Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Recently, on this blog, Robert Blair asked if I would be willing to write a post about how I manage to hold down a full-time job, care for my family, and run ultramarathon races. The short answer is, quite simply, my family is with me every step of the way.

Let me start with my wife Shelly. She loves the sport! A runner herself, she is smart enough to stay away from ultramarathons but enough of a thrill-seeker that she enjoys living the sport vicariously through me. Plus, she loves the warmth and closeness of the ultra community and has made many friends of her own during the years we have been doing this.

In addition, on the emotional and psychological front Shelly knows that without training and racing I am pretty much of a train wreck at work, at home, and pretty much everywhere else so usually, when the alarm goes off at 4:30am and I reach to press the snooze button, she is there to kick me out of bed, often, quite forcefully. With my training Shelly is both a coach and a counselor, carefully monitoring my moods and fatigue level to help me maintain focus and balance at the same time. On race day she is a fierce competitor never letting me whine or complain and always looking ahead, not behind. It's a subtle approach but one that works for us. She enjoys the thrill of the hunt as much as I do and so far it's worked.

Then, there are my three boys, Carson (12), Logan (10) and Tully (7). Perhaps I'm a lucky man but these guys love going to 100 mile races. And, they've been doing it since they were born. In fact, Western States has become such an annual ritual for them that they are currently lamenting the fact that they know, someday soon, I will drop out of the top-10 and the reality will set in for them that there may, in fact, be a last-weekend-in-June when we don't travel to Squaw and Auburn. I am fortunate to be blessed with three boys who love sharing the experience of running 100 milers with me and that, ultimately, makes the experience so much richer for me and for all of us.

Finally, there is me. I try my hardest not to let my training interfere with my family life. Certainly, when we pack up to go to races and essentially devote our entire vacation time to my races it does get in the way of family time but, as I noted above, they actually enjoy it. So, how do I prevent it from getting in the way of regular old life? In short, I run very early in the morning and try to be completely open and honest about what I can do and what I can't do. Then, when it comes to needing to get those long runs done in the lead-up to a big race I usually just use the training camp approach and check-out for two or three days which allows me to stay focused and also not overdo it. And again, Shelly and boys usually support that knowing that it will pay off in the long run.

So, there you have it. Not sure if it could work for everybody but for me, and for us, ultrarunning is an integral part of our family life. In fact, the boys and Shelly are, as we speak, eagerly awaiting the results of the Hardrock lottery because they want nothing more than to climb into the car after Western States in June and head out for two weeks of camping in the Colorado highcountry. Maybe, as with me, this stuff has gotten into their blood.


Luke said...

Great post, I find that achieving that kind of balance is not as hard as many people think that it may be. I also have found wonderful support from my wife, and my 2 1/2 year old daughter loves traveling and camping when we go to the races. I was told once that the real super heroes of ultrarunning are the ones that do it competitively with families, jobs and responsibilities, and not the ones that that train 40+ hours a week. Way to go superman! Oh yeah and welcome to the La Sportiva Team!

Thomas Bussiere said...

Great post AJW and couldn’t agree more. My wife is not a runner or outside person, but has really got outside her comfort zone and has grown to embrace my races. Her and the kids run an aid station at one of the local races and love it. My kids look forward to helping with races, and like you, they have specific jobs when I come in for supplies. The best part is doing some light training runs with my kids who are starting to enjoy running. They are very supportive of my training which I’m careful not to interfere with family time. It tough with a 50+ hour work week, and demands for some late night or early morning runs, but it melts the stress away. It’s a mood control which my wife has said from time to time “Baby, you need to go for a run – Make it a long one”.

Larry said...

AJW: The first time I saw you in a race was WS 2007 coming through Foresthill. It was great seeing your entire family crew you and be right there by your side getting you through the aid station. I have a lot more respect for those competing at a high level while balancing a full family and work schedule. Take care. -Larry

Hank Dart said...

Great photo of the brothers at the top of Hyndman. That's no easy scramble. --Hank

Sophie Speidel said...

Balance is the key to all of this.

My kids are 17, 15 and 12 and my hubby and I work full-time. He loves to mountain bike and has done a 100-mile mtb race, as well as crewing for me at WS and MMT, so he gets it. I have figured out over the years that my kids do like it when I am gone for a race (hubby lets them eat on the couch and they order take out a lot---more fun than when I'm at home)and that I cannot race in the spring---all my kids play lacrosse and I coach lacrosse. So I plan races and training on what works best for the family.

I train in the early a.m. hours as well and when I have to be gone all day, I spread it out so I am not gone two weekends in a row.

Balance...and, now that I think about it, a supportive spouse and kids. Thanks for the great post, Andy!

Will Thomas said...

Thanks for the insight. It's great to see examples of top performing ultra runners not giving up family life or work life to achieve their running goals. You are an inspiration to us that desire to the same balance.

It does help having an understanding family that supports you 100% as well. My wife woke me up in the middle of the night last week to tell me she had a dream that I won a 50 mile race. That was flattering. At least she dreams big.

robert.blair said...


