Friday, April 28, 2017
I am a 36 year old mom to an almost 2 year old little boy. I manage a running store full time and have been coaching beginner and recreational runners for around 8 years. I run with a stroller for roughly a third of my runs each week depending on the weather. As a result I get a lot of questions about running with babies– these questions run the gamut of suggestions from which kind of stroller, to good running routes in the area, to tips for making it the experience comfortable for the runner and the passenger(s). I will try and touch on all of these here, with the disclaimer that — this is my first baby (I’m going to call him that even though the kid that threw a fit over his socks this morning is definitely a toddler), and like the rest of my running and momming — this is a work in progress.
I went to my first grown up baby shower when I was about 25. I say “grown up” meaning I was out of college, employed, and the showeree was a friend my age. A bunch of us chipped in together and bought her a jogging stroller as our gift. I self-righteously remember thinking- when the day comes that I am a mom, I hope my friends drop a pretty penny on something else because you had better be sure that if I carry a baby around for 9 months and then spend all hours of the day caring for him/her — I sure hope I get to go out by myself for the amount of time it takes to get in a run.
Well you can just add that to the many (so so SO many) heaping servings of humble pie I’ve swallowed since becoming a mom myself. I cringe recalling that thought and I truly hope I had the decency to keep it to myself; though I can’t be sure that was the case. Not only do I actually prefer to run with my son (turns out you are pretty attached to these tiny humans, not to mention it’s not a simple feat, practically or mentally, to leave them to do something for yourself), but also I am a single mom and sometimes if I want to run I don’t have the option to leave him with someone else — which could easily be the case for any parent: father, mother, single or not. I don’t mind at all though and (so far) neither does my son since a run in the stroller is a pretty enjoyable activity for both of us. Fingers crossed I’m not reading this in 6 months laughing at myself after trying to get a flailing toddler into the jogger…
But on that note here are a few thoughts on some of the questions I am frequently asked about running with a baby.
Finding a Jogging Stroller:
Strollers that are built for running are going to have greater clearance between the handlebar and the wheels for a running stride, more suspension for the ride, geometry to avoid easily tipping, wheel designs to move efficiently and carry your momentum as you run, and will possibly have features like a wrist strap and bells for safety, and front wheels that can lock for more stability. For these reasons you want to stick to an actual running stroller when you are taking your baby for a run. As for which one to buy, I’ll be honest, I only have the one I bought (a BOB Revolution SE) and can’t compare it to much, except a Kelty running stroller that I gladly traded in for the BOB (though I do love a Kelty backpack I’ve had for over 13 years so don’t take that as an overall assessment of the brand). The two most common names in running strollers are BoB and Baby Jogger. When you are ready, I would crowd source your options from parents who run in your area on the paths you expect to frequent and ask them for which strollers they use and what they do and don’t like about them. Better yet- borrow some before you invest — I did this before springing for my BoB. Local Facebook, Tinyhood, or NextDoor groups are a great place to seek these recommendations. I also found these reviews here in case you want more info.
Factors to consider if you have the luxury of comparison shopping:
How easily it collapses and to what size – (my beloved BoB, while considered pretty good for collapsibility and storage, still takes up the majority of the rear cargo area of my midsize SUV).
Running terrain versus suspension needs – city sidewalks can be bumpy!
Front wheel lock/swivel option – locked is safer and makes it easier to cruise on a straight path and some strollers only have a locked option, but if you live in a city where you might be navigating lots of turns or want to use the stroller for non running purposes- the swivel ability is helpful.
Storage – as in how many layers of clothes, cups of snacks, back up diaper supplies etc can you squeeze in the bottom hammock. Also are there handy places to secure bottles/toys/snacks in the baby’s area?
Arm/wrist strap – this is helpful for peace of mind when descending hills, and also gives you the option to briefly go no-handed on easier stretches and pump your arms.
What weather shields are included – how far does the shade cover your baby, can you view your baby through the cover when it’s extended?
