By Whitney Heins, founder of The Mother Runners, as told to Mara Santilli
I’ve had a love-hate relationship with running for most of my life. When I was six years old, my dad saw me running across the front yard with our dog, thought I looked fast, and started entering me in races. I was running competitively by high school and felt the pressure that comes along with being an athlete.
But running can be a beautiful thing, too. When I got to college, I found community through running and immediately felt part of something larger during a stressful time. I ran my first marathon, the Marine Corps Marathon, in college too.
Running also helped me reclaim my sense of identity after pregnancy. I had my daughter, Eleanor, in 2014 and my son, Cal, in 2017. I was lucky in that I was able to run throughout both of my pregnancies but afterward was super challenging. I had other people depending on me, and I couldn’t exactly peace out when I wanted to run…unless I wanted to wake up before the sunrise, take the kids on a stroller run, or make sure my husband was around to watch the kids. I also felt guilty about making time for myself.
Finding a New Community of Runners
I ran some 5Ks after I had my son, and I started to run with another mother in the neighborhood who’s also a runner. She encouraged me to get a coach to train for the Knoxville Marathon, and eventually, the Olympic Trials.
Shortly after my training began, I wasn’t hitting the paces I should have been hitting, so my coach recommended getting blood work. It turned out that my estrogen levels were sky-high, and I had vitamin deficiencies and an underactive thyroid.
Running was key in helping me realize that something was wrong with my health. If my coach didn’t bring it up, I would have just accepted feeling awful as a normal part of new-mom life, never prioritizing my wellness.
Getting Back to Baseline
I completely overhauled my diet due to new food sensitivities and started taking supplements. I stuck with my new regimen during training, got my blood rechecked, and my health and running improved. I ran the Knoxville Marathon in 2019 and placed behind my friend who was going to the 2020 Olympic Trials!
But running isn’t just about achieving PRs for me. It helped me take control of my body after having a baby and introduced me to other women going through similar things. I mean, being a new mom can be so isolating—you’re so focused on your baby’s needs that it’s easy to neglect your own.
That’s why I started The Mother Runners, an online resource and social media community for moms who run all over the globe. Running with other mom friends fulfills my need for both exercise and socialization. Unlike a coffee date or playdates with the kids, there are zero distractions when you’re running, so you can focus more on your conversation.
At the moment, I’m injured with a torn hamstring, which prevented me from qualifying for this year’s Olympic Trials (hoping 2024 is my year!). So, I’m cross-training and getting stronger while I take a few months off from running.
This would make a lot of runners feel low, but I have women from the community checking in on me multiple times a day, which is really amazing. These friendships are honest and genuine—when you run together, you lay it all out there. We’re all about inspiring not only each other but inspiring confidence in our kids (my daughter is a runner, too!), so we have a lot in common.
That’s why I want to expand this sisterhood as far as it can reach. The Mother Runners is empowering women to move past the “mom guilt” and other obstacles that come with being a mom and take time out of their day for themselves, to push themselves, and to support other mothers who are runners. Because being a mom is just as much of a marathon, trust me.
(Photos: The Mother Runners)