How to Pace Yourself in Running and Parenting

Keep Calm and Pace Yourself

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Running. Parenting. Two very different yet surprisingly similar realms of one’s life (should you happen to do one or the other, or like myself, both). Both take an incredible amount of time, energy, commitment, and above all, love. They can both be immensely rewarding, bringing some of the greatest joys and memories of your life. However, if you are a runner or parent you know that both can also bring you the greatest stress and disappointments of your life. It is easy to get overwhelmed with the responsibility of juggling the two plus the many other things in life which demand our attention.
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So the question with which we, as runners or parents, struggle with daily is this: how do we pace ourselves in running and parenting as to not get burned out or end up a failure?

Keep Calm and Pace Yourself

As a parent of a two-and-a-half year old and a five month old (both boys), trying to keep up with my responsibilities as a father can definitely be a struggle at times. I oftentimes feel this overwhelming burden to give each of my children my full and undivided attention. As I am sure you guessed, this frequently ends in disaster. After a full day of work and with bath time only a few hours later, trying to cram a full day’s worth of love and attention into such a small window is, to say the least, stressful. What is meant to be a meaningful and loving time can quickly turn into a stress-fest, leaving me counting down the minutes until both children are fast asleep. It can leave me feeling worn out, defeated, and worst of all a failure as a parent.

Running is part of my life that I love. I began running in high school and pretty much never looked back (except at those I passed along the way). It is my primary form of exercise, my primary form of stress relief, and my primary form of escapism. Without it I am not sure where I would be today (certainly not writing a running blog!). I love the way it makes me feel.
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I love chasing after new goals and am always setting high expectations for myself. Pacing myself, however, has never been my strong suit. Whether it be in training or during a race, maintaining an even pace or sticking to a plan is something with which I consistently struggle. I let how I feel take over, which can lead me to running faster than I had planned. It may feel good at first, but as any runner can tell you, you can only run so fast for so long before you crash and burn. Needless to say I have found myself at the bottom of the wreckage many times over the years, but injury laden and full of regret.

So how do you pace yourself? How you find that happy balance between doing it all but not over-doing it?

Here are some ways that have helped me stay on track (or bounce back) over the years:

  • Focus on the now. Too often we find ourselves distracted by what we still need to do…deadlines at work, chores around the house, writing blog posts (I am very guilty of the last). You need to be able to put those things aside and focus on the task at hand, whether it is spending time with your family or getting in a few miles. If you are distracted by the world, you are doing yourself a great disservice. Only be fully being in the moment can you appreciate it and maximize its potential.
  • Learn to let go. One of the hardest things in life can be letting go of something we think is important. What we tend to learn, however, is that at the end of the day what we thought was important did not hold a candle to the most important things in our life: our family and our health. If you cannot reach that new PR (personal record) you have been trying for, perhaps simply scale it back and work towards that instead. If you find yourself stressing over “optional” things in your life, perhaps it is time to just let them go.
  • Prioritize. There are, however, some things that are truly important and that do need to take priority in our lives. As simple as this may seem, take a few minutes and write down what those things are, and place them in priority order: must get done today, must get done this week, or must get done sooner rather than later. Breaking down your priorities allows you to have a clear, manageable plan which in turn will ease your stress and bring balance to your life.
  • Remember the why. I will be honest. There are times when I want to give up on running, and there are times when I ask myself “what was I thinking?” when I decided to have kids. It is critical at these times to remember why you started and where you are headed.

    For running you likely started to get healthy, relieve stress, or find a way to socialize with others. Running brings you joy, and even if you need to walk away for a while that joy will ultimately bring you back. Remember, no goal worth reaching can be accomplished in a day. Stay focused on your goals and you will get there. As to being a parent, I simply breathe a little and focus on the good my children bring: the joy of their laughter, the love of a unexpected hug and kiss, the pride each time they learn or accomplish something new. Nothing compares to being a parent, and while there are rough moments I simply need to see them smile to know that it is all worth it.

