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Parenting and Running: Finding the Balance

CIMG6099Every once in awhile you read something that hits you at a deep emotional level. I had that experience just now reading this article by Katie Arnold on Outside Online. In the article, Arnold writes about the relationship between being a parent and running ultras, and she is both candid and honest in sharing her thoughts. It’s a beautifully written piece.

The article hit me hard because I have been struggling a bit lately with the tension between running, parenting, and work. I think this tension in part prompted the little breakdown I wrote about the other day. I love my family. I love my kids. I love running, and I love blogging. But sometimes it seems like there isn’t enough time in each day to attend to each of these parts of my life to their fullest.

My stress level lately has been heightened by the fact that I’m leaving on Sunday for a two-week trip to Vermont. I’ll be coaching and presenting at the running camps in Craftsbury, and it’s a job I love. But the hard part is being away from my wife and kids. I love traveling, but I love sharing experiences with them more than when I do it solo. It’s only two weeks, and I’ll be home for a few days in the middle to see my son act in a drama production, but it’s still hard to be away.

When I was reading Arnold’s article, I could very much identify with this passage:

“As I trained for the Angel Fire 100K—my longest distance yet—my worlds diverged even more. Longer training runs, more miles, more time away. Despite my focus, or because of it, my running was suffering. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was running through their childhoods, missing out on the best of it. By separating the two so diligently, I’d given myself so much time and space to think about running that I was overthinking it. The more I fretted about nutrition and cross-training and obsessed over nagging injuries that were little more than normal wear and tear, the more distracted and impatient I was at home. I never wanted our family to be defined by my running, but that’s exactly what was happening. My good intentions were backfiring.”

I’m currently training to run the Vermont 50K. Training has been going well, but this summer has been a challenge. During the school year I typically run in the afternoon while the kids are at school, so there is minimal overlap between my training and time that could be spent with them. But even there time running took away from time I could be working, so I’d often end up working a bit in the evenings (aka, family time).

The challenge with summer is that my kids are home, and I now work mostly from home (I spend a day or two per week in the clinic if I have gait clients). It has been a bit of struggle to work consistently during the day with three kids running around the house, even though my wife does her best to attend to their needs and keep them occupied (but when a 4-year old has to poop, he has to poop, and if mom’s working in the garden I have to pitch in!).

Trying to fit in runs this summer has been challenging (and disruptive to family life). Last year summer chaos led to me backing out of the Vermont 50K due to poor training, but I‘m committed this time around. I knew something had to change if I was going to make this work.

My wife has been pushing me for a long time to start getting up earlier and either running or working in the early morning. I’m not a morning person (she is), so I’ve always resisted this, but it seemed like the best solution. I’ve now been doing the morning thing for a bit over a week, and it has helped a lot. For example, I got up at 5:30 this morning, had coffee and a protein shake while I did some blog housekeeping, and was out the door by 7:30 for a 15 mile run. Last week I got out for my long run at 6:30AM.  

Other strategies I have tried to adopt to balance my running with family time are to do my long run during the week instead of on the weekend, and using a weekend day as a dedicated off day. I’ve also learned that sometimes you need to seize opportunities to have fun and not let your training schedule dictate your life.

Yesterday, for example, we had planned to take the kids to Lost River Gorge up in the White Mountains. My wife asked me if I wanted to stay home and get some things done, but I wasn’t going to miss a day of fun with the kids. So despite my stress of trying to get everything taken care of for my trip, I went to Lost River and had a blast. It took my mind off everything for half a day. I got to spend some quality time crawling around through caves with my gang. I may not hit my planned mileage this week, and I may fall a bit behind with email responses, but I will remember the trip with the family far more than anything I would have done had I stayed home.

As I finished Arnold’s article I found new resolve to stick with the morning runs. Yes, running is a time for me, but it shouldn’t take time away from them. And I’d love to try and get the family to come up to VT for the race. It would mean the world to me to have them there. I love these guys, and I need to do a better job of putting them first at all times.

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About Peter Larson

This post was authored by Peter Larson. Pete is a recovering academic who currently works as an exercise physiologist, running coach, and writer. He's also a father of three and a fanatical runner with a bit of a shoe obsession. In addition to writing and editing this site, he is co-author of the book Tread Lightly, and writes a personal blog called The Blogologist. Follow Pete on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and via email.

Comments

  1. Brad Patterson says:

    Great post, Pete, thanks for sharing. I have had the same struggles this summer as I train for my first 50K; finding the balance. I have been able to get up early and do my runs, but sometimes find that I am so tired later in the day/evening that it takes away from time with my 3 kids. And my Saturday morning long runs have really made me start question it, as I end consuming just about the entire AM on Saturday by the time I drive to the trail, do my run, drive home, shower & eat. Good luck in your training, and as you seek to find that perfect balance. I’m right there with you.

