Is it Possible To Run A Lot and Still be a Good Parent?
How do you manage to train and still be a good parent?
Every single person I know is busy and many of us have multiple things vying for our time at every waking moment. Being a parent and raising kids presents a unique kind of demand on our time. It’s not particularly difficult, it just requires every ounce of patience you have, and resignation to the fact that your life’s schedule is dictated by a tiny human being who is unable to fend for themselves. Until your kids get to high school, it’s generally not O.K. to abandon them for hours at a time.
Yet as runners, we know how absolutely critical it is to continue running for our own mental, emotional and physical health. It makes us better parents and all around nicer people.
On June 13, my wife and I welcomed twin girls into our family. Everything has gone better than we anticipated, even our three year old son seems to be easily adjusting to the new changes at home. I had planned to take some time off from any “real” running, but after two months, it feels like I will never get back to a place where I can train for a marathon, let alone a 5K PR.
Feeling slightly anxious, I emailed Charlie Loes and Jason Baker – two running buddies who are a few years ahead of me on this quest. I’ve summarize four most helpful tips they shared below. They offer great reminders that it is possible to run and train at a high level while still being a good parent.
4 Ways to Train and Not Ruin Your Family
- Partner Alignment – Both Jason and Charlie said that it’s imperative that your partner is in support of your running goals. Without this, it will be nearly impossible to accomplish what you want to do. Both said it was the centerpiece of everything, and Charlie added, “The reality is that there will be some give-and-take.”
- Find a Friend – Charlie and Jason are lucky they have each other. Charlie says, “There are so many times I probably would’ve hit snooze if I hadn’t committed to meeting Jason.” Jason added that, “It’s almost impossible to do this alone. [A friend] forces you to get out of bed. When you’re not commiserating on balancing life’s challenges, you’ll be solving the world’s problems during a 3 hour long run.”
- Bring the Kids Along – Jogging strollers are amazing, and without them, it would be nearly impossible for most of us with kids to run at all. That said, it’s hard to bring your child along for that 3 hour long run, speed work, or at 5 am, when the time for most runs happens.
- Get up Very, Very Early – “Stop complaining about it!” says Jason, “it’s better for your family and [after time] you will get used to it. It took me almost a year to adjust, but now I’ve been running at 5am on most days for 5 years.” Charlie added that you’ll obviously be tired at night, but aren’t all parents tired anyway?
Additionally, Jason has a theory around “marriage/family credits.” For every credit you use during a run, you replenish by doing something above and beyond for the family. “It’s important to think of this credit as qualitative, and not quantitative. The credit is also not equally transferable across all activities, and is most effective if you spend it shortly after you earn it (try to ’save’ it, and it may evaporate).” He stresses the idea of earning credit, and making life easier for the family in other ways.
“Maybe you become more present at other times. Maybe you hire a cleaning service, or get take-out one night a week. You may need to give up some happy hours or work events – running is now your social hour.”
Peak week during marathon training, he adds, is an obvious, predictable time when you’re going to go into a large credit debt. Plan for it, but know there’s often no way around it.
How Others Do It
I posted this question on Facebook and Twitter last week, and got some interesting responses. For the most part, parents get in their necessary miles by getting up crazy early. Also inspiring to hear how running can become a family activity.
Natasha Werner has “a 4:30 a.m. wake up call! Bedtime by 10:30 p.m., 10 p.m. when in peak training.”
Katie Vigness says, “[I wake up at] 4:44 a.m. on the dot. Bed by 8:45 p.m. (really hard in the summer!).”
Josefina Landrieu says “Running is one way I care for myself; caring for myself helps me care for others. I’m a better mom because I run, it makes me happy, and I can model healthy behaviors to my kids!”
Jill Campbell says, “I run early, run on my lunch break, run at night, and with my little one in a jogging stroller. I totally agree with the modeling healthy behavior. My toddler loves to run like mommy.”
MJ Hanninen replied “Early morning and late night runs. I work full time plus, raise 3 kids and coach their sports, and do house chores, so my running time is at the extreme hours.”
Scott Carlson is a single dad, and has run all of his son’s life. “I had to get creative with the schedule. We run together now and are training for a 10k together. The benefits always outweigh the sacrifice.”
Adjust Your Expectations
At the end of the day, it’s helpful to remember that there will always be another race you can run. The marathon isn’t going away, and if you need to take some significant time away from the rigors of hard core training, that’s O.K. (and possibly beneficial!). One sign of being a well adjusted adult is your ability to curb your expectations based on the reality of your environment.
In other words, control what you can control!
My current goal is to run 4 days a week for 20-30 minutes each time I step out the door. If I am able to run more, it’s a HUGE victory. One unexpected benefit I’ve found is that I can spend a little more time on core work, and stretching and foam rolling…easy things that can be done from the living room before moving on with the rest of the day, or at night before bed.
What Do You Do?
I’m not sure when I will be able to train for my next marathon. When I do, I already have some ideas about how to implement Charlie and Jason’s wisdom. When my wife goes back to work after maternity leave, I think it will be another period of adjusting expectations. But, I’m not in a hurry.
If you’re in a similar situation, what have you done? What tips or tricks have you discovered that help you be able to continue to run, while still being a great parent?