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Parenting and Running: Finding the Balance

Posted on July 19 2014

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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