Ease of finding and purchasing accessories – (like EVERYTHING with kids you’ll end up spending more than just the initial investment in the stroller): cellphone/parent console, carseat adaptors, rain shields, trays, additional storage. In this case the big names are easiest in terms of finding complementing accessories.
A Few Things to Know before Running with Your Baby
Running with your baby is not typically recommended until your child is around 6 months of age and has adequate head and neck control. This is a question for your pediatrician and you may be granted clearance sooner (I think my ped said we were good to go right around 5 months and I felt pretty confident with him in there at that point). But please talk to your pediatrician before starting. I also feel compelled to point out that the car seat adaptor (that allows you to remove the infant bucket seat from your car and latch it into the stroller )- is not a great idea for circumventing the age rule for running with your baby since it will make the stroller more top heavy and prone to tipping.
Babies and temperature – Infants and toddlers overheat as well as get cold more quickly than we do, so keep that in mind when dressing your child for the run.
Summer/heat – be sure to use sunscreen, hats, check that the stroller sunshade covers them, and consider adding a stroller fan. Know that infants under 6mos should not be given water so discuss child’s age and staying hydrated with your pediatrician.
Winter/cold – a few companies make sleeping bag type accessories that are great for winter running or be sure you have bundled the baby up. Remember you are going to feel warmer than your child since you’re doing all the work. Also be sure to make sure any cozy additions are not impeding breathing. I have run with my son in some pretty chilly conditions (down into the teens) using the JJ Cole Bundle Me — and he loves it.
Where to Go
We live in Baltimore so if you are reading this from afar you can safely skip to the next section. This is far from an exhaustive list but here are a few suggestions:
Inner Harbor Promenade – paved, flat, scenic, easily accessible if you park near our McHenry Row store, Federal Hill, or are a downtown dweller. Bathrooms available in the Inner Harbor buildings or friendly local businesses. The link is to a MapMyRun route that goes from the store, to Fort McHenry, and then to the Promenade- not because you need to run all 8 miles, but to show how close either destination is or to make a longer run. There are playground options at Latrobe, Riverside, and at the top of Federal Hill Park.
Fort McHenry NP – free parking, one mile loop, has bathrooms and water fountains open 9am-5pm
Patterson Park – paved, hilly, has ponds and playgrounds for the littles to see and do, don’t count on a bathroom.
Lake Montebello – Easy parking, paved loop around the Lake with places where kids can play as well. No bathrooms. Connects to the Herring Run trail for a longer route if desired.
Druid Hill Park – paved, hilly if you venture away from the lake, or flat if you stick the the Lake Loop, near the Zoo, playgrounds, or open grassy areas for post-run fun for the stroller passengers.
Meadowood Park – paved, one small hill, bathrooms, no shade, playgrounds for after the run, it’s a short loop (less than a mile) so it can be repetitive for a longer run.
Loch Raven Drive – closed to traffic after 10AM on Sat/Sun- paved, scenic, great (or terrible) hills, no bathrooms, safe enough to let kids play on the road or on the trails nearby after the run when it’s closed to traffic.
NCR Trail – packed gravel trail, shaded, this trail is point to point so you run back as far as you run out, port-a-pots and water fountains at some crossings.
Other options that I do not link here: Goucher College Campus, Centennial Lake, Lake Elkhorn, and I’m 113% sure there are more options.
“How” to Run
Elbows slightly bent and close to your side (this should pull your shoulders down your back, think about avoiding “chicken arms”), arms wide on the bar, with hips close to the stroller so there’s no butt-out happening. While moving think about driving the stroller from the hips versus pushing with your arms. Got all that?! Don’t stress– use form as a distraction if you are dragging on the run, but don’t spend your entire run worried about it (odds are your running companion may not give you that luxury anyways).
On flat and safe terrain you can use the wrist strap to free a hand (maybe 2) to have some momentum pumping your arms. Alternate sides to avoid one sore arm/shoulder.
If you plan to run hills often a.) high five and b.) you may look for a stroller with a hand break- particularly if you live in an area with steep and long descents.
