Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Stroller running with kids

I have 4 kids ages 4-12, and I have been running longer than I've been a mom.  I remember my first run after my first baby 6 weeks postpartum.  I had so much excitement and energy to get out, which lasted a block or two to the stop sign when reality hit and I walked home.  Sharp kick in the pants by reality, but I hadn't maintained my fitness level as well the year before her birth and had a pretty rough birth with her.  Thankfully, my running relationship as a mom has gotten much better, and I wanted to share some of my tips and experience with you all!

First off, I have to recommend the best investment we ever made in staying active with our kids, our Chariot Cougar 2.  We've had ours for 10 years and it is still going strong!  I have not replaced one part, but we bought it at REI with our member 20% off so we could always get any replacement parts if needed.  I encourage you to use your local retailer if possible, but if not REI is a great place to buy it from.  Now they've gone up in price quite a bit from 10 years ago, but I'm telling you, if you want to run, bike, and/or cross country ski with your kids, particularly in any weather, save the money and buy one.  Maybe you can find one used.  I could write a whole review on our Chariot, but I'll try to summarize my favorite points.
  • All weather protection.  This thing is weather proof whether hot, cold, wet or wind.  I've got a
    half length sun cover, full length mesh cover which covers the entire opening (which can I say
    is 100% awesome for keeping kids from throwing toys out!), full length vinyl waterproof cover that is also gold in the wind.  There are also two vent pockets inside to give air if I have all the covers on.  All those covers stay attached to the trailer so you don't have to worry about carrying anything extra or forgetting anything.  I have literally taken the trailer out in any and all weather with happy warm dry kids inside.  They don't even wear heavy coats in freezing temperatures because the covers keep them so tucked in.  Love the tinted windows on the side too.
  • Formed seats.  Seems like a simple thing, but not having a sling style bench inside makes it so kids and their things don't collapse onto each other in the middle.  Very comfortable padded seats and 5 point buckles with covers over the buckles so kids don't get pinched or let themselves out.  You can move a buckle system into the middle too if you only have 1 kid in there who doesn't want to stay on one side.
  • Shocks.  No matter the bumps I take the trailer on, books/toys/food does not fall off the seat and I don't worry my kid is a bobblehead doll on a rough road either.  They are adjustable but we have always left them as they came.
  • Infant sling.  From birth to 1 year, Chariot makes a sling that hooks up to the buckles and
    trailer so baby can lay vs having to sit, because we all know a 3 month old is not going to sit up, and who wants to wait 6+ months to get out and get going.  They do not recommend biking with a child using the infant sling, but rather wait till they are a good sitter, but I have definitely run with very young babies (and biked smooth quiet road with babies technically too young).  Great way to sooth them to sleep but not have to fit the carseat in which then wouldn't leave room for a big brother or sister.
  • Versatility.  The Chariot has so much storage!  A few good pockets in the trailer but 3 great size ones in back for me.  I love memories of walking/running/biking to the grocery store or library with the kids and filling those pockets with books or gallons of milk.  And as I've mentioned, they sell kits for different activities: jogging, stroller, bike, ski, hike.  We have owned the first 3 and after many years of the big jogger wheel in the front, I discovered the stroller kit thanks to my friend Charity.  You'd think those two little wheels wouldn't be good to run with, but they totally are!  No more adjusting the tracking on the jogger wheel, the stroller wheels turn on a dime and do just fine on any surface I've run on (note, I do not take the trailer trail running beyond smooth canal road, too much work).  Also way easier to navigate indoors since the stroller wheels sit right under the front of the Chariot.  Buy the stroller kit!
  • Down sides - there aren't many and wouldn't keep me from buying one again, but a couple things to keep things honest - no recline.  Stinks not to be able to lay them down like a traditional stroller, but there is soft mesh in back of their heads to allow for helmet room when biking that they could lean into a little, or they sleep on each other, or now that it's just Ella in the stroller I'll bring a cozy blanket and she'll lay sideways to sleep if we're running. It's heavy and bulky to collapse and fit into the car, but we certainly have.  I'm lucky to have a paved river path a mile from our house that we do most of our running on.
My husband and our then 3 kids stuffed in the Chariot biking around watching me at a triathlon 5-6 years ago
If you don't have or can't afford a Chariot, don't fret.  There are a few tricks you can use to make your own stroller/jogger better.  When I went on the first run as a mom, I just threw a receiving blanket over the front of our old school borrowed jogger.  And as soon as I went outside it blew off and my poor 6 week old baby took a big gasp of the winter air.  Oops.  That led to a whole lot of trying to figure out how to keep it covered.  My best recommendation is to buy a vinyl rain cover that will fit your stroller and use it for cold temps or wind, even if it isn't raining.  Makes a big difference and is an affordable $15-$20 option.  There are lots of varieties and while the vinyl is best for wind and cold, they do make netting ones to help keep toys in and dirt out at least.

