No, this article is definitely not about crushing the school kids at a local family fun run. It’s about managing to keep competitive as a runner with a family… and it’s about getting out running with your own kids. Hopefully I can give some insight into how I manage two of the most important parts of my own life (kids and running, obviously). It can be a serious juggling act to try and squeeze in time for yourself, especially when your family priorities take top billing. On the surface, running seems like quite a selfish activity. But, there is little doubt that I am a better person (in several ways) because of my running. I know a lot of you can relate to what I’m writing, so I’m not going to preach to the choir here.
When my twin girls were born it quickly became obvious that my free time was going to be limited for a while. I definitely wasn’t going to be able to get out on the Canadian trails as often as I would have liked. The obvious solution was to run in my basement… so I bought a solid, mid-range treadmill. Turns out, I’m one of the lucky (and slightly sick) minority that really enjoys running on a treadmill! It is one of the best purchases I’ve ever made and I still use it several times a week.
I realize not everyone has the space or money for a massive and loud machine, or enjoys being a hamster on a wheel, so time management is a huge priority. It also helps to have running friends who have kids. They are really the only kind of friends that could possibly understand why you need a babysitter for 4 hours on a Sunday morning so you can squeeze in a long run.
Top-10 tips for all running parents
It has taken me a few years to work out the kinks in my system, but here are the top-10 ways I’ve been able to keep my own running competitive on a tight time budget:
1. I go to bed early and I get up early (some say absurdly early) to run in the mornings. You need to choose whether watching an extra hour of TV before bed or wasting time on Facebook is more important than getting in a workout the next morning.
2. Make a plan, write it down, and commit to it. Have this regular routine/plan, but be flexible enough to take advantage of a window of opportunity when it pops up.
3. Carry your running kit and pair of running shoes with you at all times. Well…. at least have a set in your car (and a towel too). Again, you never know when a window of time may open up, so make sure you can use it when it does.
4. I find that running after work is much more difficult than before work. Plus, my morning run sets me up to have a productive day.
5. Whenever possible, I’ll do my warm-up with my girls. I can then drop them back off at home to have breakfast while I hit the trails. (This doesn’t work for all families, as there isn’t always someone to watch them while you’re out).
6. If tip number 4 doesn’t work for you, then there are other ways to make it work. If you have toddlers, throw them in a jogging-specific stroller and take them along. I know several people (well, moms actually) who are incredibly strong runners. This is partly because they spend a lot of time pushing a loaded stroller along when they run. In reality, it’s somewhat analogous to wearing a weight vest while running hills at altitude. When they then run without a stroller, it’s like they have wings. Embrace the adversity because it makes you stronger.
7. If your kids are a touch older, you can easily take them with you to a local track or a small loop around a park. Find a safe location where they can play (in sight) while you run laps. I’ve pulled this trick off many times. It’s also really helpful if there are other parents around the park too. If you show up with a couple extra Starbucks coffees, it’s an easy bribe to get them to keep half an eye on your kids (no really… this works).
8. Back to having friends that run; if they too have kids, maybe you can even work out a trade with them; watching each other’s kids on alternating days.
9. Find a co-worker who runs… or better yet, get your boss into running. That way, you’re much more likely to get away with coming in late in the morning, or leaving early for a lunch run.
10. And most importantly, choose a selfless and understanding spouse/partner. Hopefully, their selflessness will balance your obsessive running needs. Somehow, my wife still puts up with all my running. Maybe it’s because I’m such a grouch when I don’t get to feed my obsession, and it’s just easier to get me out of the house!
Now to the fun side of the coin… getting your kids into running
There are many great reasons that parents might want their kids to run. The two that need to be top of the list are: for fun and as a foundation for a healthy lifestyle. It’s a simple sport; no expensive equipment is needed, you can run almost anywhere, and you don’t need an organized club to go run around the block.
In fact, I feel that keeping running quite unstructured for your kids is the best way to introduce them to the sport. Starting them into structured workouts too early on is a recipe for disaster (take it from a guy that began competitive swimming at five years old, and was burnt out by the age of 13). There isn’t much debate these days about kids thriving off variety. The term ‘late specialization’ refers to letting your kids experience a variety of sports and activities while they are young. The variety builds both a muscular and neurological base that will help your kids excel down the road when/if they chose to specialize in a sport.
My girls are old enough now to easily handle being out on the trails for an hour at a time, but the bulk of our outings are really only about 20-30 minutes. We have several routes near our home, ranging from 2km and up, and we almost always stick to the trails or the grass. I am proud to say that my girls really do enjoy running, but I’m also wary of pushing them too hard. It would crush me if I did something to turn them off the sport that brings me so much balance and satisfaction.
Here are a 10 simple principles that I have learned:
1. Keep your routes and the duration a bit more random. Be prepared to deviate from the plan and maybe even let your kids chose where you go. Always include some hills though, both up and down, they will thank you for it down to road.
2. You don’t need to buy a full running kit for your child. They don’t give a crap about that stuff… yet!
3. Lots of positive talk to them while out there. They really thrive off your approval.
4. All kids tend to start off way too fast (as do most parents). Really slow things down at the start of each run and avoid the typical kid blow-up. Otherwise, the fun can disappear and you might be doing a lot of walking.
5. Once everyone is warmed up, change up the pace quite often. My girls love to do small ‘races’ throughout each run. We sprint to a tree or a post, or something – and they always beat me. BUT… I do stack the deck so that each of them gets their share of victories.
6. Enter them in local kids’ races, so that they can do the race on their own. You may feel the need to run alongside them at first, but try to keep that in check. Their confidence will soar when they realize they can do it on their own.
7. When it comes to racing, it’s all about trying their absolute best, not about where they place. It’s never too early to learn that the process is more important than the outcome.
8. Inertia can be your enemy. Make a plan to run with them, tell them the plan and execute the plan. Not only will they appreciate knowing that tomorrow morning is a run with mom or dad, but it will hold you accountable too.
9. Don’t get caught up in having the perfect conditions. I’ve had to really work on this, but you need to just go with the flow sometimes. They really don’t care about all the things that you worry about. Remember… embrace the adversity because it makes you (and them) stronger.
10. And absolutely don’t live your dreams of running greatness vicariously through your kids! If you push too hard or too quickly, they can easily learn to dislike running. It should always be fun for them.