Moms on the Run run for their lives

Like a pride of gazelles the women run – the wind in their hair, their steps light and free, their thoughts a simple song of celebration.

Kristen Genet and Stephanie VanHeel are Moms on the Run who sometimes bring their children along for the run. Photo courtesy of Stephanie VanHeel
Kristen Genet and Stephanie VanHeel are Moms on the Run who sometimes bring their children along for the run. Photo courtesy of Stephanie VanHeel

They may not be as nimble and fast as the slender antelopes, but these women run with abandon and celebrate each carefree step along the way, no matter the speed or the distance.

The women are members of Moms on the Run, a running group that’s all about fitness, fun and friendship.

With chapters in Blaine, Coon Rapids, Andover and 11 other Minnesota locations plus one in Wisconsin, Moms on the Run (MOTR) brings a new kind of fitness opportunity to women of all ages and abilities.

“For many women, this is a huge leap of faith. They do not see themselves as athletes or maybe they used to be athletes, but they gained a lot of weight with their pregnancies or while taking care of others or they just haven’t stayed active and don’t know where to start,” said MOTR member DeNae vanWestrienen. “They’re not alone in their worries, but they’re also not alone in their dreams.”

No, MOTR isn’t an elite team of long distance runners or Olympic-class sprinters. These moms aren’t running to break records, but rather to break the chaos of family schedules, work commitments and household chores.

And they’re not all moms, either. They’re just a group of women eager to discover or maintain fitness, maybe lose some weight and find some new friends along the way.

When Karissa Johnson started MOTR in Forest Lake back in 2008, she had just had three kids in four years and wanted to keep fitness a part of her life.

And so, Johnson, who has a bachelor’s degree in exercise science and holds multiple fitness certifications, started a MOTR group in Forest Lake.

“It has been incredibly rewarding to help so many other women in this stage of life get back into shape, make lifelong friends and workout buddies and achieve feelings of accomplishment from their success,” Johnson states on her MOTR website (

But MOTR isn’t just for moms any more.

“There is such an important social aspect to Moms on the Run,” said Kristen Genet, 10-mile and half-marathon training coach and MOTR member.

Fellow MOTR runner vanWestrienen piped right in.

“Running bonds you so quickly. It’s a bond – a friendship – like no other,” vanWestrienen said.

And those friendships are formed between college students, new moms, middle aged women, grandmothers, and more – all Moms on the Run.

Another runner, Stephanie VanHeel, who coaches the Coon Rapids/Andover MOTR group, expressed her desire to help women learn to love the run.

“Our tag line is ‘fitness, fun and friendship’ and it’s just really encouraging to see women come together and find a social aspect with fitness,” she said.

“And to find support to work toward your goals,” Genet said.

VanWestrienen has seen women discover the relief and delight of running with MOTR.

“Many (women) are scared and worried about starting and think they are the only ones feeling self-conscious and uncertain about taking this big risk,” vanWestrienen said. “But it’s a great support network – and don’t forget about the fun.”

VanWestrienen’s MOTR group would be meeting for pedicures and drinks after one of their runs, she said.

Like many worthy endeavors, running with MOTR comes at a cost, but as Johnson says, “from a class member’s perspective, the fee provides motivation, accountability, a shirt, a structured, guided exercise program and fun.”

From a business perspective, the MOTR class fee covers the instruction, organization and administration of the program, including overhead expenses such as legal fees, instructor wages, insurance, web maintenance, marketing, T-shirts, etc.

An April-August season membership costs around $220 and members meet at designated running locations two or three times each week. Extra classes are offered to those moms with specific training goals or needs.

To learn more about Moms on the Run, visit or find them on Facebook.

To learn more about starting your own MOTR franchise, contact VanHeel at [email protected].

Sue Austreng is at [email protected]