Expect to run slower for obvious reasons. Also expect to make stops to adjust layers, retrieve toys, or simply check in. I consider every happy stroller run for my child an investment in my next run. For these reasons I try and check in on him and offer a toy or snack just as often for being quiet or happy-sounding as I do for when he fusses. And it’s only had to happen once– but on a day he was struggling with some new teeth and had an upset stomach, I nixed the run at the last minute since I feared he would have a miserable time–and then been a challenge on our subsequent runs. I could have been wrong, but I am pretty decent at filtering out my own excuses versus using valid reasons to shelve the run for another option so I didn’t look at it like a cop out. Lest I sound sanctimonious– my first career was in behavior modification– so even though my son can humble me in an instant and make me doubt all of my capabilities, I promise I am speaking from a range of experience.
Some Notes on Safety
Stick to daylight hours in places with nice wide shoulders, sidewalks, or pedestrian/cycling lanes when running with your jogger. I would not recommend headphones on any run (for safety), but especially when running with a kiddo(s)- so you can hear any oncoming traffic (pedestrians, cars, bikes), and so you can hear your baby.
RRCA safety guidelines call for running against car traffic– but when I am leading with the most precious being in my life- I run on the side that the best “out” (widest shoulder, sidewalk, or even a grassy knoll to dodge onto) in the event of an emergency.
Strollers catch the wind- so brace yourself if it’s gusty for an extra-extra resistance workout, and be wary of drop offs (like along the Promenade).
What to Bring
EVERYTHING. Well, not really, but sort of– I typically pack as if we will be gone forever. Since I made the effort to get us here, I don’t want to turn back just for water, or a hat, or cheerios, or the blue ball. I bring an array of snacks, water for me and him, a few current-favorite toys, and extra layers for both of us. I didn’t know until recently that Toddler Time radio on Pandora can be oddly motivating while pushing a heavy stroller up a hill. Twice I’ve been out running in 0% chance of rain per weather.com and been caught in a passing shower — so regardless of forecast I pack an extra layer to protect the kiddo.
As I mentioned before- assuring that he is happy means a smoother workout for me and more fun for him and my best bet for another run soon. And for the most part he is happy just taking in the scenery for up to an hour without any need for redirection. Now that he is older I tend to gravitate towards places to run that have somewhere to stop and play at the end. Lately we have headed downtown to the playgrounds at Federal Hill Park or Latrobe Park after a run from South Baltimore and Thomas gets to play with his best buds after their moms and I wrap up our run. My other favorite spot is Loch Raven Drive.
So there you have it – more than you ever needed to know about running with a stroller, or more importantly- the precious cargo in your stroller.
I initially started this post last summer and I’m glad I shelved it for awhile since I will say running with a chatty and opinionated toddler has challenges different from a there’s-never-enough-nursing infant. And I have to say this– there is no timeline on which you should be back to running. You can read more of my thoughts on that here.
So far I am loving the challenge of both the run itself (this kid keeps growing so every week feels like a new test!) as well as keeping it fun for him. And now when I find or make those moments in my week for a run on my own– I am more appreciative of the me-time and I feel like I am flying. I’m hoping Thomas won’t mind being carted around in his stroller until he’s old enough to be left home alone for an hour!
About the Author: Deirdre Weadock
A Baltimore native and graduate of NDP and University of Maryland in College Park, Deirdre bought her first pair of shoes from Charm City Run while home visiting Baltimore from her job training dolphins in the Florida Keys. She became a part-time employee and full-time member of the Charm City Run family soon after when she stopped in to replace her shoes. Deirdre was thrilled to help Charm City Run expand to the downtown location as the store manager and coach of Charm City Run full and middle distance training groups. Over the years of involvement she has been committed to the Charm City Run energy and passion for the running community and she is a well-known face at local events. She loves the downtown fitness community and you can often find her checking out any new local studio or gym, but her favorite spot will always be a run along the Inner Harbor Promenade.