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. 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?
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. 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!