  • Focus on the future. Seems odd to say when I said to “focus on the now” above, but if you lose sight of you want out of your running or what you want for your children’s future, you are apt to either slow your (or their) focus to a crawl or go off on unnecessary and potentially damaging tangents. Stay focused on your goals and your dreams, and one day you will get there. Just remember to take it one day at a time, because even superman only has 24 hours with which to work!

I am sure each and everyone of you also have unique ways of pacing yourself, and I would love to hear them! Please share in the comments below!

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  1. Frank Priegue

    As a runner and a new father I’m still learning a proper life balance. Sometimes it helps to be reminded. Running is a great metaphor for life. One step in front of the other and keep moving forward.

    • Al Ferguson

      Thanks for your comment – I agree. :)

    • Matt Orlando

      Hi Frank! Yes, each and every day we need to be reminded, but it’s an amazing journey well worth it!

  2. You Baby Me Mummy

    I wish I could run. It would be great for clearing my head. Thanks so much for linking up to #TheList x

    • Al Ferguson

      You’re welcome. Thanks for commenting. If running isn’t your thing, walking is pretty good! :)

  3. Tim

    Good tips, Matt. Having had 3 kids over the space of 5 years, exercise in general has been one of the things that has gone out of the window, to my detriment. Now they’re growing up a bit, it’s definitely time for me to get those running shoes back on again …

    • Al Ferguson

      How old are they now? It’s so hard to find time to get out for a run but I always come back in abetted mood.

  4. John Adams

    Prioritise and remember the why. Both very, very important. Great comparison. #BigFatLinky

    • Al Ferguson

      Thanks John. Have a great day

  5. Jade Wilson

    Great post for when I get back into (actually start) running! I suppose you just have to remember why you’re doing it and that it’s all been worth it – parenting and running that is. I still need to find a good balance between everything, not just those! Lovely post #bigfatlinky x

  6. Something Crunchy Mummy

    I do both running and parenting as I set myself up to fail a lot – I feel anyway! I signed up for a 10k race to keep me motivated but rather than pace myself I went from 2 miles to 5 miles in a matter of 2 runs then straight to 6 miles! This has then burnt me out! And with parenting I want to do my best so set for the higher goal in anything whereas my boys would be happy with the simest things. Great post and one I should keep in mind :-)

    • Al Ferguson

      Thanks for your comment. That’s quite a Juno between runs but at least you’re out there. :)

    • Matt Orlando

      It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement. You just need to remember that it’s about the journey, and the best ones are the ones that go slowly!

  7. Rosie @Eco-Gites of Lenault

    LISTS – they are th eonly way I can survive. Lists of everythign i have to do and then what I REALLY have to do and where I have to be at any given time. I also have to walk (I don’t run) as this is my thinking time – time to clear my mind of fog and time to come up with new ideas. (The dogs quite like this too!) #BigFatLinky

    • Al Ferguson

      That’s a great idea. Walking creates time to gather your thoughts. When you a baby you barely have time to think – it’s just auto pilot!

  8. Sarah Howe

    We try and be in the now as think that’s so important. You do forget the here and now. Well jealous of the running. Had to give it up after torn knee cartilage and an op. Can only do about 20 mins now. Such good escapism ️xx #bigfatlinky

    • Al Ferguson

      Ouch! Sounds painful. Can you cycle?

    • Matt Orlando

      So sorry to hear about the knee! But 20 minutes is better than none at all! Keep at it and remember why you started!

  9. International Elf Service

    You’re so right – life is moving at a gazillion mph since the birth of the internet and I think we’re all less relaxed and trying to do too much as a result. Can I just say too that as an osteopath – my advice for runners would be to start any run with 5 minutes of walking to get those muscles filled with blood and ready to go. Also the type of music you run with can affect your speed ;).

    • Al Ferguson

      Great tip! I’m pretty guilty of just going for it without a warm up but at 27 I can still get away with it!

