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Juggling Family, Work And Life With Long Distance Running

How can you train for a marathon while not sacrificing time away from work, family, or other commitments?

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Training for long distance races (half marathon, marathon, ultras) is difficult in and of itself. It becomes a whole other challenge when you factor in all the responsibilities many of us have–being a spouse, having children, owning or maintaining a home and/or working a full or part time job.

I had more flexibility with my time before I was married and had kids. It was fairly typical for me to spend a couple of hours each day working out or at the gym. I’d run (with no set training plan–just however far I felt like running that day), cross-train and do some strength or core work.

These days it is a delicate balance to juggle my responsibilities with my training. My “free” time is limited. I no longer have the luxury of running whenever and however far I like. And so, my training has to be adjusted a few ways.

Make each mile count. Gone are the days where I just head out to run with no idea of how long or far I will be out. I’ve been forced to get smarter with my training. I am no longer able to waste my time running “empty” miles. Nowadays, each mile has to matter and every run has to have a purpose. I follow a training plan and ensure that when I leave the house, that run means something to me and my goals.

Be realistic about what you – and your family – can handle and are willing to sacrifice. I’d love to train more seriously at the Ironman distance. But it would be too much of a sacrifice for my family right now. These days, our weekends are mini-adventures and I know my training would negatively affect our family plans. Maybe you want to run 40 mile weeks, but realistically, you only have time for 30. Focus on what you can fit in without feeling like you are sacrificing too much. Find a plan to fit that frequency and mileage. It’s far better to do that than overestimate and miss a large percentage of the training runs.

Higher mileage may not be necessary. There’s the mentality that the more miles you run, the better trained you will be. Well, that’s one of those myths about running. Instead you can increase intensity on your long runs or focus on one hard speed day a week. The secret is ensuring that every mile (and minute) you run is important is making sure you don’t waste them! There are runners who successfully train for a Boston qualifying time by running less frequency and mileage than others. Danica (ChicRunner) qualified for her first Boston by running 3-4x week and maxing out at 35 miles.

Minimize the time suck. Ashley (RunningBun) is a mom and wife who works full time in NYC. She walks out the door no later than 7am each morning to drop her daughter off at daycare and then head into work. During her last half marathon training cycle, she got in a lot of her training runs in at 5:30am. Her tip: I either wear my workout outfit to bed or put it together the night before—that way I can quite literally roll out of bed and head out the door. I also try to pick out my work outfit, as well as pack my daughter’s daycare food and pick out her outfit the night before! If I work out in the AM, I will only have a few minutes to get her up and fed her before we head out the door so everything must be done the night before! She minimizes the time suck in the AM so when her alarm goes off, she’s up, dressed and out the door so she can maximize her training time.

Go early. Both my husband and I are training for long distance events right now—marathon for me and half Ironman for him. But we don’t want our training to take over our family life nor impact our weekend activities. Even though it’s painful, we are up early on Saturday and Sunday. One of us is usually out the door by 5am which allows us to be finished in time for breakfast and the day’s events.

Don’t compare. Keep in mind that each of us have our own set of responsibilities and commitments. I am at home with my boys every day so I have more flexibility with training than working moms. Kris Lawrence’s (Kris-Lawrence) husband is deployed a lot so she is a single mom with three kids. Ashley (RunningBun) is a full time working mom (with a long commute). It’s easy to compare ourselves and want to run and train the way other women are, but life circumstances may be different.

Just remember that training for and completing races should be fun. It’s a hobby and way of life for most of us. It should fit into our lives rather than our lives fitting in around our training.