Running with Kids: It’s Good, It’s Bad, It’s Worth It

For me, running was once a very selfish thing. Of course, I didn’t think of it that way. Running was good for my health and good for my mind and I loved it. It cleared mental cobwebs and made me feel great, and I spent hours doing it every week. But it was selfish because it was time that I, and I alone, wholly controlled. I’d mean to leave at 7:30am and instead head out my front door at 9:00. I chose my routes on a whim, planning to go out for 45 minutes and then disappearing for over an hour, adding an extra loop that looked interesting, getting a little lost. What did it matter, really?

It was about three months ago, as I jogged home from a very truncated run through my neighborhood, the stroller in one hand and the dog’s leash in the other as I belted out “Do-Re-Mi” for the zillionth time, that I realized just how much things had changed.

I’ve been a runner for many years, and I kept up with it during pregnancy with my daughter, Jane, who is almost two. Once Jane was past the seemingly breakable newborn stage, she became my regular running partner. I get out on my own, too—my husband is happy to have me go out alone on the days our schedules sync up. But I work from home part time and am usually with Jane, so for the most part, what I do, she does.

When I had her with me, running became secondary to her well being. I might—maybe—manage to keep a good pace for a decent distance, but my thoughts were certainly not free to wander. As she’s gotten older, this has only become truer. It’s partly her age, partly her personality, but when we run, we talk. I am a quiet person. Jane is not. “I’ve never seen someone so small talk so much,” a friend with two small children of his own said the other day. She’s an outward processor, asking the name of every flower, every truck, every stranger who says hello as we pass.

“The orange ones called poppies!” she’ll exclaim as I push her up a hill past a garden.  “Mmm-hmm,” I’ll huff.

She thinks about this. “I might see another poppy, Mama? Want see another poppy!” “Maybe in a little bit, Jane!” I’ll gasp.

More thinking. “The purple ones called irises! Want see more irises!”

And on it goes.

Jane requests that I sing songs, and then more songs. She reads books, and when she wants a new one (sometimes expressed by artfully throwing the current book under the stroller wheel, a dangerous but effective maneuver), we stop so I can grab another. She’ll point at words and ask repeatedly what they say, until I give in and run squinting downward, attempting to read over her shoulder as the book bobs beneath me.

I’ve altered nearly all of my routes to accommodate my passenger, avoiding the bumpiest sidewalks and most imposing hills, which seemed manageable until I faced them with the stroller ahead of me. I watch the clock—no more spontaneous detours. I stop when Jane requests new bags of bunny crackers, to give her sips of my water, to fix her hat or her blanket or her stroller hood.

My runs now are often shrunken and interrupted. Some days I don’t mind this at all—I like my daughter a lot. But some days, it’s really, really annoying. Sometimes the only reason I go through the effort of running with a toddler is to feel a little bit of accomplishment and to stay in decent shape for the running I do on my own. But Jane loves this stuff. She complains sometimes, not wanting to get in the stroller no matter how hard I try to entice her. Mostly, though, she’s into it. When I do my pre-run stretches, she flops beside me, trying to manipulate her chubby limbs into the same positions as she gets ready to go.

One winter day, I was headed outside with the stroller and the dog and about 50 blankets and books when a neighbor stopped me. “Your daughter is so lucky!” she said. She thinks it’s great that Jane is anything but cooped up indoors. And I suppose that is lucky. But honestly, I don’t really do it for her—I do it because I love to run. So often we parents do things primarily for the benefit of our kids. We do our best Julie Andrews, and trade 10 minutes of running for 10 minutes at the park. There’s a lot of good in that. But we also need to look at our own lives and do things for our own benefit. We need to be a little bit selfish. More than anything, I run with Jane because running is part of who I am, and she likes it because she can see that I do.

We’re expecting another baby girl in September. Before long going for runs will mean coordinating two nap schedules, pushing a double stroller, stopping twice as often to distribute twice the snacks and answer twice the questions. I’ll probably be more than twice as annoyed at the complete hassle many days. But running has been very good for me, and for that reason I’m committed to keeping it up. And that, the commitment to a thing I love, is something my girls would be lucky to know.

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