Single Running Mums, and my journey by Melanie Zeppel.

My running journey started when my youngest daughter was 1. I desperately needed some energy, and so wanted to exercise. I had been telling myself for months I needed to start exercising, to get more energy and reduce the stress of being a working parent.  Working full time with a 1 and 3 year old made me hunger for that missing energy and calm. I needed to go back to work when my daughters were 6 months old each, and I have worked full time as a Post-Doctoral Researcher at a University (part time since mid 2014). I also started running around same time as the marriage break-up, in about 2010.

I started running at the age of 38, in 2010. Until then, my exercise consisted of walking. A work colleague casually mentioned he was going for a run, and I joined in to get some exercise. In the early days, when it hurt to run 6 km to the local coffee shop, I did clearly notice a difference on my moods when I ran. One colleague was a marathoner, and I naively suggested “I should sign up for a marathon.” I didn’t realize what running a marathon actually entailed, but after registering, I was determined, or at least stubborn enough to work towards the goal. I searched for a marathon training plan on the internet, and signed up for a 2011 marathon. I mostly trained alone, without a group, using podcasts on long runs, until I joined the Sydney Striders in 2012.

A friend asked me how I can run a marathon, while he can’t, my only answer is stubbornness, and selfishness to pursue a goal. The joy of time alone, and the feeling that I can cope, inspire me to keep me putting on the shoes. Limited time and money meant that each training session was a privilege, cherished time alone, and was squeezed in at lunch at work, or on the Sunday the kids visited their dad. I don’t want to circumstances define my boundaries, and we all have obstacles to overcome.

My first marathon was Gold Coast, 2011, with 3:54 including 17 minutes in medical after a glorious adrenaline-inducing fall. 2012 brought a 3:45 marathon. My goal was to qualify for Boston, which I did with 3:29 in Canberra, 2013, the day before the bombing. Stupidly, my lift to Canberra agreed with me when I suggested that ‘after a marathon we all need a cool down don’t we?’, so I continued past the finish line to run the 50 km (in around 4:30), after qualifying for Boston in the 42.2 km. I ran Boston in 2014, with an enjoyable 3:45, which included hugging marines, stopping for kisses in the ‘scream tunnel’ by Wellesley College, and many, many, high fives.

Why I keep running.

Some months, between race training cycles, I chose to deliberately focus on work and my daughters and knowingly chose to run less. However, the lack of structured running during those periods meant life felt more difficult, my stress increased, and the number of times I had a ‘hard day’ increased. After a ‘hard day’ I wanted comfort food or a glass of wine, and when I dropped running, the number of hard days increased, alongside the need for wine, and along with my clothes size! On the other hand, on the days where I ran, life was bearable, I had more energy, I could cope, and my attitude was more positive, my enthusiasm was higher, and I was able to parent more calmly.

Single parenting isn’t something I would wish on anyone, however there are a number of strategies to make running work. Training for marathons as a single mum presents different opportunities, so, my question to other single mums, is often ‘how do you make it work’? I will list what has worked for me, and if anyone has any suggestions, I would dearly love to hear them!

Ways to make it work:

  • A treadmill, and bike trainer mean I can run when the kids are asleep. I borrowed my grandma’s treadmill for free. It has a slow maximum speed, with no incline, but is clearly better than nothing. Now my daughter likes to run on the treadmill while I cycle! So sweet!
  • If your family is nearby, their support can be invaluable for weekend long-runs. I try to regularly tell my family I appreciate their help, and offer to mind my nephew and nieces.
  • I trade Saturday night baby-sitting, so my friends might mind my kids in the early mornings.
  • I traditionally hold New Years Eve parties at my house, and friends have minded my kids while I do an iconic long run, “Back of Black Stump”.
  • Minding other people’s kids Sunday morning, while their mum does yoga, then I do a 1 hr run.
  • I run at lunch, in work hours while kids are at school, and work in the evenings.
  • I paid a friend’s accommodation to mind the kids at a ‘family friendly’ race, Southern Highlands Challenge, and I sometimes pay a baby sitter, if funds permit.
  • Once I ran 32 km in ~800m loops around where my kids were playing. Each time I ran past I shouted ‘hi kids’. They replied ‘hi mum’. Mental toughness training.
  • Park Run or volunteering at races, such as Six Foot Track, gives insight into the race, and the opportunity to meet people at a key stage in life. I have met many lovely people at races.

To maintain a positive attitude, I’d like to raise some upsides of single-parent running. I realize there are multiple challenges and at no point do I want to suggest this is a single proper path to embark upon, but I do want to highlight some silver linings. One of the key differences is there are often clear schedules for when single parents have the kids, and when we don’t. This makes it easier, in terms of knowing every second Sunday morning I will have free, and I’m not relying on someone to come home before I can leave the kids.

Pros of being a running single parenting:

  • Independence in finances, for shoes, travel, entry fees.
  • Autonomy in time management, my time is my own, and there is clarity about who has the kids. No partner coming home from work late, reducing training time.
  • If your ex has the kids a few nights a week, those days have more time for training. Long run Sundays!
  • When making a new life, it is great to meet lots of wonderful, supportive people in running clubs and races.
  • Transitioning from having kids, to being without them can be very hard. Having a big workout allows enables this transition with far more grace, getting to the ‘next rock in the stream’.
  • Running is a great form of stress relief and getting away from relationship/divorce issues. “Cheaper than therapy.”
  • Mental toughness training: Ending a relationship is great training for the mental strength required in running, and running is great perseverance and resilience training for a relationship breakdown.

I’m haven’t listed the ‘cons’ as they will be readily apparent, and for me keeping a positive attitude is key to both running and single parenting. I feel the point, for me at least, is to remember to enjoy where we are in life, and be grateful, for the moment, either having a partner, or being a single mum.

Go Running Mum’s Australia!

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My eldest daughter and I finishing a 10 km race together. Look at the smile on her face as she beat me!

 

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