Monday, February 1, 2016

How Can I Possibly Train for an Ultra if I Have a Family?

Spending time with my family has never detracted from my running. Or is it that even with the few thousand miles I log each year, running has never stolen my family time? However you put it, my family is part of my running and vice versa. I have been running ultras since 2011. At that time, we had two kids and the oldest was almost four years old. However, this was not when the ‘crazy’ long runs started. I had been logging long runs on the weekends for over a year by this time. At the time, this was training for birthday runs since I had no idea the ultra world even existed. With two young kids, I wanted them to be a part of my runs and to raise them seeing how fun running could be. Actually, I wanted my wife to have a few hours to herself while I was off ‘playing.’ We had previously purchased a double jogging stroller and if it knew how many miles that I was going to expose it to, it would have convinced its former owners not to sell it on Craigslist. I wore through one set of tires and ended up putting about 2600 miles on the stroller overall.

The boys were 2 ½ years and 6 months old when I started recording that I brought them with me on my runs (though I am pretty sure I started much earlier than that). At first, they would cry, sometimes for very long stretches. But I just kept pushing them trying to ignore the awful screaming. Eventually they got used to it and I would take them out with me every weekend on two to three-hour runs. If it was cold outside, we made sure to bundle them up and cover them with blankets. When it rained, we clipped a clear plastic table cloth around the stroller. When it was dark, we had little flashy lights. They had toys to play with, sippy cups, and even some snacks when they were older.
We had also purchased a bike trailer that my wife would use to bike with me while pulling the kids behind her. I remember a time that we took a paved park trail out ten miles and then had a little family picnic before we turned around and came back home.

Once I discovered ultras, my family was right there to support me. At that time, my wife had a hard job of crewing for a rookie and taking care of two crazy boys. But I think she understood how important running was for me and was willing to help me in any way possible.

As the boys grew, pushing the stroller became more difficult, but I just figured it was my weight training since I hated going to the gym. And then we had another kid. Right from birth (well, maybe a week later) she was stuck into the double jogging stroller with her two older brothers. They would care for her while we went out running. And if you’re wondering how three kids fit in a double jogging stroller, the middle kid got the pleasure of sitting on the foot rest in the front. We both learned some good lessons.  I learned that stopping quickly was not good for him. He learned to keep his feet up off the ground or he might get run over.

These almost daily stroller outings continued for about two years. As time passed, the kids kept growing and it seemed like they were growing so quickly. It got to the point that it was really difficult for me to turn the stroller or even keep it going true (straight) as it would constantly pull to one side. Maybe the stroller wasn’t meant for carrying a 6, 4, and 2 year-old at the same time. I did a lot more solo running for the next year. Occasionally, my wife would take the boys in the bike trailer and I would push the youngest in a jogging stroller.

Then the magic happened. Our (then) 7 year-old learned how to ride a bike.  Within the next year the (then) 6 year-old learned. Then within the next year, the (then) 3 ½ year-old learned. Now the youngest is four but can ride a normal-sized kid bike just like her two older brothers. I often take all three kids throughout the neighborhoods. They learn bike safety and get to show me all their ‘tricks’ like riding with no feet or with only one hand or something else really goofy. When my wife needs to sleep in on the weekends, I like to take them a couple miles away to a nearby park. There is a paved half-mile trail around a playground and I will run three to six miles while they run around and play and say hi to me every time I pass. Then we will go back home. Sometimes my wife will come too and they will all ride bikes next to me for five miles. Then they will let me continue on while they turn around and head back to a park. I will get my miles in while they will get biking time and playground exercise. And all is well.
This may not work as easily for everyone. My wife and kids are readily supportive of my running and have no aversion to camping for a couple days while I get all sweaty and smelly. I try to make it up to my wife by taking her on dates to various musicals, writing a silly poem, or just out to dinner. I want her to know that I truly love her participation in my seemingly crazy runner’s life. The ultra runner’s life may require a lot of compromising. But try it out. It might just make you a better person. 

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