Connecting Women Over Motherhood and a Love for Running
Whitney Heins was 6 when she began running marathons.
Her father, an avid runner, would train each year for the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C. One day, he noticed her running after the school bus and realized that she was faster than other kids. Heins, who was in first grade at the time, started going on short runs with her dad and, eventually, would join him on the last mile of his training runs. Not only was it a way to bond, but it was a challenge and physical thrill of which she wanted more and more.
By the time she was in high school, Heins was a regular at local running competitions and was on her school’s track and field team. As an undergraduate student at Georgetown University, she ran her first marathon in 2003 in the same race she grew up watching her father run — the Marine Corps Marathon.
"After the birth of her daughter, now 7, there was a period where it seemed running might have been off the table completely."
It was the first in years of marathons that continued during graduate school, marriage, and her former job as a local news anchor in Knoxville, Tennessee. Heins and her husband, Jake, together ran the Cape Cod Marathon, the Mount Desert Island Marathon in Maine, and two rounds of the Boston Marathon.
Running was synonymous with living.
That all changed when she became pregnant with her first child. Heins went from longer high-altitude runs to shorter, lower-altitude runs on the advice of her doctor. After the birth of her daughter, now 7, there was a period where it seemed running might have been off the table completely. With her second child, a son who is now 4, the challenges doubled.
“My kids were attached to me and I would feel bad leaving them going for runs,” said Heins. “There were biological issues in the postpartum period as my body adjusted and wasn’t the same as before. There were new things I tried, like stroller runs.”
The hardest parts were finding community and sensible advice.
"Everything I read online about being a mom and running was written by a man or someone who did not have an understanding of pregnancy and motherhood,” Heins says. “There was a lack of real, practical advice."
“Everything I read online about being a mom and running was written by a man or someone who did not have an understanding of pregnancy and motherhood,” Heins says. “There was a lack of real, practical advice. There also was a lot of misunderstanding of the body after giving birth.”
After connecting locally with mothers who were runners like her, Heins began to realize there were many people in the same predicament.
Gathering her own experiences and hoping to spread her newly growing knowledge and motivational techniques, Heins launched The Mother Runners, a one-stop online shop for running tips and connection with other mothers who are runners. As it approaches its two-year anniversary, it has 1,000 people on its mailing list and a growing array of articles and services.
"Where can I find a running bra that supports my new postpartum chest? How can I keep up my training when my toddler is sick and no one is sleeping?” says one section of the site that sums up its intentions. “What’s the best way to do speed work but still have my phone with me? How in the heck am I gonna find the time or energy to run?"
"I want to help moms continue to chase their goals and stay healthy. The common thread through all mother runners is that running benefits not only them but the whole family."
Heins, a freelance writer and former public relations employee for the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, has posted articles on topics ranging from running while pregnant and postpartum to “how to get your running motivation back” and “11 strategies to bust barriers to exercise.”
“The emails I get are so touching,” Heins says. “I hear stories from women who have had miscarriages or who lost a child and run to help with anxiety. A lot of women say they got into running because they wanted to lose the baby weight but then realize that running offers so much more than simply a weight-loss exercise. There are so many stories about how kids become their mom’s greatest cheerleaders to support their runs.”
Recently, Heins and a partner have also launched coaching services for new and experienced runners alike.
“I want to help moms continue to chase their goals and stay healthy. The common thread through all mother runners is that running benefits not only them but the whole family. If a mom is happy, everyone else will be, too,” Heins says. “Moms who get involved in athletics instill healthy habits in their kids, not just the physical aspect but the idea of showing your kids what it’s like to work hard toward a goal. It’s a ripple effect for families.”