I’m a mom of two little girls, and I’m a psychotherapist with my own private practice. Sometimes it feels like I have no time to myself. If I’m not making a meal for my daughters, I’m working with people that have trauma—women who have been raped, and victims of abuse and incest. I see people at their lowest point, and then try to take them through a healing process to release the pain that’s stored in their bodies and memories.
In doing that, I take on a lot of that trauma myself. When I hear those stories, they hit me hard, and I often end up carrying that burden. The last thing I want to do is bring that home to my husband and kids.
I need to run to get it out of my body.
For almost 20 years, running has been my way of dealing with all of life’s stresses. It’s brought me back from the weight gain of pregnancy and acted as a relief valve for the pressure of my job. If you’re interested in taking up running for fitness, or are wondering how it can help you handle the negative forces in your life, I hope the lessons I’ve learned from distance running can help you.
“I Need To Run To Be a Good Mom”: 8 Lessons Learned From Running
#1 Running brings you closer to nature
I live in Salem, Oregon, and it’s gorgeous. I run outside and I like to get lost in the woods. I’m not a hunter, but I liken it to the feeling that hunters say they get when they “become one with nature.” I make very little noise. My breath and my stride sync with the breeze. I see the wildlife close up, because they don’t see me coming. They don’t hear me or see me as a threat until I’m right up on them, so I get closer to animals than most people ever do.
#2 Running is the easiest workout to stick with
I’ve done triathlons and I used to be a road-bike racer. I’ve worked out with weights in the gym and at home. But I have very limited time these days, and for me, running is the easiest workout to keep up with.
To be a swimmer you have to have a pool. To be a cyclist, you have to have cycling gear and pack all that stuff up for every workout. With running, all I need are shoes. And sometimes when I run on the Oregon coast in the sand, I don’t even need that. There is a simplicity and ease about running that fits into my life now.
#3 Running makes you aware of imbalances
Having babies changed my hips. After my pregnancies, some things went back to where they needed to be, and other parts needed to be manually moved back by a chiropractor. I had all kinds of imbalances in my legs and knees and it all came to light from running. My left outer thigh was bigger than my right thigh, which meant it was compensating for the way I carried my hips. I realized that if I wanted to continue to run and avoid injury, I needed to address these things.
#4 Running gives you perspective
I was talking to a teenage girl recently who was assaulted, and she doesn’t even know to what extent because she blacked out. She was beat up, got a fractured jaw. When I got done with work that day, I was irritable. I was angry. I was impatient. I was stressed out over the idea of just having to go home and make dinner that night. That’s when I knew that I had to go running.
Those negative thoughts can be very loud when I start a run, but then, all of a sudden, they’ll get quiet, and I’ll just want to Forrest Gump it and keep going because it feels so good to get that perspective. I realize how wonderful my life is when I’m not tormented by the voices in my head.
#5 Running helps you be a better mom
I have so many demands in my life and I always want to meet those demands the best I can. When I’m not at my best, I take it very hard. The thing that hurts me the most to falter on is being a mom. It hurts me to lose patience with my kids. To be distracted and feel like I’m being unsupportive. That makes me feel like a failure, like a bad mom.
When I run, I get perspective on that and I forgive myself. I need to run to be a good mom. If I’m a balanced, healthy person, I ripple that out to other people. If I’m feeling frustrated and stuck and angry, I’ll ripple that too, and I don’t want to put that out in the world. So I run for myself, for my family, and my community.
I love my kids, but sometimes I just don’t want to be a mom. I want an hour or two where I can be Liz. Where I can be invisible to requests from anyone. Those are times when it hurts to run at first. Because I’m running out this guilt—the pain and emotions. They feel physically heavy in me. And then all of a sudden my body becomes free to move and I can just go. So those end up being my eight and 10-mile run days.
Endorphins are like morphine in the body. Actually, they’ve been shown to be hundreds of times more pain-relieving than opiates. They help me change—structurally—on a run. When I start out, I feel the burden in my hips, my shoulders, my back, and my head. I feel the weight of the world, and it can affect my stride. But by the end I’m a balanced human being.
#6 Running can fit into your menstrual cycle
Women have a 28-day cycle that has to be worked with. Wherever I am on my cycle impacts my energy and how I train. I’ve learned that I can gradually increase my training intensity for three weeks of the month and then I need a week of active rest. So I’ll do more resistance training during my PMS time, such as planks and pushups and lunges. I really love Onnit’s Bad-Ass Bodyweight video too. I do that twice a week.
I take my week of rest when I hit that low point in my cycle. That time will be different for every woman. It could be when you’re having PMS or when you’re ovulating. For me, it’s the fourth week. That’s when I’ll do more gentle, meditative running, because I don’t have the energy for anything more intense.
#7 Getting back in shape after pregnancy is slow, even when you’re running
I didn’t gain much weight with each kid—less than 30 pounds each time—but it still took a long time to get rid of the muffin top and get my midsection back where I wanted it to be. I had a lot of extra skin, not fat. All these women who post after-baby selfies where they look amazing, they’re either lying or they’re an anomaly. Because I did everything right and my body still didn’t look as good for almost two years afterward. I ran, lifted weights, and did yoga, but my body had changed. You need to give it time to change back.
I eat a low-carb diet made up mostly of plant foods, which to a lot of people sounds like a contradiction. I do intermittent fasting, so I’ll stop eating the night before around 7:00 and have breakfast between 9:00 and 10:00 a.m. I’ll have a sourdough bagel with seeds loaded with sprouts, jalapenos, avocado, and eggs or bacon or sausage. I snack on nuts or carrot sticks and hummus, and drink green or chai tea throughout the day. For dinner it’s usually some meat and vegetables, like pork chops and Brussels sprouts. If I have a sugar craving, I’ll have a spoonful of raw, locally-raised honey. I cook with coconut oil a lot.
I’m pretty fat-adapted so I don’t feel like I need a lot of carbs to help me run, but I will sometimes eat some fresh berries I find on the trail.
#8 Running is for everybody
If you want to start running, begin with some intervals. Jog a bit, then walk a bit, and gradually increase the length of your jogs. Set a goal. It could be to do a 5K, but start out slow. If something hurts, have someone look at your running form and see a chiropractor or physical therapist. Don’t let little injuries that could be easily corrected prevent you from falling in love with running.
If your motivation wavers, there’s something within you that you need to look at. There may be a block or some old trauma that’s ready to be released. You don’t have to follow it but you need to listen to it. Why are you telling yourself you “can’t do it?” When you address that, you’ll find your motivation. Journaling about it can help, and so can psychotherapy. When we lack motivation, what’s holding us back could be in a blind spot. We can’t see it, but a trained pro often can.
One of my favorite expressions is, “Wherever you go, there you are.” I can try to run away from something, but wherever I want to go in my head, I always come back to the present when I run. It always lets me connect with the real me.
Liz Williams is a psychotherapist and hypnotherapist in Salem, Oregon. Visit her at salmoncreekcounseling.com