  2. I’m just an academic mom of one toddler, but I wonder if it might help you to work at a coffee shop or local library. I find I’m not productive when I’m home, because even with my husband minding the kiddo I have only half my brain on my work. For me, at least, multitasking is a huge stressor; focus is calming.

    As to rest of it, between the heat and the kid, runs happen at 6AM for me or they don’t happen. I’m also training for just a half. I’m a beginner, so that’s smart anyway, but I honestly don’t think I could find the time to train for a full marathon safely with a kid and a fulltime job without sacrificing more than I’d like.

    Lovely post.

    • I actually do the coffee shop a lot during the school year, and sometimes I’ll hang out at the clinic and write even if I don’t have clients. I think I’d go crazy if I worked 100% at home, and it is a lot easier to focus when you aren’t constantly being interrupted.

      You’re right about the balance of running longer, it becomes more challenging to fit everything in and devote appropriate time. I don’t really know that running much over 40-50 miles per week will ever be logical for me, nor would I necessarily enjoy that much running. Even for marathons I’ve been a pretty low mileage runner.

  3. Great post Pete, and you have a nice looking family! I think you have begun to do the right things-shifting your long run, getting up eariler, which used to be hard for me, but like any other routine you can adjust after 1-2 months. May I suggest afternoon naps if the time presents itself? I think Winston Church Hill was a napper. Also, I would cap the ultras at 50k or even less, until the kids grow up, since you are not a professional runner. You could look at it as a base building phase, then as they get older and their friends become “like everything”, you will have more time to hit the longer stuff if you want to, or they could become Dads “pit crew” if they wanted to, or maybe they will become runners and want to race too! Best of luck with the balance. “To those who much is given, much is required”. Just a quote I heard somewhere. I think this means you are going to be tired. :)

    • Yeah, I don’t foresee any hundred miles in my near future, and I totally get the non-professional runner thing :) I do have to run to be able to write this blog, but I don’t have to win races.

      Naps would be very nice, but better suited to the school year I think or I’d have a bunch of little monkeys jumping on me as I try to sleep!

      • I did not mean that you are not a good runner, just that you don’t have to win races to make a living, which is a good thing-you can do what you love without the pressure to win. Elite runners are one injury away from being a non-elite..Yeah naps only work if Mom is watching them for a while! Thanks for the Blog and the work you do Pete! You’re the man! :)

  4. Nicely said Pete. I too struggle with trying to find time between working fulltime, family and marathon training, which is new to me. I feel like I am leaving the family waiting on me all the time as I’m going out the door after work to run. I hate morning running, but now that I’m up to 17 miles, I have to get out the door by 5am or it gets too hot. Being a slower runner, it sucks the life out of me if it gets above 70*, as I am out in it a lot longer than most runners are. Thus I relish my 4 hour naps afterwards, to try and recupe. Glad you took the day to go with Erin and kids to cave explore. Those memories will always stay with you.. the paperwork and blogging wont. You did the right thing. :)

  5. Erin Wade says:

    Hi Peter,

    As a single parent to three with a full time job and a one hour commute one way five days week, finding time to fit it all is very much a challenge to me. I do the early morning thing. I am up at 4:00 AM and training by 4:30 on weekdays and by 6:00 AM on weekends. I’m in bed by 9:00 PM. It’s the only way to make it all work and fit it all in, but it’s really important to me to have my evenings and weekend afternoons with the kids. When I get home from work at 6:00 PM, that’s it. No more work, no running. Just family time – dinner, homework, some TV.

    It works for me and my family. :-)

    • I’ve struggled with the work schedule since I no longer have set hours like when I was working at the College. One of my goals is to really work on getting a schedule together so that work time and family time don’t encroach on each other as much as they do right now. Glad you have found a routine that works!

  6. Refreshing post, Pete. The running blogosphere is crowded with people who give this perception of balance with running, family, and blogging. I call BS on most of it. Lack of transparency will eventually catch up to them.

    It’s tough to balance fitness in a busy life with work and family. There are always periods of insanity but eventually evens out over time.

    Good luck with your training!

  7. leeapeea says:

    I’ve always seen a good amount of families at the VT 50 (and the VT 100). Kids of all ages playing at the aid stations or hanging out at the start/finish where there’s lots of room to play, eat, nap, what have you. I think it’s great when kids get incorporated into their parent’s activities. It models the work/life/family balance (and the struggles with finding it) that they will need as they become adults and perhaps parents too.
    Good luck, with both the balance finding and the race!

