When you picture it in your mind, what do the toughest runners look like??
Is it the elite marathoner breaking the tape at a marathon major? Maybe the 100 mile ultra runner who runs for 24 hours plus? Or could it be the Tough Mudder, who actually paid money to scale walls, struggle through muddy pits, and get electrocuted?
You might tell yourself that all of those runners are pretty tough, and I’d certainly agree.
But the toughest runners, the runners that really take it to the next level when it comes to sacrifice and dealing with adversity, would be your average, everyday, hard working runner/parent.
Running and Raising Kids
There are many challenges that a parent has to overcome when you’re running/racing.
As a runner and a father of two boys, 10 and 5, I understand how hard it is to keep up with regular training and workouts. Some challenges that all parents/runners must face include:
- The Time Commitment: Finding time to run and sticking to your training plan can feel next to impossible at times.
- Exhaustion Sets In: As if regular training isn’t tiring enough, try doing it while juggling work and family activities as well.
- Eating Well: Sticking with a nutrition plan and eating right while keeping the children happy is hard at best. Kale doesn’t even register as something my 6 year old would consider to be food.
- The Better Half: Don’t forget your spouse. Don’t EVER forget your spouse.
Considering these challenges, and the dozens of others, is it even possible to keep running and improving while raising children?
Sure, but you have to be tough!
There are Only 24 Hours in Each Day
Making the time to run and not sacrificing time to be with your children is perhaps the biggest challenge of all.
Joanna shared her thoughts about leaving the kids at home to go for a run.
“My kids are 13, (almost) 12, 9, 7, 6, and 4, and my biggest hurdle is trying to find the balance between homeschooling six kids and forcing the issue of needing to go on my runs. I need to learn to do the runs in the morning, before everyone gets up, but I’m a little afraid of running in the dark. There is a lot of mommy guilt and I struggle with feeling like I’m stealing time away from the kids so I can have my run.”
One of the hardest things for any parent is to not take time away from our number one priority, our children. As parents we have to become more efficient with our time, set priorities, and make sacrifices.
This might mean running at a time you would not prefer.
For Beatriz, that meant going for her runs in the mornings.
“I am a mother of 2 boys, 10 and 3, and I work a very full time job, and I also teach and perform on the side (I’m a musician). My running was very inconsistent until I switched to early morning runs. I was very skeptical, but I’m glad I made the switch. I don’t race- like, ever. But I run to be alone, to clear my head, to start my day right, and to balance the ups and downs that come with being a working parent. And I run because I really, really, really like cheeseburgers.”
Finally, keep your schedule flexible and find ways to squeeze in workouts wherever possible like Alice has done.
“I started running 3 years ago. I have always had breakfast with my kids before their long school days, and I don’t budge on that rule. I currently have a high schooler at home, and I head out to run when she is done with breakfast and moves on to getting ready for the day. It works out well because it is way too hot here to run when the sun is up. If I didn’t run in the morning, I wouldn’t be running. After-work running would never keep me in the game. I have had to learn to relax my work schedule a bit to train for distance races. I simply block out time on my work calendar first thing in the morning with “No Appointments” listed as the reason, so I can fit my longer training runs. On non-run mornings, I get to work very early and it all works out time wise at the end of the week. You have to adapt and find ways to make it work.”
Finding the time to run can happen if you use a little creativity. There is more time in your day than you think, you just have to find it and make the best use of it.
Time Isn’t the Only Issue
If anyone is an expert in what it’s like to be tired, it’s the parent of a baby. Throw some tempo runs, speed work, and a weekend long run into the mix, and you have one tired runner/parent.
Rebekah can relate.
“I’m mom to a 9 month old. I have run a few 5Ks, a 10K, and a half since she was born. In all honesty, if I’m not training for a race, I don’t make the effort to get in my runs (and that doesn’t even always work). My biggest challenge is feeling rested enough to get out of bed and out of the door. The baby still isn’t sleeping through the night and I am flat out exhausted all day, every day. This challenge is one that might require a little sacrifice.”
Anyone who runs knows how important rest and proper sleep is. Too often we struggle to get enough sleep on a regular basis, but if you choose to make sleep a priority you can find ways to get a little more shut eye.
Take a look at your evening ritual after the kids go to bed. What can be removed?
- Don’t turn the TV on.
- Read only one chapter of that book instead of two.
- Put down the electronic devices.
By analyzing your nightly activities and making a few subtle changes, you might be surprised how much time you can save each night.
Now, take that time savings and GET TO BED!
Getting the Right Fuel in Our Bodies
Another important aspect of a healthy running lifestyle is proper nutrition. This becomes difficult with children who are much more interested in pizza, cheeseburgers, and milkshakes than eating clean.
Honestly, convincing my boys to eat healthy is similar to any high stakes negotiation in that (if you’re lucky) you win some and you lose some.
In many cases, it can be just as tough for the parents to follow through with good nutrition choices on a regular basis. That said, as runners and as parents it behooves us to set the example for our kids.
As Sherry adds, your kids are never to old to learn from your example.
“As a parent of small children I did not put in the effort and let myself go (and am trying to fix all that comes with that now). I have two grown boys and a 13 year old daughter. I am concerned for my daughter’s health and am trying to set a good example for her. Also, as an almost empty nester, I am finding fitness as a new chapter and part of the new person I am becoming as my life transitions from parenthood to something else. I am creating a new identity for my grown up self through running and fitness.”
Don’t Forget About Your Spouse
If you’re married, your spouse is also a major player when it comes to getting your runs in. Just like in every other aspect of marriage, communication is key. Your spouse needs to clearly know what your training schedule is, and what your expectations are.
My running adventure started late in life, and my non-running wife was forced to come along for the ride.
The first 6 months were rough. I did a poor job of explaining what training for my first half marathon would entail and she had no idea what to expect.
I soon realized that she wasn’t upset that I was taking time for myself, she just wasn’t clear on what my training schedule entailed. Once I was better at communicating my goals and becoming more flexible with my plans, everyone was happy.
Sometimes, You Just Have to Dial It Back
Family is the most important thing, and at no point should running interfere with it.
As my family is getting older, they are also getting busier. Between school, sports, church, and countless other activities, time is quickly starting to disappear from each day.
My wife and I decided, together, that marathons will be put on the back burner until the boys get older. I can do as many halves as I want though, because the training for a half is not as life consuming as training for a full.
When it comes down to it, raising kids is probably the hardest job their is. And for runners, balancing running goals with family responsibilities only makes things more difficult. But like with running, we just keep moving forward, doing the best we can, and know that when we get to the finish line we’ve done the best we could.
And that is why everyday runners who are parents are by far the toughest runners that I know.
~Andy Cloud is a husband, father, and runner from Missouri and a regular contributor to the everyday “goings on” of the Diz Runs Tribe on Facebook.