for the short period of time when your children are little.

If you have typically been one to take on volunteer work and say yes when asked to help with a project or task, it may be time to learn to say no to the requests that come your way.

Schooling Volunteer Commitments

This skill will become particularly helpful once your child starts school, where you will be given many opportunities to get involved.

You will be asked to chaperon field trips, organize holiday parties, join committees and groups, make costumes for shows, and bake cookies for fundraisers.

You may feel compelled to say yes when asked to do things, and if you truly want to be involved with these activities, you should do so.

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In my experience, however, I found these tasks often took more time than I had anticipated.

They also did not really make my child’s school experience any better than it would have been otherwise, and so I started feeling confident enough to say no to most requests.

Re-examine Your Work Obligations

You may also want to try to cut back on work obligations to the extent possible.

While I still did the best I could while at work, I stopped volunteering for extra projects, stopped offering to help with peripheral tasks (such as organizing the office picnic), stopped working extra hours, and also took any vacation time I accrued.

Everyone’s work situation is different, of course, but it’s worth considering your circumstances and looking for ways to reduce your work hours if possible.

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Planning Your Runs

Finding some free moments in your schedule, however, is only one part of the puzzle, as you still have a child depending on you around the clock.

So, the other part of the puzzle is figuring out how to run while still meeting your parenting responsibilities.

The options at this point fall into two categories: running with your child and running on your own.

5 Tips For Running With Your Child

Running with a small baby is not recommended, primarily due to the baby’s lack of head and neck strength, but you can certainly walk with your baby, either in a regular stroller or snuggled next to you in a wearable carrier.

This effort is a great way to bond with your child and get your blood flowing as you ease back into an exercise routine.

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#1: A Running Stroller is Your Best Friend

It is always best to check with your pediatrician, of course, but it is generally said that by six months, most babies have sufficient head and neck strength to tolerate the bumps and speed involved with being a little passenger in a baby jogger, or running stroller.

So at this point, you may want to consider investing in one of these joggers, which are typically larger and heavier than regular strollers, but make running much easier, with their three large, air-filled tires and additional features such as handbrakes.

Related: Running With a Stroller: 13 Tips For Parents

With a baby jogger, almost any time is a good time for a run.

If it’s nap time, your baby will likely fall asleep peacefully while you run (and perhaps more easily than he would have otherwise).

If your baby is awake and alert, he will probably enjoy the sights and sounds of your neighborhood, especially if you talk to him while you run.

And if your baby is cranky, a little movement, fresh air, and breeze may be the perfect calming experience.

I found it surprisingly easy to run during this phase.

My son would fall asleep peacefully in the jogger, usually clutching his favorite blanket, and would not wake up for two or three hours, which allowed me to cover many miles on a regular basis.

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#2: Mid-Run Activities

Once babies start walking, however, they are not as content to stay in the jogger for such extended periods of time.

When my son became mobile, I found that having a fun destination for him in the middle of the run kept us both happy.

If I wanted to run four miles one day, for example, I would pick a park about two miles away and run there with my son in the jogger.

My son would then play at the park for a while (with me doing some stretches on the playground equipment if I was feeling particularly ambitious), and when he tired, I would strap him back in the jogger for the run home.

A stop at a friend’s house for a play date would also work, as would a visit to a shop for a yogurt or other small treat, or a brief excursion to the library for a new book.

Even without a specific destination, I found that just letting my son out of the jogger to run alongside me for a little while would keep him happy.

I also learned that bringing along a book or toy, as well as a snack and something to drink, would help keep him occupied over the miles.

#3: Get A Double Jogger

If you have two little ones, you may want to invest in a double jogger, which has two seats that allow each child to sit up or lie down independently of the other.

I covered many miles with my younger son napping soundly while my older son “read” books to me.

Running with two children does require a little more planning and patience, but my memories of running while pushing both boys around our neighborhood are some of favorite.

#4: Have Your Kid Riding Beside You

Another option for running with your child (or children), is to have them accompany you on a bicycle or scooter.

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My children never particularly took to this option, and would fall and scrape a knee or lose interest in the journey, usually before we had even made it to the end of the block, but I know several parents who had great luck with this method, so it is worth mentioning and considering.

#5: Running With You

When your children are a little older, they may be willing to run with you, at least for short distances.

By nature, children will tend to sprint until they are out of breath and then walk for a while, and as long as you’re willing to go with their flow and not fret that the short sprints don’t fit into your running plan, this situation is at least something.

A track also offers a good opportunity to run with your children, and then to keep running, yet keep an eye on them, if they tire before you do.

Most children love running around the track at least a few times and then may have fun kicking a ball or playing some other game in the middle of the track while you continue to circle around.

If your child seems to enjoy running, you may also want to consider signing up for a local fun run, which usually includes a 5K as well as shorter distances for the younger children.

Knowing they are “training” for this race may motivate them to get out there with you more regularly.

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7 Tips For Finding Time to Run On Your Own

While running with your youngster can be a great experience for both of you, you shouldn’t feel guilty if you crave a solo run, and there are certainly ways to make this happen.

#1: Run While Your Baby Sleeps

You have probably heard the advice “sleep when your baby sleeps,” and there is certainly wisdom in those words. If you are looking to run some miles on your own, however, don’t overlook the simple idea of running when your baby sleeps.

