Four irritating children’s habits that actually benefit your running (yes, really!)

I’ve been working hard to improve my strength, running pace and overall fitness this past month. For over a year, I’ve been plodding along at the same old pace, covering the same old routes, without ever pushing myself too hard (because, frankly, getting out for a run – whatever speed or distance – has felt challenging enough, what with two little ones to run around after all day, one of whom has NEVER slept through the night).

But enough. After a recent 10K trail race, where I achieved a time of 1:03 while chatting to a friend and not paying any attention to how long it would take me to cross the finish line, I realised something: if I actually put my mind to it, I could see some big improvements. What’s more, I’m at a point where I want to see big improvements. I want to push myself harder. I want to achieve something for me.

A sub-60 10K seemed a good starting point, having not tried to achieve this since before my son was born, four years ago.

I knew I’d have to make more of an effort, though. So I started structuring my running a little better. I didn’t have any more time each week to run, so I had to improve the quality of training: short hill sessions; threshold work (running at a pace described as ‘controlled discomfort’ for set blocks); making time for strength work at home (even if this was just a plank a day); and starting regular yoga classes each week.

It paid off: on Sunday, I ran a very undulating, muddy trail 10K in 58:06. And I couldn’t have felt happier.

But you know what? As I was proudly gazing at my medal, I realised something. My kids have helped me get back to this point, too. Because if I was still working a 9-6 office job, sat on my arse most of the day, the level of training I’d done would not have been enough to knock five minutes off my previous 10K time in just four weeks. Nope. My kids are great at helping me get fit – and usually, it’s when they are at their most infuriating.

Here are four ways my little lovelies have inadvertently helped improve my running…

1/ They can never find anything. EVER.

“Mummy! I need Batman!”
“Well go upstairs and look for him.”
[PAUSE] “He’s NOT HERE!”
“I saw him this morning, he was on your bedroom floor.”
“HE’S NOT HERE!! Mummy, HELP me.”
[RUNS UPSTAIRS] “He’s right there.”
“WHERE?”
“Right in front of you! There! On the floor! By your feet!”
“WHERE?”
“Oh, for the love of… you’ve just STEPPED on him!”
[PAUSE] “Oh. Thanks Mummy.”

batman

This situation is not unusual. Shoes, bag, socks, crayons, toys, books… my son can never seem to locate a single thing independently. Which means I spend a vast majority of my time running all over the house, up and down the stairs, fetching things.

Add it all up, and I reckon those are my 10,000 steps a day, right there.

2/ Their legs inexplicably stop working

To clarify, their legs never simply ‘stop working’ when they are playing superheroes while climbing and leaping all over the sofa. Or when they arrive at the park and spot a swing free from 200m away. Or if you are on your way to any sort of soft play/toy shop/ice-cream van situation.

No.

However, when you’re walking with them through town and are at the furthest possible point from home/a bus stop, and usually when you have your other child in a sling or buggy, and generally speaking, when you are already carrying their scooter/coat/action figure that they HAD to bring but three seconds in have abandoned: right then… that’s when their legs will grind to a halt.

“My legs can’t go ANY more far.”

Oh Lord, how my heart sinks every time my son utters that sentence.

And so ensues all manner of encouragement and bribery, before (usually), I have to carry his stubborn little body home.

After four years of parenting, sometimes I think I should get into weightlifting. I would be awesome.

3/ They are messy

Oh God, the clutter. I’ll be honest here, my home wasn’t exactly the tidiest before I had children… but post-kids? Some days it looks a bomb has gone off in the middle of Toys R Us, and someone has helpfully deposited the debris in the middle of my front room.

I now spend so much time picking up toys at the end of each day, I have turned it to my advantage and devised a mini-workout: simply by gathering up all the Lego, action figures, trains, dolls and general plastic crap through a series of squats and lunges, my evening workout is complete without even thinking about it.

4/ Food refusal

Hand on heart, this is one of the hardest things about parenting. Watching them turn their noses up at a meal you have lovingly prepared feels like the ultimate rejection.

It took me a long time to come to terms with this, but finally I discovered the best way to deal with it (for me, anyway – I’m no parenting expert), is to stay calm, not force them, but not offer an alternative. Dinner is dinner: we all have the same. I make sure there is always something on the plate I know they like: the rest is up to them. And honestly, this strategy has worked. Over time, my two have come to eat a good range of family meals. But some days/dishes are more successful than others. Sometimes, they wolf down every last mouthful, some days they hardly touch it. Mostly, it is somewhere in-between.

But how, I hear you ask, does this help your fitness?

I am no saint: I am quite partial to the odd fishcake here; a few mouthfuls of mashed potato there; a few florets of broccoli one day; a sliver of naan bread the next. Us mums are so often made to feel bad about polishing off kids’ meals. But here’s the thing: if I’ve finished their leftovers, it means I’ve eaten just enough real, actual, nutritious food (OK, sometimes it’s sausages), so that by the time my husband gets home, I can get a run in before their bedtime, fully fuelled and ready to go. And if I’ve eaten something beforehand, it means I have the energy for a tougher session. Job done.

So there you have it: in those moments where it feels like your children are actually attempting to break you on purpose, simply grit your teeth, smile and try to appreciate their ‘help’.

It’s better for you than sitting in an office chair all day.

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