Tuesday, November 29, 2011


Over the last year or so several people have asked me to comment on this blog about how I manage ultramarathon running with a full-time job and raising a family. Admittedly, I've basically dodged the question but recently I've thought more about it and can think of five essentials for balancing running, work, and life:

1. Pick a family that loves ultrarunning: Without my wife and kids as supporters and guides I would have quit this game a long time ago. But, with them along with me in races and in training the events are as much about the family as they are about the running. I admit that it takes time to nurture this (my son Carson "crewed" his first race when he was 10 months old) but, in the end, it's worth it.

2. Learn to integrate running into your life and not have it as an "add-on": Since my family knows running is important to me and my sanity they support me in doing it every day. But, I can't let it get in the way of our daily existence. As such, I have run in such inauspicious places as airport terminals, around multi-field soccer complexes, and up and down ski runs while my kids are waiting to race. It's not always perfect but it is part of the deal and its better than not running so that's good. And, I can say things like "I once ran around a mall 8 times while my kids tried on clothes"

3. Wake up early and run: While it is brutally hard, the best runs happen before the spouse and kids are awake. There is nothing better than coming home from a 15-mile tempo run and then waking up your family with fresh coffee and hot pancakes. It takes will power to drag yourself out of bed two hours before the milk man and you're likely to doze off in the third quarter of the Rose Bowl but, again, it's worth it.

4. Make sure your employer/employees know how important running is to you: Most of us don't have jobs in which running is part of the deal. Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to be sure to let those who care for us, love us, and employ us know that running is not only what we do it is who we are. Once we have convinced them of this it is easier to share in the endeavor and to spread the joy of running to others. Or, at least, it let's us squeeze in a five-miler at lunch.

5. Keep it simple: As a fully-employed, married, father of three it is impossible to really stick to a training plan. Sure, I like to think I have one but, in the end, all I really need/want to do is run. So, if I can do that every day I'm good. Then, when May rolls around and I need to be a bit more prescribed in my thinking/planning/processing I have some money in the bank to do so. And then, it's time for vacation in Squaw Valley!

Here's to running everyone!!!


Jay said...

It's nice and reassuring to know that others are struggling with the "balance" thing. It's not easy to fit it all in, but when one can make it work - it really is magical! I'm lucky to have a spouse, kids and employer who understand that running is important to me and are supportive. I consider myself to be be tremendously blessed - and lucky!! Kudos to you for having a supportive network as well!!

Unknown said...

The airport terminal: I love that!

The Running Gator said...

Sometimes I get discouraged feeling like "good" runners don't have to balance kids or a spouse. It's nice to see that I am not as alone as I thought. Thanks for sharing!

GZ said...

Excellent post.

My "I once" story is that I once ran around the block 45 times to get a 15 mile run in while still being close to the house in case the kids needed me.

Wyatt Hornsby said...

"Running is not only what we do it is who we are."

Dead on true. It's refreshing to read the blog of a runner who, like me, tries mightily to balance it all. Not all of us have time to spend 5 hours in the kitchen cooking amazingly natural meals, 2 hours napping every day, and sleep in if we’re tired. And I don't have time to go on 5 hour bike rides too, unless I skip a run. This is why I most enjoy AJW and FastEd's blogs. They're working stiffs like the rest of us--only fast, too.

AJW said...

Jay, thanks for the nice words. Balance is what it's all about.

Wes, yup, airport terminal. Also, up and down the hospital stairs when my kid busted his arm and back from the car repair shop after dropping the car off.

Gator, you're not alone at all!

GZ, that reminds me of the guy who ran around his house 400 times with a baby monitor while his kid was napping.

Wyatt, thanks. Don't forget about Mackey, Clark, Cooper, Wardian, etc...they're all working stiffs with wives, kids, etc..., too.

Wyatt Hornsby said...

GZ, that is awesome. I've done similar stuff but nothing that extreme. I have a photo of me on the t'mill with Noah, who was about 2 months old, resting next to me while I grinded away. It'll be in my book one day.