Make sure your ride is equipped with supplies.  Diapers and wipes if you're using them (confession, I haven't cleaned out the deep back pockets of the Chariot in apparently, a very long time, because I found a few new diapers in there, and my 'baby' has been potty trained for over a year... Make sure there are several extra snacks in there, and if it has to be treats you wouldn't normally give, pack them.  Sometimes kids don't want to go running with me, but a few incentives they only get there can help.  We'll do oatmeal in the trailer on cold mornings too which isn't too messy but gets us out the door faster.  No spill water bottles are great so if, I mean when they get turned upside down, they won't leak.  Now I hate to admit this one, but you may need to pack a device - phone or tablet.  I try really hard to not give them one, and almost never start with it out, but if they're grumpy or the run is long, you have to keep the captives happy.
These water color books are one of my favorites lately for my Ella.  No, not watercolors, I'm not that crazy, but a simple water paintbrush book that shows color when wet, then dries and they can do it over again.  The little brush pens are nice, but I don't want it squeezed out or to have to stop every 2 minutes to refill it, so we put a small 4oz water bottle/flask with the cap off in a pocket inside, 1/3 full of water, and use a regular paint brush she can dip in the water.  At only 1/3 full it won't splash out and ours stays upright pretty well, but this is a good time for duct tape to the side of the stroller if needed.
Captain Ella!  One of her fun, but not super safe ;) trailer activities when we're walking
Parks and playgrounds.  Now like I mentioned earlier, you've got captives that may get restless, and if they end up hating going running with you, you probably won't get out or will feel guilty doing so. So you have to reward them.  Now before I sound all mom of the year, most of the time after a run, all I want to do is go home, eat everything, and be lazy, not stop at the park and then wrestle a kid away when it's time.  But if I have the time, I try to hit one at the end of our run. I have really nice memories of nursing a baby (my favorite nursing sports bra post here) or changing a diaper at the park, while an older child gets out to go play.
If you can't or don't want to stop at the park - don't run by one!  I've definitely rerouted a run I knew would go by a playground or tried to show them something out the other side of the trailer if it wasn't a good time to stop.
And if your run is a casual one, not structured, do half your run to the store/library/park/museum/pool, let the wild ones out to play, then run home. Great relay training if you're into Ragnar and such!  I do prefer to do our playing at the end though so I can stretch while they play.  Bring a recovery drink or snack with you if it was a hard or long workout to eat before you get home.

I have cycled between biking and running with the kids a lot, and not.  I haven't biked much since I got into ultrarunning in 2012, but sure did a lot before then in my triathlon days.  Sometimes running has just worked better to do it before they get up, and I don't do all my running with them now, runs alone are nice me time and sometimes a better or more focused workout.  
But I treasure the time outside with them.  I get emotional thinking of the songs we've sung, ABC's we've learned, animals pointed out and I-spy we've played over the years.  My older kids too big for the trailer will bike next to me sometimes, and that's a great way to keep them involved and give them quiet, distraction free quality time.  Such good time and memories!  It's made me feel good about including them in the time I take to workout, less mom guilt, and hope I influence them to be active too.  I feel a funny sense of save the earth warm fuzzies when we run or bike to places we can, rather than drive.  Two birds with one stone, well probably more birds than two actually.  Errands done, no driving, workout, time and vitamin D together.
It's not always easy to be active with kids.  Sometimes the workout takes longer with them than it would without, I get tired, don't want to pack everything and the chickens into the trailer sometimes, worry she'll be grumpy or want to stop at the park or get out when I don't have time, but that doesn't usually happen.  Pushing a kid or two (or more) is kind of like wearing a weight vest in my opinion, extra resistance, but more importantly, it keeps things in perspective for me.  Mom first, athlete second.
I hope any of this rambling has helped you!  I have really enjoyed the last couple years running with my youngest child while our older three are off at school.  Great quality time for us, and I'm getting my road and speedwork done, without having to get up as early.  Mostly though, I just love our time together and the feeling I get of multitasking together.  Get outside!