Meet! Martha Merrill Wills

Martha Merrill Wills and her five-year-old twins, Grace, left, and Sophie.
Martha Merrill Wills and her five-year-old twins, Grace, left, and Sophie.

Martha Merrill Wills of Raleigh started the "Running in Mommyland" blog to document her marathon training, but she found she had much more to talk about, especially after her twin daughters were born in 2007. Running and yoga are still prominent topics, but she also talks about books, kids, healthy eating (with some slips, which remind us she's human) and, unflinchingly, her divorce. As she shares her thoughts, she also invites readers to share theirs, making the blog more of a dialogue than a diary.

We asked Martha about her blog and her life as a mom in the Triangle.

Q. Tell us a little about yourself, and about your family.

A. I am an adopted child of the seventies, raised on the coasts of California and Maine. After graduating from college in San Francisco I moved to New York City to pursue a career in fashion, but ultimately left to help change the world by becoming a teacher.

In 2003, I moved to North Carolina after accepting a teaching position with Durham Public Schools, and one year later took a position at Brooks Museums Magnet Elementary in Wake County.

Brian and I met a month after I’d moved to the Triangle, and were married in 2005. After much struggling with infertility, we conceived our twins through IVF and my turkeys were born on Thanksgiving Day 2007.

I always knew I wanted to be a mom and gave up my teaching career to stay at home. I used to tell Brian that if I could handle 24 10-year-olds, I'd have no trouble managing two little girls. The truth is that teaching is a completely different job, not nearly as tough as parenting (nor as rewarding), and I can't send my daughters home on a bus at the end of a long day.

Q. When and why did you start "Running in Mommyland"?

A. I began Running in Mommyland in November of 2011 with the purpose of documenting the training of my very first marathon, Tobacco Road 2012. But as marathon training progressed, the blog took on a life of its own and turned into a labor of love. Over time, Mommyland became an outlet for creativity and self- assessment, a surprising place to make friends and a practical re-education in proper sentence structure, grammar and punctuation. Forming a whole new skill- set in the many areas of social media has been an added bonus. Now that my girls are getting closer to kindergarten and I'll be headed back to work, I can't imagine wanting to do anything else with my days.

Q. Physical activity -- both running and yoga -- are big subjects on your blog. Did you find it hard to stay active after becoming a mom to twins?

A. I always ran and did yoga before I had the babies, but never realized how much either form of exercise meant to me. Now that I have kids, there’s certainly more planning that goes into ensuring that I can get my exercise, but by putting it first on my list of priorities I'm usually able to get it done.

At 32 weeks pregnant (the final eight on bed rest), I was 210 pounds and desperate to move. As soon as I could get the babies in the jogger, I strapped them in and we were off.

After the girls were born I began back slowly, and planned my runs for when the girls would need a nap. Instead of my usual 30-minute jog through the neighborhood (pre-kids), I started running longer in order to keep the babies asleep. Soon, I was going farther and faster than ever. It was then that I decided to run a marathon.

When the girls were about a year old, I learned about a yoga studio in Raleigh called Evolve Movement (formerly on Bickett Boulevard, currently located in Cameron Village). Truthfully, I hadn’t been all that thrilled with the studios I’d visited since moving to the area, but at Evolve I found my wonderful teacher Jen Bluestone, with whom I still practice today. Through Evolve I've met many wonderful "river guides" and try hard to get to classes when I can in order to balance out the trauma that long distant running does to my body.

Q. What does physical activity do for you, personally, that makes you want to stick with it?

A. Being physical is a necessity in my life. I struggle with weight and food, and have trouble managing stress (without food). When I begin my day with exercise, it sets the stage to better balance the struggles of life as a busy mom. I've had a mantra for years that I stick with. It is, “You don’t have a choice.” It works for me, but thank goodness I value the benefits, otherwise why would anyone want to do it with that sort of motivation?

Q. Another topic you've explored on your blog is your divorce, which has got to be a painful thing to write about. Why did you decide to make that pain public, and how has it helped you (if it has) to write about it? Do you ever regret writing about it?

A. I have always believed that sharing the truth is important; people learn from shared experiences. Because of this, I never considered keeping my divorce a secret. I've received so many positive emails and personal stories from women going through (or having endured) their own divorces that I know I’ve made the right decision.

Divorce is a sticky subject, but there is nothing that I write about that I regret in any way. Even my trouble with bingeing and body image has been put up for discussion. I hope when my girls are old enough to read my work that they'll appreciate my honesty and acknowledge that despite the ordeal of divorce, I never made personal attacks against their dad.

Q. Most of your posts end with a question to your readers. Why did you decide to do that, and what kind of responses do you get?

A. Soon after the marathon I began asking questions of my readers, changing the format to make the blog less about me. I wanted my readers to know that I valued their experiences and opinions as much as my own, and it felt selfish to finish posts without including the people who’d taken the time to read through to the end. I’ve received some amazing comments and from people all across the globe. It’s made the blog much more inclusive.

Q. What's your favorite thing to do with your daughters in the Triangle?

A. There are so many great things to do with kids in the Triangle. We have made good use of Marbles Kids Museum, the merry-go-round at Pullen Park and recently had our fifth birthday party at Wild at Art children's studio. We're also big fans of North Regional Library and North Raleigh's playgrounds.

Q. What's your favorite thing around here to do when you get a few hours to yourself?

A. Other than heading out for a long run with a good audiobook (currently "The Kitchen House"), I love to watch Sunday night's DVR'ed shows from Showtime and HBO. My guilty pleasure is to take the kids to school and come back to a quiet house. Just me and the remote, "Homeland" and "Boardwalk Empire."

Q. What's the best parenting trick you've picked up?

A. I can tell you that when it comes to twins (whether they are yours or someone else’s), you should always buy two of the exact same thing! Exact color. Exact shape. Exact everything.

Q. What's the best advice someone has given you about being a mom?

A. The best advice that I've received recently (in regard to disciplining strong-willed five-year-olds) is that kids benefit from fewer words and less emotion. Basically, don't talk a lot about how they need to stop a behavior, while flailing around like a crazy person yourself. Set the consequence and do it without expressing anger or frustration. It's miraculous how quickly some of the recent temper tantrums have been thwarted.

Q. What's your least favorite part and most favorite part of mommyhood?

A. They're the same, depending how you look at.

As I write this I have one of the aforementioned "strong-willed five-year-olds" pulling on my leg to get up and help her locate a long ribbon (to use as a leash) for a toy dog. Mommyhood is an amazing place, but there is never a break. It's all mom, all the time!

Know a cool mom in the Triangle we should profile for our next "Meet" Q&A? Or are you a mom with a story to tell? Send us an email at (please put "Meet" in the subject line).