At a certain point, you learn your baby’s rhythms and sleep habits, so you should be able to anticipate when they will wake in the morning, go to sleep at night, and nap during the day, and, assuming of course that a spouse or other responsible adult is home with the baby, you can use these times to get in at least a short run.

I found it helpful to have my running gear on most of the time, so I could head out the door quickly without wasting time changing when an opportunity arose.

#2: Consider a Treadmill

If you are alone with your child, of course, running outside (at least past the range of a baby monitor) is not an option. A treadmill can be very useful in these situations, as well as when weather conditions are unfavorable.

#3: Run Swaps

If your partner also likes to run, you can suggest a child-run swap. One of you watches your youngster while the other goes for a run, and then you switch.

My husband and I used to have fun with this, with the first one to run selecting the route and reporting their time upon return, which the other one would then follow and attempt to beat.

Finding other parents who like to run can also be a way to squeeze in some miles. You may be able to arrange play dates, during which the parents take turns supervising the children and going for short runs.

Once you ask around, in fact, you may be surprised how many other parents are looking for ways to fit in some exercise and appreciate the idea.

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#4: Making the Most of Your Lunch Hour at Work

Prior to having children, you may have used your lunch hour at work to actually go out for lunch, or at least eat a sandwich in the break room and catch up with your co-workers.

Or maybe you just worked through your lunch hour in an effort to be as productive as possible.

Once you have kids and your opportunities for running are limited, however, your lunch hour at work becomes a perfect opportunity for an easy three-miler and then a quick bite back at your desk.

My office did not have a shower, so I initially hesitated to go running, fearing my post-run sweatiness would be off-putting for others, but I keep those runs easy pace and just splashed some cold water on my face when I returned, and no one seemed to mind.

In fact, once I began running regularly during lunch, I discovered kindred running spirits in the office who would often join me.

#5: Running Once Your Children Are In School

Once your children are in school, your options obviously expand.

If you are not working, or are working from home and have some flexibility, you can, of course, run when your child is at school.

When my children were in elementary school, I worked at home two days per week and on those days, I could fit in an hour-long run between taking them to school and starting work.

You may have more flexibility and can run any time during the school day, or perhaps near the end of the day before you pick them up.

#6: After School Activities

After school activities are also perfect opportunities to sneak in a run.

I would often take my older son to tae kwon do or my younger son to soccer practice, and after saying a brief hello to the coach and other parents, I would head off for a few miles.

I would also sometimes intentionally plan out my route so I would be far enough away at a certain point that I would have to run an ambitious pace to get back before the class or practice was over.

There is nothing like thinking your child might be alone on a soccer field waiting for you to make you stick to your tempo pace.

#7: Family Outings

Family outings — such as going to a movie, out to eat, or shopping — also offer opportunities to run at least a couple miles.

Depending on the distance to the destination and nature of the event, I would either run to the place we were going and meet my family there or run home after the event.

Sometimes I would run the entire distance and sometimes I would just run part of the way.

I eventually memorized the routes and distances to many of our typical destinations and our children got used to my husband pulling the minivan over mid-drive so I could get out and run the last three miles home.

I also learned where clean public restrooms were so I could change into or out of running clothes if necessary.

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#8: Sign Up For Coaching Or a Training Plan

A weird thing happens when you actually hire a coach or commit to a training plan – you’re suddenly more likely to make your running a priority.

At least that’s what happened to our editor and coach Thomas Watson:

“With a newborn around the house, as well as working from home this past year, I was finding that time to exercise was consistently the last thing on my priority list – and the first thing to get jettisoned.

So when my son was 7 months old, I actually hired a running coach to give me a 4 month training plan.

I wasn’t training for any specific event, I was just looking for a roadmap to make my training more consistent.

I essentially outsourced all the decision-making around daily exercise – instead of trying to fit a quick workout around life, I was looking at my training plan and then planning the workout alongside my other priorities.

It ended up being one of my most consistent training periods of the past few years!

You Can Make It Happen

The bottom line is that it is entirely possible to keep running even when you have small children if you make it a priority and stay flexible and open to opportunities.

You may not be able to guarantee you can follow a detailed training plan or training regime as rigidly as you could before becoming a running parent, but you will be able to maintain your running habit and will feel better for doing it, and will also be setting a great example for your children.

Just getting started on your running journey?

Check out our following guides!

Couch To 5k Guide + Training Plan

Couch To 10k Guide + Training Plan

Couch To Half Marathon: Guide + Training Plan

Sarah Reyna

Sarah Reyna

A lifelong runner and former USATF Level 1 coach of high school cross country and track, Sarah enjoys racing all distances, from the mile to ultras. She is a recent transplant from California to Seattle and spends her free time exploring her new neighborhoods by foot.

2 thoughts on “13 Tips To Balance Running And Being a Parent”

  1. These are fantastic tips! I definitely echo many of these, ie running is a priority but not THE priority. That’s a hard reminder. Thank you for putting this together. I only disagree with the choice of involvement in school activities. Anywhere my children are I personally must keep active in the environment to know what and who’s in their daily lives and keeping a physical presence is important in discerning the truth and setting the example. It’s not easy at all! But I do understand this is a personal parenting principle we try to abide by. Thank you again for being an encouragement. Run on, friend. ☺️

    Reply

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