Hey, congratulations on being a runner! You’re probably going to live a really long time and constantly feel a sense of accomplishment that helps you deal with all the other really shitty parts of your day!
Also, congratulations on being a father! You’ve now experienced a love like none you’ve experienced before! And you feel a renewed responsibility to be the best man you can possibly be! This all sounds great.
Except, holy shit, these two things — running and fatherhood — are about as inconvenient a pairing as you can imagine. Kids, of any age, are a massive time- and energy-suck. The superyoung ones require near constant attention just in order to be kept alive and reasonably healthy; the older ones always need to be driven places and helped with homework or whatever. They’re emotionally and physically exhausting, and they don’t care at all how many miles your training plan said you were supposed to run that week. And honestly? Your spouse probably doesn’t either.
But there are ways to make it work. Here are seven of them.
Be prepared to run early in the morning. Like, really early.
Before the kids came along, maybe you were already accustomed to running in the morning — rolling out of bed at 7 a.m. and sneaking in four or five miles before heading to work. But now you may have to set the alarm even earlier to allow time for newly complicated morning routines. I drive my wife to the train station, my oldest to school, my youngest to daycare, and then set off on my complicated and roughly hour-long commute to work. If I want to run in the morning, I’m looking at a 5 a.m. wakeup call. Crazy, yes, but not without its perks. There’s the sunrise, of course, and the extreme quiet. Plus, you feel more energized throughout the day and you sleep better at night.
Or, conversely, be prepared to run late at night.
When you get home from work, there’s dinner and homework and bath-time and whatever God-awful bedtime routine you’re up against, so taking an hour or so out of your already too-short evening is ill-advised — unless you wait till everyone else goes to bed. I cannot count the amount of times I’ve gotten fully decked out in running gear, then crawled into bed to read to my daughter and immediately bolted out the front door when my job was done. There are conflicting opinions about how late-night exercise affects your sleep, but I don’t really care about any of that — what I care about is that there is no better tasting beer than the one you drink when you get home, sit on the couch, and geek out over your run data.
Communicate with your spouse about how important it is to you.
Remember, you’re not ditching out on family obligations to go to the bar. You’re partaking in an activity that keeps you healthy and, even more importantly, keeps you sane. Make it clear that the time you take away allows you to be more present during the time you spend at home. But, and this is very important, that is a bullshit thing to say unless you….
Encourage your spouse to take time away as well.
For real, this is going to have to work both ways.
If you’ve got babies, get a jogging stroller.
This won’t help if you’ve got older kids, but assuming yours weigh less than 70 pounds and you’re willing to push them around, a jogging stroller can be a life-saver. The kids seem to enjoy going fast, and it can also be a really easy way to get them to take a nap. And by taking the kid with you, you’re giving your spouse a break. Plus, high-quality jogging strollers are weirdly impressive and luxurious pieces of gear.
Plan races in family-friendly destinations. Make a vacation out of it.
So maybe the local (or not so local) Ragnar Relay is not in the cards for you this year — but that’s ok, you’ll get there eventually. For now, consider finding races in cities your family’s been meaning to visit, or, even better, places where there’s something for the kids to do. This fall, I’m running a half-marathon in Hershey, Pennsylvania. By all accounts it is a really well run, perfectly pleasant race, but the most important part of it for me is that it runs through Hershey Park, a chocolate-themed amusement park my kids will love to visit. (It doesn't hurt that one of my favorite breweries, Troegs, is right down the block.) And then in December I’m headed to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, where, well… there’s not actually all that much for the kids to do other than to watch me and my wife drink beer at Dogfish Head or any of the other very good local breweries.
Above all else, be flexible and don’t be so hard on yourself.
Adhering to a strict training program is difficult for anyone, but especially for those of us trying to hold down a full-time job and not be a terrible parent. Getting in five or six runs a week like you used to might be tough, so if you can only find the time for three, be sure to make them count: do some speed work, tackle some hills, and, difficult though it may be, try to get that weekly long run in. But don’t beat yourself up over it if you can’t. About that Hershey race I just told you I’m running? I’m woefully unprepared for it. I have no chance of a PR, and there’s a very good chance it’ll be my worst time ever. But then again, with no lofty goals in place, no self-inflected pressure weighing me down, and my family cheering me on along the way, who knows?