For most of my life, meticulously-planned daily miles were an integral part of my self identity. Then I became a parent, and the obsessively-planned training rituals I had for so long held as a sacred marker of personal success went out of the window.
Speed workouts and track intervals, runs that used to be a crucial part of my training calendar, became a rare gem. Running became a thing to fit in when I could. But rather than looking for moments to get away and run alone, I embraced simply taking my children along in the jogging stroller. And everything about my running changed.
Reflecting back on my time running with my children in a running stroller, I feel grateful that I was able to include them. I also find myself thinking,“if only I knew then what I know now.”
So, if you’re beginning to embark on the wonderful and challenging journey of running with your kids in a stroller, this article is for you. Here are a few tips and tricks that may make your shared runs even better.
A stroller that fits your lifestyle is key. And, unfortunately, jogging strollers can be pricey. A good deal often starts at $300, and they go up from there. Before you decide on a model, though, take some time and think about your current lifestyle. Where do you like to run? How far? Do you cross train, bike, cross country ski or run on trails and dirt roads?
For parents looking to run off road and take their tot along for other outdoor adventures, I recommend a multi-sport stroller like the Thule Chariot. It sports many attachments for hiking, biking and even cross country skiing. I live in Montana, and so have even used the ski attachments on the stroller to run through winters with heavy snow.. For someone looking for a smooth ride around town with post-run shopping or coffee I would recommend a more traditional jogging stroller like the Bob Revolution. This stroller has a front wheel that can go from swivel to lock mode, easing the transition from running to navigating the doorway of your favorite cafe.
Every stroller collapses differently and some may not fit well in your car. If you plan to travel with your stroller it is important that you go to a retailer that carries a few brands so that you can take some time experimenting with the stroller to see how it opens and folds down. It’s also good to test out any attachments you might be using, like a rain shield or snack tray. This may sound like overkill, but it will go a long way to make sure you find the stroller works best for you and your new addition (Trust me, being adequately prepared for on-the-run snack time is crucial).
The safety of you and your child should always be the top priority. Never take off on any adventure without knowing the ins and outs of the stroller’s safety mechanisms. And, always remember to buckle in your children and have them wear helmets when appropriate.
Consider elements like rain, sun, heat and cold temperatures. Then examine what attachments or built-in features the stroller has to protect its passengers. While you might be loving a bright sunny run, remember that your baby needs to be protected from overexposure to UV radiation and sunscreen isn’t recommended until six months.
I have run many times in below-zero weather while my little ones are happy and toasty. But that requires some added bits of gear, like bunting bags, or down sleeping bags. It’s important that whatever you use can be secured away from a baby’s airways and that you take time during your run to check that coats or bags haven’t covered any little faces (I stop often and check in to see how they’re doing)
I like a bunting bag that is either made for the stroller or is universally compatible. This allows the safety straps to come through and be used effectively. As my kids grew, I moved them into regular or kid-sized down bags for the added warmth.
Will you run to the playground or library (when and if it is open in your area) and take along a picnic or toys and book? Consider how much storage space you need in your stroller. Some models forgo large cargo pockets in an effort to reduce weight.
Is your goal to get outside and put in a few miles, or do you plan to focus on fast-paced training? Some strollers are lighter and geared more toward performance.
Lastly, if the price of the stroller you want is overwhelming, try to find a used stroller. There are many excellent options out there both online and at used gear shops. It is well worth it to have a stroller that fits your needs. After all, you will be using it all the time.
As you transition into running with the stroller, go slowly. Think of it the same way you would when starting a new training plan. Let your body adapt to the changes in your running form. You won’t be swinging your arms as much and running will certainly feel different.
Depending on the handlebar height in relation to your body, you may find yourself hunching over or raising your elbows up. Most strollers have some adjustments you can make with the bar height. Play around with that and see if you can find a spot that feels most natural. Sometimes I even move the bar around during a longer run if my arms start to hurt.
Be diligent with your strength routine. If you are postpartum it's worth a few trips to a specialized PT who can assess your pelvic floor and abdomen for weakness and make a personalized strength and recovery program just for you.
“Core and hip strength are crucial for any runner, but especially for mothers of young children that may be adding the resistance of a stroller,” says Ira Brown, a physical therapist who works with runners in Polson, Montana. “It may help to see a professional who can build a program to meet your specific needs, but initially focusing on abdominal and hip strength is a good place to start.”
And whenever you do start, it’s important to take some time after each run to check in with your body. If you are feeling any imbalances that are new, address them before they become chronic. Trust me on this.
Today, I struggle with low back pain that is a direct result of running slightly bent forward while I push the stroller. Many trips to the PT and a list of back and glute exercises followed, but I very much wish I had done the strength work proactively instead of trying to push through.
Running with kids is always more difficult than just walking out the door alone, but a little extra planning can go a long way. When my kids were very young I ran during their nap times. After I buckled them into the stroller, they usually fell right to sleep, and I ran in peace without a problem.
Then they got older. Everyone is different and there isn’t one right way to do this, only what works for you and your family. But I think it's best to try and think of your run time as down time for the kids. For example, my kids never did that well getting into the stroller after breakfast. They had too much energy and wanted out to play. But by 10 a.m. they were ready to settle down and go for a ride.
Many people ask me how I get my kids to stay in the stroller, and say that their kids won’t do it. I don’t know that I have a good answer for that. I have a variety of tricks in the cargo pocket, such as snacks, books and small portable toys.
One of the most successful things I have tried is variations of the game “I spy.” They can play with me or each other. No matter where you are running, there is so much to see, and nothing is more magical than the innocent wonder children have for the world. So tune into that, and use your runs to start showing them the magical things just in view from their stroller seat.
My friends and I laugh about this one. We think back to our pre-parenting running days. Our carefully thought out workouts, hitting our pace and time, logging weekly mileage and long self indulgent post-run recoveries. Now we feel lucky to get out of the door with matching socks and our watch on (much less charged). Sometimes we haven’t gone more than five minutes before someone has to pee or says they're hungry.
Early on in my stroller running days, I decided that success was time outside with my kids. I might plan to run a certain distance, but I no longer hold myself to a strict pace since I will probably need to stop some. Mentally accepting that before the run helps me avoid frustration.
If you find that you want to do a few workouts a week and the family run is making them impossible, I absolutely recommend doing those without your stroller. Just because you're a parent now doesn’t mean you need to give up your goals. You may have to work harder for them, but it’s important to find that time for yourself. If some of that time is for real-deal, old fashioned training without the stroller, great! You can do it!
What’s more, running workouts are a healthy way to stay social. Make a few runs a week just for you, maybe partner up with a good running buddy and create a training plan that allows you to meet a few days a week. Whether you are working toward the starting line or just gaining fitness as you come back after pregnancy, remember that every run makes you stronger.
By Cynthia Lauren Arnold. Arnold is a lifelong runner and mother of three. She currently holds three world records, fastest marathon and half marathon pushing a triple stroller and the fastest half marathon pushing a double stroller. She lives with her family in rural Montana.