That Next-Level Happy Run

“How’s your running going?”

I knew that question was coming. It’s one Matt, my Ramblings on the Run with Ali & Matt co-host, and I ask each other to start every episode.

Last month, I was giddy in my response. It was only January, and I’d already completed my one running goal for the year: running a sub-6:00 mile during the mile benchmark challenge at Orangetheory. I’d done it. I pushed hard to make it happen. I was thrilled, and I was proud to report back.

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5:55!!! My goal for the @orangetheory mile today was to go sub-6:00. I knew that with the treadmill lag, I’d have to go out at a pace that’s way faster than what I’m comfortable running — and would have to max out from there. So I did. I felt great for the first 90 seconds running at 10.2 mph, and then it felt hard. At the three-minute mark, I bumped it to 10.3, and at 4:30 I hit 11 mph. I squeaked in with five seconds to spare, and I am PUMPED! That was hard and I loved it! The whole time I was running, I kept repeating @gigrunewald’s words in my head: “It’s OK to struggle, but it’s not OK to give up.” I think about Gabe a lot. I don’t know why. I never met her in real life. But her legacy is so powerful. That’s why I’m teaming up with @lululemon and am hosting a private @otfedgewater class on Sunday, February 9, at 3 PM! It’s a $30 donation-based class, and every single cent we bring in that day is going to the @bravelikegabe Foundation. We have 39 spots up for grabs. Check out the link in my bio to sign up, and do it fast — I have a good feeling this is going to sell out ASAP. It’s going to be such a fun class. It doesn’t matter if you’re an OTF regular or you haven’t run since the timed mile in fifth grade. It’s for all levels. We’ll have a live DJ, post-class mimosas, and a bunch of awesome stuff to give away and raffle off. (Bring cash for the raffles!) And it’ll be coached by @iamem_fit, who helped get me to that 5:55 today! The goal is to have fun, have friendship, break a good sweat, and raise as much money as we can for Brave Like Gabe. If you can’t attend the class but would still like to make a contribution, you can do that at the link in my bio as well. Just select the “donation” option and contribute however much you’d like. Nothing too big or small. Grateful for it all. To everyone running the mile today, YOU GOT THIS!

A post shared by Ali Feller — Ali on the Run (@aliontherun1) on

But for some reason, the question caught me off guard this time.

“Uh, good question,” I think I stumbled, trying to remember the last time I’d actually gone for a run. Not an Orangetheory run. Not a rushed treadmill run. But an outdoor, feel-the-fresh-air-on-my-face, come-back-exhilarated type of run.

I love the treadmill. A treadmill run, in my opinion, is absolutely “a real run.” But running outside, finding my footing around New York City, getting lost and finding my way back, completing endless, never-boring loops of Central Park — that’s what made me fall in love with this sport.

But I’m a routine-driven person.

I’ve eaten the exact same breakfast for two years straight. Every morning, the same thing. And every morning for the better part of the past year, I’ve followed the same workout routine.

Alarm goes off at 4:25 AM.

Get up. Go to the bathroom. Brush my teeth. Get dressed. Out the door by 4:45. Drive to Orangetheory.

Then, from 5:15 to 6:11 AM, I’m working out, usually alongside 30–45 of the other 5:15 AM regulars. I love those workouts, that part of my day. There’s a reason I go almost every day. It’s fun, and I feel strong.


I’m back home by 6:21 AM. I take a speedy shower, throw on some sweatpants, check my emails, and am ready to start my day before Annie wakes up. Then it’s go time.

It’s a routine that I love, and it works for me.

But in mindlessly sticking to my group fitness class routine, I stopped running regularly.

And this weekend, I realized I really miss it.

Now for the rambling, writing-as-I-think, judgment-free, OK?, new-mom-thought part of this post…

There’s a guilt factor for me. I don’t feel guilty waking up early and getting my workout in during the week before anyone else in my family is asleep. But if I were to run outside during the week, I probably wouldn’t get out quite so early. I don’t feel super comfortable running outside before 5 AM. And I need to be back by the time Annie is up because Brian needs to get ready and get to work. (Our nanny comes at 8 AM, and that’s when I start working.) On the weekends, I don’t want to wake up at 4 AM! I’m tired! But I also don’t want to run when we’re all spending time together. It feels — and I would convince any friend who said this to me not to feel this way, but here we are — selfish. I feel guilty. If I do go for a run, I time it for during Annie’s morning nap, but I feel stressed and rushed, like I have to just do a quick run so I still have time to get home and shower and be ready to go before she wakes up.

Best part of my day!

If I told Brian I was going to go for a run in Central Park and would be gone from, let’s say, 7–9 AM, on the weekend, I’m guessing he would say, “OK, have fun.” He’s not a high-drama person. And he loves every second he gets to spend with Annie. So it’s not like Brian is saying I “have” to be home. It is, I think, just an internal, self-imposed thing.

