How to Train For an Ultramarathon and Still Have a Life

Last winter, when I first told my wife that I wanted to run an ultra, her first concern was the amount of time the training was going to take away from the family. I had the same concern, but promised to both her and myself that I wouldn't allow the training to take up all of my spare time, and that I'd still have plenty of time to spend with the family.

After finishing my first 50 miler last year, my wife confessed that she was surprised/impressed with how little the added training had affected our family life. I had to remind her of this last fall when I first expressed my desire to run a 100 miler this summer.

With the summer quickly approaching, I'll soon be getting into the thick of my training. I've already logged some of the highest mileage training weeks I've ever done, and I'm happy to report that family time is firmly intact.

How have I managed it? Let me count the ways…

  1. Be flexible – I recently postponed a planned run to take my daughter on a bike ride (instead running on the treadmill later that night). Last week I took 3 unplanned rest days while I dealt with a flooded crawl space (does digging a 3 foot deep hole for a sump pump count as cross training?). Did I let these things stress me out? No (well, yes I did stress out about the flooded crawl space, but not because it caused me to miss a few runs). Life, as they say, is what happens when you're making plans. I've yet to follow a structured training plan for a race. I have little doubt that I would be more successful if I did, but I also know that it would make running less enjoyable, and feel too much like "work". My "non-plan" leaves me with much greater flexibility, allowing me to take my runs as they come. I still have to work hard to get my mileage in for the week, but I'm not stressed over missing a scheduled tempo run.
  2. Make friends with your alarm clock – The majority of my runs these days are done either early in the morning or late at night after the kids are in bed. This has meant embracing my alarm clock and making friends with the wee hours of the morning. One of the best pieces of advice I've read on this is to abolish the snooze button. It's far too easy to fall into the trap of hitting snooze 3 or 4 times to get just a few more minutes of sleep. The reality though is that this isn't quality sleep at this point. The only thing you're doing is making yourself late getting out the door for your run.
  3. Involve your family – Running doesn't have to be a solitary sport, get your family involved! As the warmer summer months approach, I'll be doing more of my runs with the kids in the jogging stroller. In addition to being a harder workout, it makes for great family time! I'll usually run a few miles over to a local playground, let the kids play around for a bit, then run back home in time for dinner. Sometimes I'll pack a picnic dinner and we'll eat there. If your kids are a bit older, invite them to ride their bikes along with you for part or all of your run. Other times my wife will come along as well, and we make it a family affair!

Most importantly, we talk to our kids about why it is that we run. We explain to them how it's important to be active and healthy. It's my hope that they grow up viewing this type of a lifestyle as "normal", and that they don't make some of the same mistakes I did earlier in my life, in terms of unhealthy eating habits coupled with a mostly sedentary lifestyle.

So far I think we're on the right track. They talk about wanting to go running with us, and keep asking about when the next kids' race is going to be.

3 thoughts on “How to Train For an Ultramarathon and Still Have a Life

  1. Great post and I totally agree…you have to stop stressing about the runs in order to make it work. Flexibility is key for LONG runs. Good luck on your 100mi!

  2. Great insights. My son has gotten so used to me running or taking my dog with me that he questions me if I don’t go.

  3. You are wise beyond your years! No amount of success on the track or trail can compensate for failure at home. We have been involving our kids in running as well. Stephens forward thinking elementary school is sponsoring the Tanaina Kids Marathon. Kids have a month to run/walk 25 miles (getting rewards along the way) and finish the last mile at field day (last day of school). Kary and I have been including 4 year old McKinley as we go out for a slow family run. The kids love it and even ask, “when can we go running again?”
    The other part of my training has been in the wee hours. Some of the longer runs getting me out of bed at 4:45 am. Gotta train hard because I know my friends like Brandon are going to be ultra prepared for the 2013 running season!
    Have fun in that snow tomorrow and thanks for the tip, Altra Boston t-shirts are on the way!……

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