The Invisible Runner: How I Make My Training Work For Our Family

For parents of young children, free time is a commodity more precious than gold. The chance to let your freak flag fly and indulge in the passions that make you who you are, without being interrupted by crying and snot. My husband works long hours at a demanding job, and he deserves some down time to relax with his books and video games. His wife burst through the door with running shoes on her feet two years ago, shaking up the family dynamic. As of this writing, I’m knee-deep in training for my third marathon at the Cellcom Green Bay Marathon, and I have managed to find a way to get my miles in that works for both of us. If you are struggling to balance your half or full-marathon training with your family life, hopefully you will be able to glean some wisdom from this post.

As I made clear in my introductory post for the Cellcom Green Bay Marathon’s Leader of the Pack program, I was not a runner when my husband met me, nor when I became a mother for the first, second or third time. My husband and I were not strangers to the delicate “making time for hobbies while raising a young family” dance, however.  We have always had some interests separate from each other, and prior to running, I was an avid scrapbooker. You know the scrapbooking type; armed with acid-free tape, a paper cutter, and boxes full of photos of their precious children, they gather for nights out with their girlfriends at scrapbooking gatherings called “crops.” I negotiated for these much-needed nights out many weeks in advance, and I averaged one night out every other month.

When I started exercising on my basement treadmill, the effect on my family was still minimal. I was still physically present in the house for missing-toy emergencies or sibling-fight-refereeing. Even when I started running outside, it was during the spring months, so it wasn’t that big of a deal to wake up a bit earlier and get a few miles in on nearby roads before my husband left for work.

However, once I set my sights on half-marathons, and later, marathons, a “few miles” was not going to work for some of my weekday runs. For a while, I attempted to wake up and lace up at an ungodly hour, but my late-afternoon grumpiness due to lack of sleep annoyed even myself. Besides, my husband threw a wrench in more than a few planned workouts due to an unexpected meeting or conference call that required an early departure. The weekends were no better; the miles demanded to be run, but the children also needed to be driven to activities and (gasp!) played with on occasion. My husband knew how much my new fitness lifestyle meant to me and tried to be supportive, but the tension in our home was slowly growing.

Enter the schedule that still stands to this day, that I deem “The Invisible Runner.” Here’s how it shakes out:

Weekday Runs (School Year, Non-Holiday): On the days only two of my kids have school, my workout needs to be completed by 7:30 a.m. in order to get them ready for the bus. I complete my workout on the treadmill on those days, waking up as early as needed. Usually those runs are just recovery runs, so the wakeup call isn’t too bad (an added incentive to train: my wakeup time gets later if my recovery-run pace gets faster!). I try to schedule workouts like intervals, tempo runs and medium-long runs for the days all three of my kids have school in the morning (last year this was two days per week, now it is three days per week). On those days, I can wake up at the luxuriously late hour of 7:20, and run outside after I drop my son off at preschool. Unless the weather is horrible, in which case I hit the ‘mill.

Weekday Runs (School Holidays or Summer): Last summer, I tried to get outside in the early morning hours as much as possible. If that was impossible for whatever reason (weather, my husband’s schedule, excessive tiredness), the ‘mill was a necessary evil. Braving the treadmill means a later wakeup time (assuming we don’t have to get up for a camp or other activity), so I often choose that option unless I believe my workout for that day would be better done on the roads.

Weekend Long Runs and Races: This part of my training is the most visible, but I try to make it as invisible as possible.  My middle child has dance class on Saturday mornings, and sometimes one of the other children has an activity, as well.  I am off on my long run before the family wakes up, and I try my darndest to be home to pick her up from class at noon. Since my training has been invisible during the rest of the week, my husband is more than happy to be Super Dad for a few hours. He has even morphed into the expert ballet bun-maker of the family!

If I have a race, I am often not home by noon, but since I only do a few races per training cycle, my husband is fine with that. Some of my running friends have spouses or children who are either runners themselves, or serve as cheerleaders at their races. To date, I have only had my family at one finish line (my first marathon), and I prefer it that way. My kids’ current interest level isn’t high enough to make them stand at the side of the road  just to see me one or two times. The very important exception to this rule will be the Cellcom Green Bay Marathon: My husband, kids, and parents are making the pilgrimage to Green Bay, and are psyched about being able to hang out at Lambeau during the expo and the race.

This schedule is not for everyone. Perhaps you have a running spouse, or a spouse with an equally time-consuming hobby. Perhaps you don’t have access to a treadmill, or you need more hours of sleep in order to function like a human, or you have to balance your outside-the-home work schedule alongside your spouse’s schedule. However you choose to fit in your training, my advice would be to make it a definite priority, but be willing to compromise when needed. Running is important to me, but my family is my world, and I don’t like being apart from them any more than I have to.  My “invisible runner” schedule makes me a marathoner, but also a very visible mother and wife. That, for me, is the best of both worlds.

The Mom On The Run,

Sara Roach

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