Monday, February 4, 2013

BALANCE: life, family, work, running......... it can be tough as a distance runner

It goes without saying, training for a big event takes a lot of commitment.  And generally speaking, the bigger the event, the bigger the commitment.......

A couple of weeks ago I was out for an early morning sunrise run with a new found friend and running enthusiast who dropped a query on me: "You've got 3 kids, a wife and work full time, how do you balance that with running?"  Now, these are my words as I can't remember the exact phrase but you get the idea....  It took me a couple of moments to work out how to respond as whilst I have been conscious of this issue in recent times, I'd never really taken the time to look at it in a logical form of which can be translated to another.  In fact, it's taken me a couple of weeks to mull over it some more to explain it clearer.

I went on to explain about setting priorities etc and time management like any expected response to this question, but in essence it was an automated answer to a question that I didn't have a definitive answer to at the time.

I'd like to think that I've managed this issue quite well and hope that my family, friends and employer would agree with my opinion.  I take pride in ensuring good, fair balance between all aspects of what forms my life.  In fact, I pay special attention to this when I know I have to increase or alter one component and how this will affect the others.  For example, if time at work increases, how can I alter the other areas so that they do not suffer in any way?

We all have lives to lead.  And everyone's direction, aspirations and surroundings head them in different directions to everyone else.  That's what makes life unique....  However, how is it that some are able to achieve what others struggle to find the time to do?

In the context of distance running, the training time alone can be excessive.  Enough to put pressure on the other areas of your life.  Training for a marathon can typically see someone running anywhere between 40km-150km per week depending on their ability and competitiveness.  Turn this into time commitment and you're talking between 4 to 20hours per week!!!!!  For someone with limited other commitments, no kids, low work or study hours etc this may be reasonable easy to slide in.  Start to add these commitments in and you're looking at juggling 8 balls behind you're back with one arm!

Giving something more of your time than another, doesn't mean it is of higher priority than the other. The quality of the time spent is of higher significance.  By this I mean, if one area of your life will require a higher than normal commitment, you have 1 of 2 choices.  You can either see if this new commitment can be condensed by being BETTER at it in the same time allocation; OR can you improve the QUALITY of the time in the other important areas once they have to be reduced?

To assume you can constantly keep 'filling the cup' without it overflowing is a naive and ignorant view.  Something has to give, especially for ultra runners.

The most important thing I've done since becoming an ultra runner is share my dreams with those closest to me.  My wife and kids especially have been on board with what I'm aiming for the whole way.  At times I'm reminded to shut up about running, as I tend to ramble on about it quite a lot; but they're all well aware of what I'm spending all this time doing and WHY.  It's important for them to know that all this time sacrificed is going to towards something that's important to me.  Rather it being viewed as "he's going for another run".  I know, you know, and other runners know that it's not just another 'run' but a specific, meaningful training session that has purpose.  But just because we understand this, it doesn't mean they do.  Be sure to express it, but don't bore them.

Long hours on the feet doesn't always reflect a proportionally beneficial gain to your performance.  In other terms, just because you're running more, that doesn't mean you're going to improve as much as you've increased your time commitment.  Read, learn, ask, get feedback, try new things........ Do whatever you can to IMPROVE your training efficiency.  Learn how to GET MORE from each training session rather than just DOING MORE.....

Either create or seek advice on getting a structured training programme if need be.  Or if you've got one, is it time to fine tune it.  This can massively improve your training efficiency.

Pick better times of the day/week that have less impact on your family, work, study.  Try early morning or evening rather than while everyones awake.  Or if you have solitude time at home during the day, do it then rather than when everyones at home.  Obviously this is a very personal, case by case scenario so just try to improve your timing of your runs.

Find ways to utilise your time better.  We on;y have so many hours in a day, and I'm a firm believer that no matter how you try to fit 1.1 litres into a 1 litre bottle, it won't fit!  So try to share your time where possible.  For example, my mid week runs are fairly easy to work around as most of those are fairly short so I can fit them in without it really sacrificing time to family or work, however my long runs which are done mainly on weekends is where it can eat into our family and/or social time.  These are important to me too..........  As I love to run trails, and we have some fabulous National Parks and beaches around Adelaide, I often arrange a family picnic or day out to an area that THEY like also.  Somewhere with playgrounds or other entertainment for the kids, and a trail close by where I can run.  In this instance I'll head off a couple of hours earlier for my run and arrange for them to get there at around my finish time.  This has worked well for us to date with time shared on fabulous days in beautiful locations all over town.  (Not to mention awesome post run food with a prepared picnic waiting for me......... - that's my real motive...... lol)

While running adds massive value to your life, it can come at a cost to others.  For example, all those hours spent on the feet could be spent with the kids, partner, family, friends, study etc.  "For every action there's an equal and opposite reaction............" Yeah, you've heard it all before.  Well this holds true in this context too.  It's imperative that you add value to your kids lives, your relationship, your career and social circles during the time you do have.  Besides voicing and sharing your goals and aspirations, don't spend all this time focussing on your needs, but make a conscious effort to build value to these important areas of your life.  Take the kids to their sports game, run a scented bath for your partner, stay back late with the boss during a busy week, invite your close friend over for a meal this weekend.  And during this time, talk about them!  Leave the runners in the cupboard for the moment and just focus on THEIR needs.  This will go a long way towards making your time running a less guilty pleasure..........

In essence, what I'm saying is distance running is a hard hobby/sport to balance but taking the right steps (no pun intended - haha) can save you a lot of anguish along the way, or worse one of the areas of your life failing........  Speak up, run smart, listen and learn, and add value to the other areas of your life where ever possible.

I'm not saying I'm perfect here, and I'm sure there's many ways I can improve, but the fact that one tries makes it worth while.  If you have any tips or techniques you use to make this work for you, please feel free to leave a comment so we can all try to improve here.

Happy running....................


  1. Thanks for sharing. Even though Im not an ultra runner like you, Im looking to increase my distance and Im already seeing that I will need to plan this right so it wont interfere with my other aspects of life (work, house work, partner and my dog).

    1. Dog's are great for company on hill sprints or speed work sessions as they generally like fast spurts, so maybe take the dog out for these......... As for the others, good luck on your planning to fit these in together harmoniously.