Anonymous said...

Balance is really hard, but as you say . . . it can be done. At times I have gone sleep deprived in order to get in a run, eat with the family, go to daughter’s gymnastics, finish stuff for work, and do my grad homework. AND runners need their sleep too . . . The balance ain’t easy, but it is well worth it.

Now to add to that balancing act, this year my wife fell in love with running – like really hooked. Which I think is awesome, but if I am running she is with the kids and versa vica vica versa. I don’t get to see her as much.

Wyatt Hornsby said...

SKA Runner: When your daughter gets a little order you and your wife can run together--and then that'll take your relationship to a whole new level. Part of me wishes my wife ran, too. I sometimes get jealous of guys who are paced by their wife or girlfriend. But horseback riding is what she loves, and I wouldn't change that cause it's who she is.

AJW: Mark Godale is another elite runner with an FT job and family. He has three little one (and a wife who's a saint!).

Freebird said...

This post might be the most important and helpful MUT blog post I have read. Gives me hope and motivation. Glad others are in the same boat!

Thanks so much!

David T.

Unknown said...

Great post! I get this question a lot as well. Two kids (ages 3 and 4), full-time job with a commute, grad school, 100-mile weeks and way too many races... My best answer is to try to keep things simple and everyone needs to be involved. Luckily, like you, I have a very supportive wife and family. Its also great training to do a long run pushing a running stroller.

Are you going to be around at Hellgate? I'll be down there crewing/spectating.

Ultra168 said...

AJW, love your advice about sharing your passion with you workplace. Making work one less thing to fret over is awesome when you have an understanding boss. Your company should feel proud in their employees endeavours.

Jen said...

As a new mom, I can honestly say I now finally get it. JB and I used to go run whenever we wanted and it was no problem. But now, with Eva(who's 14 months) I run in segments if I have to- 3 miles here, 15 miles there, 10 miles at night on the tdmill, just to try to mimic a long run. I use her nap times to do speedwork on the treadmill and actually have found having less "free" time as a working mom has been good for my running career- more focused approach and well, there's nothing better than running fast home or across a finish line than to your child.

Cory Reese said...

I love these tips! A few people asked me when I have time to train and I told them I've been running a few hours before they woke up. They weren't so interested in running an ultra anymore. But I think you're totally right, with a family that's the best time to go.

Thanks for this post!

Scott Dunlap said...

Good stuff, AJ.

You are right about making sure your employers know this is important. I recommend going as far to say "it's a part of me, not just a way I stay in shape...if I don't run, my productivity will plummet". Set that expectation as soon as you can. I've also been booking meetings with the location "walk around the campus"...people love it when you change up the environment and give them an excuse to exercise a bit. Three of those a day, and you've got a few more miles on your feet.

I do wish I had married into an ultra-loving family..that's the coup!


financecupcake said...

Great post! I'm a single mom and a grad student, and I'm lucky that my mom and little boy love taking road trips to my race locations and then driving around to see me along the course. My trick is to fit in running after my boy is asleep. Sometimes I feel like I have too much research or homework to run, but running is ALWAYS worth it.

Chihping Fu 傅治平 (超馬阿爸) said...

On my 12-13 hr direct flight between CA and Taiwan every summer, I usually run in a small circle (better than "spinning") at the rear end of the plane after the lights are off and all other passengers are in sleep. Good night training and sleep deprivation for jet lag cure. No one notices me thanks to the vibration and noises. Snacks and drinks are at arm's reach in the attendant's room. I guess I was balancing the plane with my footsteps.

Anonymous said...

Ultra Runners on a Plane PG-13

"I usually run in a small circle at the rear end of the plane"

Chihping Fu: That just made me crackup when I read it. Now I am always going to look at the back of the plane for 'plane runners'.

Who is up for the first inflight marathon, maybe we could get Northface or Salomon to sponser it?

Anonymous said...

Never mind . . . it has already been done. That Dean Karnazes is always one step ahead of everyone.