Thanks so much for the post on this topic.

I think it is a big help, and key, to have a supportive family.

That's something still "developing" with some of the members in mine.

I can't say that it is always an easy thing.

I wonder how many "married with children" ultra runners there are out there who truly love this life, but also struggle with a true level of stress that it causes, at times, with their beloved spouse, like I do.

I am being quite honest. If it weren't the case, I'd be saying, guess what?

I'll be doing The Last Great Race next year! I would love to do it.

Finishing time in all the races would not be so important to me.

Just finishing all the races in a respectable manner for my ability would.

But that probably isn't going to happen any time in the very near future. :)

I'll take what I can get in the mean time. One stride, and one race, at a time.

Thanks again for following up like you promised.

I hope I get a chance someday to thank you in person, for your thoughts and insights, and tell you I appreciate your example.

Scott Dunlap said...

I wouldn't underestimate the part where you said "when I wake up at 4:30am...". That means you're heading out early, and not cutting into the time with your family, rather than run after work and not see them as much. I think that says a lot about your ability to make personal sacrifices for the sport you love.

Congrats on the La Sportiva traitor! ;-)


AJW said...

Thanks everybody, for all the great comments. I really appreciate it.

Luke, here's hoping that daughter of your continues to enjoy living the dream.

Thomas, if this sport does anything, it takes people out of their comfort zone. Something we all need to do a little more of.

Larry, some of my fondest memories in the sport are the six times I have run through Foresthill on Race Day at WS. Having the family there makes it so much richer.

Hank, yup, that's a 6 year old on the top of Hyndman. And he got there first. According to the stats he's the youngest summiter ever.

Sophie, no doubt, you know how to juggle but lax coaching certainly gets in the way of WS training. I remember during my lax coaching days (1996-2002) it was really tough to get in those long runs when I was thinking about zone v. man-to-man and 10 man ride vs. more conservative, etc...It's all about balance, I suppose.

Will, truly, I bet there's a 50 out there you could win. Just need to know how to pick 'em.

Robert, my pleasure...

And Scott, of course, never underestimate the power of caffeine.

Now, if someone out there could convince the WS Board to have a "people with kids and full time jobs division" we might see some more "real people" in the race.


Johnny said...

This is a great discussion. As I'm not a morning person (at least during the work week), I've learned that the only way I'm going to run regularly during the week is to head out after my wife and baby have gone to sleep. It's tough, but with a 40+ hour work week, and a baby at home, I can't really run after work without slacking on my family responsibilities. And in the mornings, my son wants to play with me as well. Running is important, but family comes first.

robert.blair said...


I love your idea about a "people with kids and full time jobs division".

That might keep you in the top 10 in that division at WS for a very very long time, but it would also move me up in the standings of any race I ran, with that as a division, as well, so I am not complaining! :)


I can definitely relate to that.

Right now I mix it up. Sometimes I am up between 4AM -5AM and get a 1-2 hour run in before my 2 and 4 year old wake up looking for me, and other times I fall asleep with them at around 8PM and ask my wife to wake me up at about 10PM so I can get a run in at night.

I much prefer the morning option, but the kids are getting up earlier since the time change, and since my wife has the kids all day, I kind of like to give her a chance to sleep in the morning.

My wife has been letting me have either Saturday or Sunday to "run all day", and I make it up by being there all day on weekend day I do not run, and spending time with the kids after work each night during the week.

It IS a DELICATE balance.

Also feel fortunate to have a boss who understands this ultra pursuit, and lets me have lunches to get a 6-7 mile run and a shower in on most days during the week.

Thanks again to all the folks that have shared their viewpoints on this post.

Pam said...

Robert- your request comment and the ones for this post are like reading a page out of my own life. My kids are also 2 and 4 and I have a full-time job. I started running ultras 14 months ago and I love it, but I can't say my husband does. He is a great guy and even runs a bit (half-marathons and under), but he is a stay-at-home dad and gets more than his share of quality time with the kids without me going for a four hour run. I have the training part in a fairly good "balance" as I do the early morning thing, and then weekends, I get Saturday and he gets Sunday to play and do whatever. But race weekends still seem "unbalanced" with my family support system also in the "developmental" phase. I am hoping this gets better as the kids get older...

AnthonyP said...

I love this post Andy. I struggle to find balance (wife and 2 daughters (7 and 8) all the time.

Jeff Browning said...

Great post, AJW. I can relate buddy. Early morning training, trying not to get in the way of family life. But, it does have to become part of the family culture. Hope this finds you well. Just got back from Ozark Trail 100 and after two hundreds in 7 weeks, ready for some R&R. Giddyup.

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Anonymous said...


The Running Gator said...

I loved your post. I am somewhat of a beginner with crossing over to the ultra side of running. Thanks for being strong enough to post these things. My wife is very supportive of my running but still in the dark crossroads of where this running journey is headed! It's exciting but a lot harder than it looks.