In Defense (& Celebration) Of The 20-Minute Mom Run

Let’s hear it for short bouts of activity — *alone.*

Written by Elizabeth Narins
Originally Published: 
A mom goes on a run with her child in a stroller.
Erik Isakson/Getty Images

While hauling two tiny humans and their many miscellaneous necessities around Brooklyn in a cumbersome double stroller, I'm often lapped by runners whom I can't help but envy. What does it feel like to trapeze down the street carrying nothing but your own weight at a pace of your choosing, all without stopping to grope around for rogue Cheerios, recover lost pacifiers, or double back for toys surreptitiously dropped several blocks ago?

Sometimes I have to squint to remember, but my pedometer records show there were many times back in the day when that runner was me. Except... I loathed running so much that I never really basked in the glory of it.

A Hate-Hate Relationship With Running

I'll go ahead and blame a trainer I met in college; he told me doing fewer than 30 minutes of cardio was a waste of time. After that, any appreciation for movement — and particularly running — devolved into a tortuous countdown.

No matter the weather or playlist, every cardio session felt like a chore designed to burn off last night's dessert or create a calorie deficit to pad my next indulgence. The arbitrary time commitment felt compulsory and punishing, and honestly, that hasn't changed. But my perspective toward movement has.

Now wise enough to know that trainer’s approach to exercise was erroneous at best and disordered at worst, I've come to recognize running for what it is: the ultimate escape.

Yep, parenthood has given me an entirely new appreciation for short bouts of activity performed, most importantly, alone. After all, there's no better definition of freedom than running whichever way you want until you say you're done, regardless of your step count or whether someone starts crying. It's the ultimate gift you give yourself.

For the Love of Running "Away"

I know, I know — we all have things we'd rather do than exercise, like pretend to poop when we're really scrolling through Instagram behind a locked bathroom door.

But leaving your house solo, shutting the door on every waking responsibility, setting out without a stroller with no little hands to hold and no snotty noses to blow so you can quietly, for once, pad the pavement in peace: It's an ever-so-brief opportunity to shed your entire identity in favor of unbridled aloneness.

It's the temporary desertion of all the people you have made and all of the people who rely on you, a feeling you just don't get from clocking steps while wearing a baby or pushing one. With one click of the lock, no one can interrupt your train of thought, hang on you, whine at you, or demand a snack from you until you make the call to turn around and let it all back in.

You can be anyone in that moment — the old you, or a new one. It's a fantasy most of us would never follow up on but would surely like to hold onto for a few minutes.

And I mean a few: Capping runs (or even run-walks) at 20 minutes, I've found, keeps the whole let's-get-sweaty-thing feeling like self-care rather than self-punishment. It's enough time to sink pretty deep into a playlist entirely devoid of Blippi, feel utterly unencumbered, warrant washing a sports bra, and get just a small taste of freedom without the guilt of missing out on time you could be spending with your kids.

Another perk? Setting your sights on just 20 minutes of exercise isn't just attainable; it helps eliminate feelings of failure if you can't run physically run for much longer. Because, for the love of god, women don't need more feelings like that!

No matter how many minutes you can spare (or physically stomach) to devote to movement, you can write it off as an ode to your kids. After all, it helps prepare your bod for all the physical demands of motherhood, like scooping up a 40-pound toddler when their world (OK, OK, block tower) comes crashing down, or galloping toward your phone the moment your co-parent yelps, "Get your camera!"

So, this resolution season, let's celebrate the few minutes of movement we take for ourselves — at whatever pace — and declare 20 minutes enough. Let's appreciate the fact that our bodies can still move after the sh*t show that is postpartum. And let's give ourselves a break if we still hate running. Any movement that warrants alone time will do, or at least leave you feeling freer than a pacifier recovery mission.

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