  10. Catriona Stephen

    I’m so guilty of the first point, I’ve been feeling pretty bogged down with uni work at the moment, I feel like it’s been taking over my life. I should really get into running, I used to be quite good at long distance running, but have never bothered to get back into shape! #bigfatlinky

    • Al Ferguson

      I think that’s the thing. So many parents used to love running but it’s the first thing to get pushed out our timetable! Thanks for your comment. What are you studying?

  11. Laura

    Great post…I wish I could run, I’m going to have that as my goal after baby number 2 arrives, I can run to clear my head while daddy has his quality bathtime fun maybe? Parenting is certainly a pace yourself game and I def feel like I’ve run a marathon at the end of some days! #bigfatlinky

    • Al Ferguson

      Me too! It’s because most days begin so early I think. Thanks for your comment!

    • Matt Orlando

      Hi Laura! I definitely recommend getting out there after baby #2 arrives. Not only does running make you healthier and happier, it makes you a better parent…because you are healthier and happier!

  12. Ali @ mum in a nutshell

    i can see how they compliment each other! I’m so much fitter post pregnancy this time round after making sure I exercise daily. I wasn’t so good after my 1st & 2nd children and seemed tired and lethargic most of the time. 10 years on & things couldn’t be different. Can’t wait to get running again once my spd clears. Great tips there. #bigfatlinky

  13. Mama, My Kid Doesn't Poop Rainbows

    Great tips. I frequently feel overwhelmed as a parent, trying to juggle everything I need to do. Can’t get on the same page with you about the running, though. I take five steps and collapse on the pavement, gasping like a fish out of water.


    • Matt Orlando

      Well, next time try six steps…and then seven…and before you know it you’ll be raising your arms triumphantly as you finish your first 5K!

  14. Lisa (mummascribbles)

    I used to run (years ago), but have terrible ankles now from it so I can’t do it anymore. I do remember the end feeling after a run though – I wish I did still run as where we live now would be much better to do it! I definitely agree with your points in regards to parenting though. Like you, I work all day and get about an hour in the evening before it’s zach’s bedtime. It’s important to make sure that hour is all about him – for he’s the most important :) #bigfatlinky

  15. Alexandra Hurton

    Running is one of this things that I always aim to start but never do. I do some work outs (although no where near my pre motherhood condition!) and it’s a nice break in the day and allows me to let of some steam when its been a long day. #BigFatLinky

  16. vicki - elliebearbabi

    I used to run twice a week but i’ll admit I hated it, it’s something I wish I liked but I just find it so boring ha. Great post tho!

  17. Kaye

    All so true. It’s a shame that it seems to be when bad things happen to us that we realise the importance of life & family! Great tips here to get a good balance in life! #bigfatlinky

  18. morna

    Great post!
    I did my first marathon 12 weeks pregnant but I haven’t ever really got back into running since then. I’ve done a couple of races but I’ve not made it an every day part of life like it was before I had kids. I miss it and your post made me realise how much.

    I like your comment about optional things not being stressful. I get stressed about my blog a lot which is ridiculous – it’s a hobby I should enjoy it. I also used to stress about running. I think I’m going to dust off my shoes and go out tonight and not stress about how slow I am! #bigfatlinky

  19. Jenni - Odd Socks and Lollipops

    Great advice, I like the idea of focusing on the now, I get too caught up in what needs doing by when, so this is something I really need to remember! Oh and learning to let go – vitally important.

  20. Juliet McGrattan

    As a mum and a keen runner I LOVE this post. I find that running helps my parenting and vice versa. Both require stamina and motivation to do well. Really enjoyed reading this and good luck with the ‘Race of Life’!!

    • Al Ferguson

      Thanks for your comment – pleased you liked it. :)

  21. Lianne - The Brunette Says

    I dont run, but I walk a lot, with the pushchair and I think some of my best ideas, thoughts and plans happen whilst out walking. Its a great way to clear my head and have some thinking space!

    I do wish I could run though, I’d probably lose this baby weight a lot quicker!! :)

  22. Mummy Fever

    Very alike – I do both but the running has taken a back seat. I am running my 15th marathon in June and my training thus far has including a few sessions of hip hop abs in my lounge lol! Might have to take up running around the garden with the baby bjorn at this rate… does that count? #bigfatlinky

    • Al Ferguson

      Wow! 15th? That’s an impressive resume!

