Training Around Family Life

When I tell people, especially non-runners, that my wife and I plan on adding another little Konga to the family soon, one of the most common responses is “Well… I guess you won’t have time for running anymore.” And while Marathon and UItramarathon training certainly does take a lot of time and a ton of dedication, that statement couldn’t be further from the truth. I could point to Calum NeffMike WardianTommy Rivers Puzey or the countless other athletes who miraculously balance raising a family, being a good spouse, working a full time job and training at an elite level, but that doesn’t give you any insight into how to do it. So lets talk a little bit about how we keep a healthy balance in life while training for Marathons and Ultramarathons.

First off, be kind and thoughtful. As Relationship Psychologist John Gottman says “The secret to love is kindness.” And that means caring for, loving, and respecting your spouse and what’s important to them. While training to compete at a high level can be, and sometimes is, inherently selfish, it doesn’t have to be. Be a family man (or woman) first, a runner second. If you have to choose between 20 miles in the mountains on a Sunday or taking your daughter to brunch after church like you promised, go to brunch. If your spouse wants to see that movie she’s been talking about and it’s playing when you had planned to do your threshold workout, move your workout and go to the movie. If you respect your spouse and family this way, they will also respect your need for the occasional Saturday that you get out into the mountains to recharge and reset.

You should also try sharing the joy of running with your family. Bring them along to your next race and make an adventure out of it. Get them involved. When you have a race away from home, take an extra couple days and do family oriented things. This provides a great opportunity to balance things out. One day is dedicated to you and your dreams and goals while exposing your family to the fun and supportive community we have volunteering at aid stations and finish lines, while the rest of the time is spent making family memories. Take a tour, go to lunch, go to dinner, go on a family hike, or rent some kayaks. Whatever you do, remember that this vacation isn’t just about you; make sure your spouse and kids can feel that.

You should also keep in mind that you may have to occasionally sacrifice sleep. This is contrary to what I generally tell my athletes, but it happens to be a fact of life that we cannot always fit everything that we want and need to do into a 24 hour day if we sleep half of it away. I often tell my athletes to aim for 8-10 hours of sleep per night to enhance recovery, if they’re able, but is that realistic? Not so much when you work 40+ hours per week, commute to work, have a couple kids at home and still need to find time to keep your partnership with your spouse fun and exciting. Would we all be better off to sleep more? Yes. If you can manage to go to bed 30 minutes earlier each night, I guarantee it will be one of the best adjustments you’ve made for your running and you will immediately feel the benefits, but it isn’t always realistic.

Here are a couple more suggestions to get a little extra mileage out of your busy day:

  1. Work Commute: If you live close enough, this is a great option to get your mileage in and to split up your volume with minimal impact on family time. It’s a plus if your place of work has a shower available as well.
  2. Runch, as my wife calls it: If you don’t have a shower at work, get yourself some unscented, biodegradable wipes and get a quick 2-5 miles in on your lunch break, Depending on your weekly volume, this could be sufficient for your days run or could act as the cap to a two-a-day.
  3.  Dinner Timer: Pop dinner in the oven and hop on the treadmill. Your family can join you wherever the treadmill is located and tell you all about their day and vice versa. Once dinner is done, so are you. Time to enjoy some hot food at the dinner table!
  4.  Family Outing: Put the little ones on bikes, grab the dog, lace up the shoes and be on your way. This may be slower with a little more stopping than you’re used to, but it’s a great time for a true recovery run after a hard week or workout as well as some quality time with your family.

Just as prescribing the proper amount of speed, strength, and recovery volume is important to keep runners healthy and progressing forward at a steady pace, life itself can be a delicate balancing act. But if you love something, you will find a way to make time for it. That applies to everything, and yes, it’s as simple as that.

The Author on a Family Outing

Do you have any tips, tricks or words of wisdom we didn’t cover here? Please comment or shoot me an e-mail. I would love to hear your thoughts.

2 thoughts on “Training Around Family Life

  1. THANK YOU for this! Runners who care about their family shout it from the rooftops! I have two bits of feedback:

    1) I would be careful to point to Neff, Wardian, Puzey, Hall, as working examples. What works for their families doesn’t necessarily work for mine / yours. What I’m saying is, lets be sure we aren’t comparing their “orange” family life to my “apple”, and possibly using it as an excuse to bring to my spouse to convince her that I really NEED to go out for the 20 miler. Also… 99.9999% of us WORK for a living. Those guys listed RUN for a living, so there is a difference in how important a run might be for them. That said KUDOS to them if they are keeping family first!!!

    2) I love your recommendations on how to get out and run with the family. One run I recently did was I took my son to the track. I wanted 4 super easy miles that day, and he just wanted to run some laps (he ended up with 2 miles). He ended up running every other lap with me, and took a break on the odd laps while I did one by myself. We had so much fun together, I always ran with him when he was doing a lap, and we both hit our goals!

    1. Thank you! This is a great tip. Family track time can be a great way to get everyone involved.

      P.S. Out of the 3 gentlemen I mentioned, 2 work full time jobs and one attends a doctorate program.


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