  8. great post, and thanks for being so open about this – I’m working through a similar set of issues, especially as my 3 get older. I have mostly run in the evening at around 7 when they were settled, but my 9yo is less keen on going to bed that early now!

    During training for my last 24h run, I would be up and running by 4:45/5am and do a 30 miler, get back for 9:30, have a bit more food, and then pitch in for a full day of being a family – hard work!

  9. Michael says:

    Running a lot can be a drag. The actual runs take time away from your family. And on race days, you have to sometimes sit around at the end and wait for awards. Then when you get home, you have to check the website looking for your time, and where everyone placed. Then you have to sit around and kind of relive the race in your head, because it was so awesome. Then you crash, because you didn’t get any sleep the night before, so you have to take a nap. I love running, but when I was injured last month, I actually didn’t miss it very much. Luckily my kids are getting older and more independent, so they usually don’t really miss me being gone for an hour or so on a training run. Plus, I can usually fit runs in when they’re at school or camp or something. Still, running eats up a lot of time. I can’t imagine training for anything longer than 26 miles. Never gonna do it.

    • Michael says:

      And I sure as hell ain’t gonna start getting up at 4:30 to get my runs in. Insanity! I mean, that’s cool if you do that, but that’s not for me.

  10. Pete.. just the fact that you are posting this shows what an unselfish father and husband you are..no matter what it will all work out. Your wife and children are very blessed. I was so thankful to have met you and the gait analysis last week..you helped so very much..continue to put one foot in front of the other…keep being the dad and husband you are. Now just breathe!!

  11. I have worked from home for 13 years now, and having a family with three children means that school holidays can be a bit of challenge to get work done.

    W.r.t fitting in racing and training, I ran my first really long ultra at the end of June (the 95 mile West Highland Way Race) and did most of my training runs before lunch or just after getting up in the morning. The only really long runs I did in the six months before the race were a marathon and 53 mile ultra. The long runs I did in training were all in the 13 to 15 mile range, which is short even for marathon training. Most weeks I got in two of these runs though.

    My race went really well so despite relative short long runs was able to perform well. For a 50k race I’d not worry much at all about getting lots of really long runs in, half marathon distance would be fine.

    I think the key to making modest long runs work is avoiding a high carb diet and running fasted. The combination means that your body will be burning more fat throughout the whole day as well as your runs. It takes a little adaptation time to shift across from burning predominately carbs to predominately fats but once you have achieved it the stress on needing really long training runs is diminished.

    Getting up early is something I do naturally, but I’d caution about getting less sleep to do so. Sleep is enormously important to mental and physical health. So if you are going to get up earlier make sure you adjust the time you go to bed and get to sleep to compensate.

    Another way to manage the sleep would be to consider napping for 20 minutes after lunch. This would really help you feel fresh and give your brain some time to diffuse itself.

    • Thanks as always Robert, I actually re-read your comment on my post last year about dropping from the Vermont 50K. Always good advice, and you’re right, I think I could probably do the race and have fun on my current mileage with a max long run of around 15.

      • I’ve used the rule of thumb that if I can run a particular distance over a weeks training then I can run that same distance during a single race.

        So to run a marathon, running 26 miles in a week is sufficient, to run a 50K then running 31 miles in a week is fine.

        For my 95 mile race the most I managed in a week was 85 miles, this was the exception though, my average weekly mileage was around 50 miles/week during the six months running up to the race. The idea that you have to run big mileage, and big long runs to run ultra’s is just not supported by my own experience.

        They biggest stumbling block runners have with ultras is going out too fast and then suffering. If you go out nice and easy and eat and drink regularly, walk the hills they can be remarkably pleasant affairs.

  12. Always a challenge to find balance between the running, racing and the blogging about it all. I have to always be aware of where my husband is “at”. Marathon training and those 3 hour long runs are a lot. I do most of my training in the morning before 7am. It’s not the most fun, but after doing it for a couple years I’ve become a morning person. Thankfully he is working on his masters degree, so after the kids are in bed we are both clicking away at the computer getting work done.

    • I’ve always wanted to be a morning person, we’ll see! Challenge for me is now that my two older kids are interested in staying up later, I get night duty. Makes it tough!

  13. I completely share your sentiments about balancing life family and running. I just took 4 days off because of travel and family concerns and these tend to happen far more often then when I was single in college running for a team where my life was running. Now I have struggled to find that balance to even just return to the sport. I asked my wife the other day what she would feel if I came home fro. 9 hours at work then go spend 2/hours running daily like I used to and her jaw just dropped. Its hard.

  14. Thanks for a very important subject. I find myself in the dilemma quite often. But as I get “used” to it I feel that I have learned to choose my daughter and family.

    Best regards
    Bjarke

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