My Top Tips for Balancing Marathon Training and Family Life
Hello there friends! It’s been a few weeks since I last blogged (largely owing to the very structure of my life being, erm….deconstructed over the school holidays) so lots to catch up on, plus I wanted to share with you what I’ve learnt about how to balance training for a marathon (or any big fitness challenge, really) with a young family.
As I’m writing, the sun is streaming into my house and it is so warm. Finally, it feels like spring is here, which also means that marathon day is looming ever closer. In fact, it’s only 5 weeks tomorrow!
When I last wrote, I was still struggling a bit after coming down with the dreaded Child Lurgy – an awful sore throat with flu like aches and a fever. Nice. One of the main things I’ve noticed about my training this time around, versus the last time I ran a marathon 11 years ago is how much longer it seems to take my body to recover, not only from illness, but also from harder training sessions. I didn’t think much about this when I was in my twenties, but in my late thirties it makes a big difference and I can be tired for days after a challenging run. I swear I used to go to bed after these sessions when I was younger and wake up feeling brand new and raring to go again. If only!
No sooner had my body recovered from being unwell and things had started to get back on track, than the Easter holidays began. Like lots of parents, I work part time and during the school holidays, my husband and I do a mix of working and taking time off to be with the family. Thank God for the family calendar in my kitchen as every day is different and I wouldn’t have a clue who was supposed to be where otherwise!
Anyway, back to the marathon training – the last couple of weeks over the school holidays have been a masterclass for me in fitting everything in. If you’ve considered running a marathon but are worried about how to juggle training and a family life, then here are my top tips:
Don’t strive for perfection
I thought I’d start with this, as it’s been the hardest one for me to get my head around! I find it really hard when I have a plan and for some reason, it needs to change. I can be flexible, but it really bothers me as I like things to be “perfect”. The problem with this is that in a 16 week marathon build up, anything can happen. There will be illnesses, rubbish nights’ sleep, school holidays, busy times with work. There is only one of you, and there are only 24 hours in a day.
I firmly believe that training plans are worth sticking to as much as possible (I mean, part of my job is to write them for other people!), but there have been times, particularly in the past couple of weeks, when that hasn’t happened. I’ve had to run at a time of day/evening which hasn’t necessarily been ideal for me. Some sessions haven’t been exactly as per the schedule, or I’ve had to break a training session up into smaller chunks to fit it into the time that I have had available. I haven’t missed a run (yet!) but I expect I probably will before the 16 weeks is up.
In the interests of full disclosure, my runs have been fuelled by more cake and Cadbury’s Mini Eggs than is probably ideal, but I’ve enjoyed eating all the yummy food with my children and at the end of the day, I’m not an Olympic athlete, I’m a mum who’s training for a marathon in my spare time and if you can’t enjoy a chocolate brownie then frankly, what’s the point?
So, let go of the idea that you have to do everything perfectly in training to run a marathon, because you don’t (and perfect doesn’t exist anyway!).
Accept all the help available to you
I know that I am very lucky to have people around me who have supported me during my training and not everyone has this, but if you do, then it can make all the difference. My parents have looked after the boys for me for an hour or so here and there during the hols so I can peel off and get my run in done, and this has been an enormous help (thank you Mum and Dad!). When the kids were small, I used to be really reluctant to ask for and accept help. I thought you had to manage on your own and if you accepted help then you had failed in some way. It seems crazy writing that now as clearly, THAT IS NOT TRUE.
From someone who has tried to do it all by herself in the past, if someone is offering to help you, then take them up on it. They wouldn’t offer help if they didn’t mean it. I’m sure we all know how great it feels when you’ve helped someone else and it’s made a difference, so in fact, by saying “yes”, you’re giving that person the chance to experience the warm glow of doing a good deed. Also, you could always do a childcare swap with a friend (you look after their kids so they can run, then they later return the favour), that way everyone wins.
Involve the kids as much as possible
In fairness, this is easier now my children are older, but if you can involve your children in your training, then do. Not only is it really great to hang out with them on a run as they’re good company, especially if you can get them to chat to you as you run, but also think of the fantastic example you’re setting and hopefully nurturing a love of running which will see them into adulthood. My eldest had a break from Saturday morning football during the holidays and came out with me on my Saturday shakeout run, which is the perfect session for running with little ones as it’s a fairly short distance (3 miles max) and the aim is just to get the legs moving after a rest day, before the long run on Sunday, so pace doesn’t matter, you can stop if you need to and a mix of walking and running is fine.
I’m aware that some of my longer runs take me away from the family for a while and my hope is that if I can involve the children then they’ll feel like they’re a part of it, rather than long runs being all about Mum just disappearing on her own for a few hours! One of the things that have helped with this are to arranged my routes around where they’ll be so I can say hi and they can see me and give me a high five of encouragement. You could also get them to bring some extra drinks/gels with them to give to you, which gives them the role of support team.
I’ve also taken the boys with me on my warm up or cool down mile as part of a longer run, before dropping them home with my husband/parents or at camp. You could also get your kids to ride alongside you on their bikes, something which I haven’t done this holiday but did at half term and found it worked very well. They love being involved in my runs, especially if I tell them that having them there really helped and kept me going.
My children also love a home HIIT workout and a YouTube yoga sesh, so they’ve been good training partners for me when I’ve needed to do some strength work or have a decent stretch out, too.
Don’t forget to look after yourself
I’ve touched on this before, but at the end of the day, the marathon is only one run. The training to get to that point takes months and many, many more runs (I run 5 times per week, so in a 16 week build up, that’s 80 runs!) and if you aren’t going to enjoy that process to some extent, then there really isn’t much point! It shouldn’t feel like a punishment, or yet another thing on your to-do list. I mean, sometimes of course it does, that’s inevitable as the training is tough at times and preparing for a marathon is undoubtedly challenging, but try to enjoy it as much as you can.
The enjoyment aspect can be ramped up enormously by just making sure you look after yourself. If you’re anything like me, when you’re busy, all the basic “self-care” stuff goes to the back of the queue, but actually, that’s when you really need it and even a little bit here and there can go an awfully long way. Eat well (Easter eggs optional!); drink plenty of water; get some early nights and if you can, put your feet up and rest. I’ve rescheduled a few things over the past few weeks just to get some extra time to rest up when my energy levels have been low, and am so glad that I did.
So what’s next for me, as I head into week 12 of my training? Well, regular training slots carved out in my week again are a luxury I’m going to really savour once the children are back at school. Looking ahead, I’m into the most intense part of my training programme now and for the next three weeks before I hit taper time and things start to wind down to (hopefully!) leave my legs and mind fresh and raring to go come race day. There are some seriously long runs of 20+ miles to do, which I know won’t be easy, especially if the warmer weather continues, but I’m looking forward to the challenge, something which I don’t think I would have said a few weeks ago, so that’s progress, isn’t it?!
Check out how my training progresses this week over on Instagram.