Mom Guilt: Exploring the Experiences of Being a Mother and Training for and Running Marathons I: Lit Review and Methodology

Mom Guilt: Exploring the Experiences of Being a Mother and Training for and Running Marathons I: Lit Review and Methodology


Although the reality of mothers who are elite athletes has been investigated (e.g., Appleby & Fisher, 2009; Belforth, 2013), little is known about the experiences of mothers who are not elite athletes and are marathon runners. The proposed research intends to explore the experiences of mothers who train for and run marathons. The researcher aimed to better understand mothers’ experiences through a constructivist epistemology (Kumar, 2006). The research was experientially based on participants’ experiences (Guba & Lincoln, 1994). The current research explored the participants’ experiences to build on the understanding of mothers’ experiences of training and competing in a marathon event. Experiences were gathered from participants, and themes were captured and amalgamated. By gathering the experiences of mothers who trained for and ran in a marathon, it was possible to gain further understanding of the needs and strategies of, and barriers experienced by, mothers who run. Understanding the experiences of mothers who run is important in continuing to improve on their experiences. In the future, results may inform strategies for marathon training and racing.


A phenomenological approach was used to gather participants’ experiences from a first- person perspective (Matua & Van Der Wal, 2015; Nesti, & Crust, 2006). Phenomenology can help gather important types of information because it allows for participants to share their experiences, while “capturing rich, detailed descriptions of experience” (Nesti & Crust, 2006, p. 9). Using this approach, the current research explored mothers’ experiences of training and racing for a marathon event, and the role of early motherhood throughout these processes.

Phenomenology has two important and distinct perspectives: descriptive and interpretive (Matua & Van Der Wal, 2015). The descriptive approach is the investigation of individual experiences that are not well understood (Matua & Van Der Wal, 2015). To shed light on the poorly understood experience, the descriptive perspective attempts to focus on real, in-depth experience in its purest sense (O’Halloran et al., 2016; Matua & Van Der Wal, 2015; Van Der Zalm & Bergum, 2000). As limited work has been done in the aforementioned research area, using a descriptive approach aligns with this research. Interpretive phenomenology is used to investigate the circumstantial aspects of an experience, including one’s social influences or well- being (Matua & Van Der Wal, 2015). Thus, the interpretive approach is important to the current study because of the focus on mothers and their experiences training and racing in a marathon event, rather than just the meaning of their experiences (Matua & Van Der Wal, 2015; O’Halloran et al., 2016). The circumstantial aspects that come into play within this phenomenon, mothers who run, may involve social influences on training. Moreover, running may influence one’s mental health and well-being, whether positively or negatively. Using these two phenomenological approaches allows for an in-depth view and understanding of the participants’ individual experiences (Flood, 2010).


To be eligible for this study, participants had to: (a) be a mother to at least one child under 8 years of age, (b) be training for a marathon event during the participant recruitment stage, (c) be registered for a marathon event that was scheduled between August 2017 and May 2018, and (d) read and speak English. Purposeful sampling was used to recruit participants. As the sample population for this study had specific characteristics (Higginbottom, 2004, O’Halloran et al., 2016), the researcher was intentional in her recruitment strategies. Specifically, the purposeful sampling method was used because the research required participants who have personal experience in being a mother and training and racing in a marathon event (O’Halloran et al., 2016). Purposeful sampling offered the opportunity to seek specific participants who have experience in a specific area of interest (Palinkas et al., 2015).

Participant recruitment and purposeful sampling was done through a retail store where the population of interest often congregated to train. This allowed for a convenient meeting location for participants that minimized barriers to participation in the study. A secondary strategy that was used to recruit participants was social media, specifically Facebook. After gaining permission from three closed Facebook groups that targeted women and mothers involved in running in the Greater Toronto Area, recruitment texts were posted to the Facebook groups. Seventeen participants were interested in participating in the study, but only eight were eligible as per the aforementioned criteria. Others were not included for various reasons, including that they were not signed up for an event within the participant gathering time frame, or were participating in an event outside of the data collection window; that they had children that were older than eight years old; that they discontinued communication with the researcher prior to initial interview set-up; or that they did not reside in Ontario.

Of the 17 that were interested, eight female mothers were eligible for the study. Each participant identified as both female and a mother, and all ranged from 31 to 43 years of age (Mage = 36.75; SD = 3.32). Participants had children from 7 months to 8 years old (Mage = 5.12). Three of the participants had one child and five participants had two children. Participants trained and participated in a half marathon (n = 4), a full marathon (n = 3), and an ultra-marathon (n = 1). All participants self-identified as being in heterosexual relationships and were married.

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