The training benefits of running with a running stroller

I was motivated to write about this topic because my younger sister has just entered the stage of being able to (needing to?) run with her baby in a running stroller.  Until now, he has been too little, and she has been going to the gym or finding someone to watch him while she runs.  But the time has come, and she has realized as most running moms do, that time is her most valuable resource, and in order to maximize her available time and opportunity to run, it works best to just bring her baby along with her.

(my inspiration for this post – cooling off post-run.  How cute is he??)

As with many stages gone by, I may be romanticizing how great it was to run with my kids in the stroller, but if you’re begrudging not being able to run alone, just remember;  like everything else, it’s just a stage.  Meanwhile, take advantage of the fantastic training opportunities, as running with your baby can add some great spontaneous training benefits to your running routine.  Some examples:

Tempo Runs:  I can recall like it was yesterday one of my earlier stroller runs with my first born.  He was new to it, and generally liked to be held better than being in the stroller.   He fussed a bit at the beginning but at the halfway point he started to FREAK OUT!  There was not much I could do other than sprint home for 20 minutes with a shrieking baby.  This will happen to most stroller runners at some point for some reason or another.  It is not relaxing, but boy it gets your legs moving!  (try to ignore the judging stares of people as you fly by)

Long Runs:  Later on both of my kids found the running stroller relaxing, and if I timed it right I could use it for one of their naps.  However, it was always the case that if I stopped for a prolonged period, they would wake up.  If I wanted them to have a good long nap, I had to keep moving.  This resulted in some unplanned extra-long runs, especially if they fell asleep near the end of the run.  I recall doing loops around blocks in my neighbourhood with a sleeping baby trying to decide whether I’d rather be exhausted from an extra-long run or deal with a cranky under-rested baby.  I usually erred on the side of running longer.  (just make sure to go to the bathroom before you head out as there is no stopping!)

Strength work:  Really anytime you’re pushing that thing it’s working your arms.  I have tried many different techniques to avoid working my arms too much, but it always ends up being a good upper body workout whether you like it or not.    If you really want to maximize the strength benefits, find a good hill and do some repeats – just remember to hold on tight and keep that leash on your arm for the downhill part – you don’t need to incorporate sprint training into this workout day.

Fartleks:  This type of run happens quite a lot with a baby who is not asleep.  Here is a typical stroller fartlek run:  Start running with your baby.  Baby kicks a shoe  out of stroller.  Stop to pick it up.  Start running again.  Baby needs help getting his snack out of the container.  Stop to help him.  Start running again.  Baby’s hat has fallen over his eyes and he can’t fix it.  Stop to readjust it.  Start running again.  Baby’s drink has fallen just out of reach.  Stop and retrieve it for him.  Start running again.  This cycle can repeat itself endlessly for your entire run.  Just remember to run as fast as you can between stops and you’ll get some great random intervals of work and recovery.

So enjoy this phase and the training benefits it brings.  It’s like having a little coach there with you all the time.  Just be open minded and flexible about the prescribed workout for the day – you never know what the coach has up his sleeve!

My poor neglected core!

I know I’m supposed to do core work in order to prevent injury, maintain good running form and to help me to run longer and faster.  Sometimes more importantly to me (especially in the summer) I know I need to do it to look good.  A little can go a long way when it comes to ab strength and definition.  As my friends Andrea and Kate demonstrate in the video below, core work can be a very simple, yet powerful addition to a training program.


So why oh why can I not seem to consistently get it done??  I am so well disciplined in so many other areas (ok, maybe just one area –  getting my runs in, but I’m REALLY disciplined about that).  It should be so simple to add 5 minutes at the end of at least two or three runs a week to help out my poor core.  That’s two or three out of six runs I can choose from!  But somehow even though I completely buy into the concept and ease of doing it, core work remains to me like flossing – (another big confession) – I’ll do it when the mood strikes, and enough to kind of get by, but not nearly to the extent that I could or should.

Since I can offer no explanation as to why I don’t consistently do my core exercises, I will break-down my potential barriers and come up with solutions to overcome them.

Barrier:  Not enough time planned in after runs.  I run within very specific windows and tend to use the entire window to run and only run.

Solution:  Fight the urge to think that 5 extra minutes will kill me – or take it from somewhere else like blow-drying my hair.

Barrier:  Not invested enough in the outcome.  I believe in the benefits of core work, but it doesn’t seem to bring me any visibly closer to my goals.

Solution:  Convince myself that all my niggly injuries will disappear and that I have a big looming injury which I can prevent if I’m consistent with my exercises.

Barrier:  I have to think about doing it and make a conscious decision to do it every time.

Solution:  Create a pattern which will become as natural and automatic as running itself.  For example, 5 minutes at the end of Tuesday and Thursday easy runs.  No question.

Barrier:  Sheer laziness.

Solution:  Make rules for myself, such as I’m not allowed an evening beer unless I’ve done core work that day.

Okay, this is good!  I think I can do this.  Abs of steel, here I come …

Running when there’s nowhere to run

As per my last post, I am now committed to a formal training schedule.  This means that I do not take days off when it is not convenient to run.  If there is little opportunity and a run is called for, I’d better start getting creative.

Last weekend I spent three days at my parents’ wonderful cottage.  It is so fantastic and relaxing and comes complete with sisters, brothers-in-law, cousins, parents and nephews with whom I love socializing.  The only problem: it’s on an island.  The island is filled with trees and does not contain any paths suitable for running.  It is not far by boat to the mainland where I can run on roads, but the extra time and effort required take me away from my pleasures at the cottage which is always a bit of a nuisance.  Not to mention, heading out for a run always means someone else is put in charge of looking after my brood.  This is not always a hard task, and many are happy to do it, but I just like to stay close if I can.

Luckily I’ve come up with the perfect solution: deep water running.

Deep water running is just that – going for a “run” in deep water (feet not touching the bottom).  I was introduced to this cross-training method in high-school, and relied on it to maintain fitness through an injury in university.  I’ve seen the effective results of water running – athletes often return from an injury after having trained in the water and set PB’s.  For a more in-depth review, here is a great article and training program outline for water running by Pete Pfitzinger.

I won’t lie – water running feels tough.  I always feel like I’ve done a lot more than my watch would indicate.  And it can be a tad boring.  Or very boring.  Before my run on the weekend I think I was gearing myself up for a good two hours – unlike my land runs where I don’t even think but just head out the door. The nice thing though is that this was my setting:

The water temperature was a perfect 17 degrees and the view was unbeatable.  So why did I keep looking at my watch every two minutes??  Somehow I can’t seem to let my mind wander as it does when land running.  This was my total effort:

I will usually do a water run to mix up my training or for convenience.  If I have to do more than one in a row however, it becomes more arduous, and one of them must be an interval workout to stave off boredom.

I’m not sure if I’m actually selling this idea to readers or turning you off.  So let me end with these three images:

1.  My endorphin-boosted self-satisfaction after a mere 35 minutes start to finish:

2.  My well deserved post-workout recovery drink:

3.  My view of the sunset – less than 100m from where my workout took place:

Final analysis – injured or not, I say give water running a shot.  It is summertime after all – get into it!