  23. Mummyandmonkeys

    Focus on the now is what I try and do when I’m feeling overwhelmed. I try and remember they wont be this small and needy forever. That I wont get this day with them again. Great post x

  24. Dawn of the Dad

    I don’t know about running, the world speeds by at break neck speed! No need to try and keep up.
    Walking, up mountains, and enjoying the vistas is a much more calming method of exercise.
    Some great ideas for de-stressing. Thats if you need to

  25. Jenny

    I’m not a runner, but really need to pace myself parenting. It used to be fine when ?I could do a lot in the morning have a break whilst they napped and then do lots together in the afternoon. But it’s so much harder to give them both enough attention when I’m tired and just want a break (only the baby naps now! ) .

  26. Penny Pincher (Dawn)

    I don’t run, I wish I did; it would be a great way to clear my head for the next round of children related obstacles coming my way.

  27. Jeremy

    Now that the mini is in school a few hours a day it’s much easier to find at least a little time for myself, but its a real struggle. You can’t give up everything that you enjoyed completely

  28. Nige

    What a great post about juggling and fitting everything into your life thanks for sharing :)

  29. TouchlineDad

    I have a slightly different perspective. In parenting the kids set the pace. I know this because whenever I think I have them ‘sussed’ a moment later they’ve changed and I need to move on my relationship to them.
    In running, the track or course doesn’t change, but my body goes through ups and downs of fitness, but with an underlying gradual downward curve of aging.
    There you go – another angle on these twin activities. (Had a great run this morning).

  30. MummyBexm

    ‘Learn to let go’ and ‘focus on the now’ are 2 great pieces of advice. I need to remember them more often. #Bigfatlinky

  31. Toni @ Gym Bunny Mummy

    Some great tips. The gym is my stress relief but running a business from and raising a teenager & a toddler is hard work so I’m struggling to find time for everything too! #BigFatLinky

  32. Elizabeth (Wander Mum)

    Hey Al, love this comparison… Running & parenthood but also business, work, blogging… These points are relevant for so many things in life… So wise words. I am trying to do the ‘be present in the present’ a bit more as am definitely guilty of getting distracted especially all this technology around us but it is so important #bigfatlinky xx

  33. Jeff Page (aka Hectic Dad)

    Well done!

    This post encapsulates what you really need to focus on to be a good parent and a good runner! When my knees started to complain too much, and my treadmill started to get too much usage by other family members, I turned to cycling. The distances are vastly longer (I’ve done 90 miles in a day during a 10-day, 555 mile “ride”), so the idea of pacing is even more important.

    I’ve also had kids in our household since 1989. It’s only now, decades later that I’m applying any of the suggestions that you made! I’ve saved this to read over and over because it’s the kind of kick in the pants that I need to help me refocus.

    I visited from the #BigFatLinky.

    Make it a great day!

  34. Richie

    There is always a balancing act that needs to be done when it comes to parenting. If you cannot allow yourself the time to work on some of your own hobbies whether it’s running or video games you will get burn out quick. Great post!

  35. Debs @ Super Busy Mum

    Loved reading this post because you’re right! Life whizzs passed us {I mean…middle of April already!??} and we miss things. Everyday I will ignore something {housework, never the kids!} to focus on something that truly matters and outweighs the pressure of the dishes, or the ironing.
    As a fello runner {when I’m not to exhausted after running after 5 kids} it makes me feel not only like myself, it makes me feel strong….and also free, and you cannot beat those feelings.

    Thanks for hosting! First timer linker upper here too! :)

  36. Verily Victoria Vocalises

    What a great post – you really have hit the nail on the head with the comparison too. Lots of great tips. Thank you so much for linking to #PoCoLo and hope to see you again :)

  37. Dennis

    Yes! Pace…focus on the future while being diligent now. Sometimes I forget those two very important concepts. #bigfatlinky

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