Lately, I’ve been craving long runs. The kind of runs I could go on before I became a mom. When it didn’t matter what time I got up or got started, because I had few other responsibilities or time commitments. I did what I wanted. I had all the freedom in the world, perhaps without even realizing just how free I was.

Now, I have decidedly less freedom. It’s a beautiful life, but it’s an adjustment, as I’m sure any new (or seasoned!) parent will agree.

I want to train for a half marathon. But am I willing and able to commit to that? I’m not sure.

I think about doing long runs in Central Park on the weekends, running with friends, and that thought alone energizes me. But I think about telling my family I’ll be off running for a few hours — to wake up, get out the door, do my run, get home, and shower — and that feels selfish. It feels like a lot to ask. I’m still in this mode of feeling like I need to do everything for everyone, and I can do things for myself when everyone else is asleep. (Do I sound crazy? Or relatable?)

This weekend, my parents were visiting, and so I pushed my guilt aside, let them hang with Annie (which is all they really want anyway!), and headed to Central Park on the 8:20 AM ferry. I was running in my favorite place in the world by 8:40.

By 8:42, I saw and hugged a friend.

OMGGGG it’s Olympic Trials Qualifier Jenny Donnelly! (Come hang out with both of us at Friday’s live show in Atlanta!)

By 8:49, two more friends.

By the time I sprinted to try and catch the 10:10 ferry back to New Jersey, I’d seen dozens of friends. Hundreds of happy people. Lots and lots of dogs.

LOL these splits. All over the place, which means I had FUN. 2.5 miles solo. The next handful with my friend, Laura, who is training for the NYC Half as her first postpartum half marathon (!!!), and my friend Amanda, who jumped in with us for a bit. And then the final miles dashing for the West Side Highway, thinking I’d make the 10:30 boat, but then doing some rough math and realizing I could maybe make the 10:10. And I did. I made it with about 10 seconds to spare. And almost vomited. Speedwork!

I ended up running 8.5 miles that day and felt amazing, energized, and positively giddy every step of the way.

I couldn’t believe I’d run 8.5 miles — my longest run in as long as I can remember.

I couldn’t believe I’d run so joyfully, without even thinking about my stomach. Without feeling rushed. Without feeling stressed.

Without feeling guilty.

I practically skipped home. I felt a runner’s high I hadn’t felt in months.

A high that couldn’t quite compare to that 5:55 mile. It was a totally different feeling.

I thought about that run all weekend. I’m dying to do it again. Maybe even regularly.

Laura, this is not our best photo. But WE HAD SO MUCH FUN!

I don’t expect to find “balance” in work, family, and play. I don’t believe it exists, and I don’t strive for it. I go all-in on what feels most important at the time. For the past few years, running and racing haven’t felt important to me. Being a mom feels important. My work feels important. And I’m starting to feel the itch to make running important, too.

I don’t know why I feel guilt for doing anything in life that isn’t either working or mothering. I try to tell myself things I would tell a friend who might be feeling that way (“that’s crazy! don’t feel that way! is my advice helping you?!”), but so far, it hasn’t worked!

So! I don’t know if I should prioritize my running hobby right now. I already feel like I have a selfish, privileged career — I get to work for myself for half the day and spend the second half of the day with my daughter. On the weekends, with the exception of an hour-long 6 AM workout, I’m all in on family time. I’m lucky and grateful for this life. That is never ever lost on me.

I don’t have the answers right now. I take one day at a time. Maybe I commit to one Saturday per month where I spend Saturday morning in the park, and I get some quality Ali on the Run in Central Park time! (I tend to feel less guilty for things that I plan in advance!)

What I do know: My Saturday run in Central Park was the happiest I’ve felt in forever. And I’m a happy person! I’m very happy every day! But this…this was next level happy.

So here’s to chasing the next next-level happy moments on the run, whenever I can fit them in.



13 Responses

  1. The guilt Is real, and I know it’s silly to give advice as you already clearly know that the guilt is self imposed but here we go anyway lol. Brian and Annie want a happy mama! Nothing would be better for them than you taking care of yourself and prioritizing your health and happiness. But it also has to feel good for you and not guilty otherwise that’s counter productive. I hope you find a way to get out on the run AND not feel guilty about it! Maybe with the spring weather coming it will make it a little easier!

  2. I totally feel the parent guilt. Would you feel less guilty if you worked while everyone was asleep and ‘banked’ that time for a run during the day after the nanny arrives? Total time spent exercising and working would be the same but you’d be able to get out for a run in the daylight!

