By Katie Macaulay ~ first appeared as an article in Tumbleweeds Spring 2018 Issue
Ever since I discovered the magic of morning fitness outside in the mountains, my life has changed.
I call it “Emerging From the Fog of Early Motherhood,” and you might be familiar with some of the symptoms:
• No time for self-care (always taking care of others needs first)
• No time for exercise (or a haphazard attempt)
• No time for connecting with other moms (without kids hanging off your leg)
• Feeling constantly frazzled and exhausted (even slightly depressed)
If you are familiar with one or more of these symptoms, you may be experiencing The Fog. My experience with The Fog and my emergence from it is the reason I am starting a new program called Mountain Mamas!
Before the Fog lifted for me, I experienced all of these symptoms. I was out of shape and did not feel good in my body after having two kids. Getting outside for a 10-minute walk felt like a huge achievement. My inertia was like that of a newborn, and my speed was only that required for chasing a toddler or teaching a 5-year-old to ride a bike. I likely experienced some mild, undiagnosed depression during those early years of the Fog.
As the kids got older, I found another symptom of the Fog was a lack of clarity. When my daughter started kindergarten I was disoriented. I spent the first few weeks of her kindergarten year in a daze, as if always walking from room to room to get something and forgetting what I was looking for. Where would I focus my energy now that both kids were in school? I had so many dreams of this time of newfound freedom, yet I was experiencing the lack-of-clarity Fog.
In the Fog, I also had the latent desire to get out into the mountains and exercise but did not know where to start. I envied the moms who “had the time” or the previous experience to run trails or skin up the mountain on a powder day. I had not done much of either, and with small children it certainly did not seem like the time to start.
Luckily, I found an antidote. It started with a group of other moms who were rising before dawn to run mountain trails and return home before kids were awake. Really? I had no idea that this was even an option. This sounded terrifying and impossible, yet intriguing (and only possible because my husband could stay at home with children).
Could I really get up that early? (I had never, ever been a morning person.) Could I really commit to regular exercise? (I had never had a regular exercise routine before.) Would my family accept this new behavior and roll with it? And would these mountain mamas really accept me, an out-of-shape, non-runner, into their group?
Despite my lack of experience, lack of confidence and lifetime subscription to the Non-Morning Person Club, I was desperate for change, so I gave it a try.
It didn’t take long for me to become addicted to this taste of me-time. My own objections were quickly overcome; my body clock adjusted to the new time frame. Going to bed early and rising before the sun felt like a gift to myself. Regular exercise made me feel like a whole new person, as I shed the extra pounds that had been weighing me down, mentally and physically. Plus I was feeling so good from exercise-induced endorphins that I was able to deal more constructively with many of my family’s expressions of discontent. I could pacify, and problem-solve, and not for a minute consider giving up my morning routine. Lastly, the other moms accepted me. They weren’t as hardcore as I had feared and I made new lifelong friends and a new lifelong habit of exercise.
The runs themselves were surprisingly energizing, and the early morning experience was surprisingly sublime for an anti-morning person. The quiet in our dark house was like a well-kept secret — just me, alone with my thoughts, uninterrupted. Pure heaven! Driving to the trailhead listening to the morning news made me feel like an intelligent grown-up again, a return to my formerly more informed self. (I had stopped listening to the news when my young son asked me what a death squad was.) Breathing in the fresh mountain air, witnessing spectacular sunrises and getting stronger each day felt like a spa treatment; glowing with endorphins I happily got the kids ready for school upon my return from the mountain trails. But really, the best part was connecting with the other mamas, sharing the joys and challenges of motherhood on the trail. The Fog lifted a little more with each early morning rise. I had newfound camaraderie, fitness and confidence.
As a bonus to all these other positives, my dog loved the new routine. She was getting more and better exercise than she ever had. My new motto became: “If Coover is happy, I am happy.”
After a while, we started training for and doing longer runs. I was amazed when I finished my first half-marathon. With a friend organizing a group run, I began to train for the Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim — something I hadn’t dreamed possible barely a year earlier. My new feelings of well-being spilled over into all areas of my life. Not to mention that running the Grand Canyon itself was one of the most awe-inspiring experiences of my life. (It was really a run/hike at more than 90 degrees in the bottom of the canyon.)
The next marathon for me, however, will be the realization of my long-held dream to share this idea — Mountain Mamas — with other women. I know there must be other mamas experiencing the Fog who could benefit from regular exercise and mama connection. Mamas who would like to:
• Get regular exercise in nature (through hikes, runs or bike rides)
• Connect with other women, sharing the joys and trials of motherhood
• Gain more clarity and confidence in all areas of life.
Are as you afraid as I was? Fear not! You do not have to be a hard-core early morning runner to participate. Mountain Mamas will offer hikes and mountain bike rides (after kid drop-off), in addition to early morning runs. All will be suitable for beginners and experienced athletes alike. With time, we will offer gourmet backpacking trips, photography and art workshops, creativity and clarity circles, and more.
The theme of Mountain Mamas will be connecting with nature and with each other, lifting each other up and getting clear. As women, we know how to encourage and support one another. Together we will hit the trail and climb mountains to find our own personal summit.
To learn more about becoming a Mountain Mama, look under Programs or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Katie Macaulay is the founder and director of Mountain Kids!, a year-round outdoor adventure and education program, now entering its 10th year.