  3. I don’t have kids. I was an au pair in Paris, and I still remember the mother mentioning that on Saturdays they would bring their two kids and dog to the park. One parent would run while the other stayed behind, then they’d switch. The kids would take their scooter or bike and play on those. I was so impressed by the simplicity and genius of that practice! Not sure if that would work for your family, but having Annie see you and Brian exercise wouldn’t be a bad thing. You’ll figure it out, and thank you for sharing so much of your life with us.

  4. I have a 6month old and work full time, so I totally get the struggle of finding balance with running and family time. it’s hard,but so worth it. When the weather permits you can turn long runs into a family event. Brian can get a bike trailer for Annie and join you!

  5. Adding to the chorus of people saying that you definitely should not feel guilty for taking a few hours to run, especially if it brings you this much joy. However, it seems like you know you shouldn’t feel guilty, you just need to get better at it. So practice. Fake it till you make it. Ask for some help- tell you husband you need him to help push you out the door or ask a friend to text you that morning. I think the more you do it, and see that everyone is fine- great even- the easier it will get. Especially if you are feeing healthy right now. But also know that whatever you decide works for you and your family is what you should do!

  6. First off I feel exactly the same as you and you’ll find me working out mostly in the mornings when my whole family is also asleep! But with that being said….plan some time for you! I agree that it makes me feel less guilty and more free when I’ve planned things in advance! And if your daughter and husband are anything like my daughter and husband I’m sure they have an awesome time together when you’re away! And I find that it’s important for my 19 month old and my husband to have some time and activities that are just for them too!
    But I think you’re doing an awesome job as a mom and a wife 🙂
    There are seasons of life for everything and even if you don’t run outside at Central Park every Saturday but pick 2 a month or whatever feels manageable—-that’s still great!
    I love following your story as a runner, a mom, a working mom, and a wife 🙂

    Thanks for always sharing with us!

  7. My husband tells me that he needs me to get out so that he gets the alone time with our baby daughter that I get during the week. It’s important to help them build their relationship, too!

  8. Just my 2 cents…
    it’s important for Brian and Annie to have their time together to build their relationship
    AND more importantly, doing things that make you feel good make you a better mom and partner 🙂

  9. Well, I think your comment right there about this making you next-level happy is all you need to know! And yes, I do want to tell you not to feel guilty and it is not at all selfish and all those things, but I totally get that and have been there myself. I would encourage you though to think about your future running goals and also about being an example for Annie. At this point, she doesn’t know that Mommy likes to exercise because she never sees you do it (or leave to do it). I work out before my daughter is up each day too, but on Saturdays she has always seen my husband and I take turns going on long runs. If it is a rainy Saturday, I take her to Burn Bootcamp with me and she plays in the childcare room (which she loves!). She’s been asking questions about it since she was 2, which has given me lots of opportunity to talk to her about how exercise keeps us healthy and makes us happy, etc. Also, over the past year I’ve increased the amount of racing I’m doing, and now at age 4 she knows that our Saturday routine is Mommy goes to run and then Mommy takes her to do fun stuff the rest of the day. She doesn’t even question it because it’s all she has known. I think if I just decided to start this when she was this age, it would be met with a lot of fussing and I would ultimately decide it wasn’t worth it. Anyway, just wanted to share my experience if it helps at all! I know you will figure out what is best for you and your family! XO

    1. Hi Ali! As a mom of two young boys i get the conflicted feelings! But you could look at your weekend runs as a chance to give Brian and Annie some one on one time to develop their relationship. It seems like you get time alone with her during the week (correct me if I’m wrong!) so giving her a chance to just be with Brian would be a great opportunity for you to go get your long run in! Hope this helps and don’t worry, you’ll figure out something that works for you!

  10. I’m right there with you. Luckily (?), I’m not really craving truly long runs anymore—I get too tired and then the rest of the day of parenting is too hard—but I’d like to go for 45-60 minutes on the weekend, and even that (plus getting ready time, plus shower time) feels “selfish,” even though I know that’s ridiculous. I might suggest that my husband and I each have one weekend morning where we have a few hours to do what we want on our own, so it feels a little more equitable. (And maybe that will encourage him to actually train for the spring half he signed up for…)

  11. Make Saturday running a thing- weather is getting so nice too! Annie is older now and a couple of hours to yourself on a Saturday is good for both of you! I bet you made everyone’s day that saw you in the park.
    So happy to hear that you had a great run – we are lucky to be able to do it.

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about ali

I’m the creator of the Ali on the Run blog and the host of the Ali on the Run Show podcast. I’m also a freelance writer and editor, a race announcer, a runner and marathoner, a mom, and a huge fan of Peanut M&Ms, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (way better than the first one!), and reliving my glory days as a competition dancer in the early 2000s. I’m really happy you’re here.
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