Hitting the Trail: 10 Tips for Endurance Racing as a Busy Parent

Hitting the Trail: 10 Tips for Endurance Racing as a Busy Parent

Any parent will be happy to explain to you at length that everything gets more complicated after you add kids to your life. This includes your fitness regimen. But instead of letting that fall by the wayside – and letting your physical, mental, and emotional health suffer as a result – it’s best to get back on that horse as quickly as you can.

For us, that looked like getting back out on the trails asap after Baby J arrived last year. He did his first hike with us around 4 weeks old.

Fast forward to right now: my husband and I just finished a respectably difficult trail race in the San Juan Mountains, with our kids cheering us on at the finish line. This was the third time we’ve done this race together and the second time since we’ve been parents.

me and my husband on a high alpine pass
The summit of the race – at over 13,100 feet!

You might be thinking: “That seems kinda cool but…Nah. They seem a little bit crazy, and I’m not even sure they have real jobs. Plus running just comes easily for some people. I might have done something like that before I had kids, but not now because I’m way too busy…”

Let me assure you: we are not in league with the Running Greats. No one is winning trophies or getting sponsored by North Face over here. We have real jobs. This sort of thing is totally possible for normal, non-elite-athlete, working parents.

Here are the philosophies and practices that make the months of training together – and the race weekend itself – possible for us.

1. Never use the kids as an excuse not to do things.

Sure, training for and completing a race might not be as easy as when you were responsible for no one but you. Logistics may be harder depending on ages and temperaments of your kids – I’m acutely aware of this. Your timeline for training and your race-day goals may look different than they would without kids. That’s 100% okay. But if you’ve got a goal in mind – big or small – don’t use the kids as a reason you can’t reach it.

2. Set a concrete deadline for yourself.

You may recall that the “T” in “SMART goals” stands for “Time-bounded”. For your goal to have a reasonable chance of being reached, you need a deadline – and that deadline is RACE DAY. Sign up for that race you’ve been thinking about the day registration opens! Make it a course that you know will be possible for you but also challenging enough to keep you heading out the door in the early mornings to train.

3. Make training an integral part of your life.

If you’re really planning on doing something challenging, it can’t be the thing you focus on only if nothing else comes up. It has to get priority. You have to set a training plan an stick to it, including eating well and getting enough sleep. For us, this meant almost every Saturday of the three months before the race was spent out on the mountain trails. It meant early bedtimes for the whole family and lots of home-cooked meals. We couldn’t train as much during the week since we both work, so we biked to work and to the daycare (yes, with the baby in a bike seat) and our older son biked to school.

4. Find the right training buddies.

Easier said than done, I know. Making new friends after college is the worst. But if you have an epic fitness challenge in your future, you MUST have friends who get excited about fitness. Join a local running group or hiking group if that’s what it takes. All you need is a few decent people who show up to the trailhead when they say they will and who can handle pain without whining.

woman running on high peak
One of my training buddies crushin’ it on a local trail.

5. Bring the kids with you on some training days, but not on all of them.

Climbing a mountain while bribing your grade-schooler to make the summit is pretty fun. We’ve done it many times. Running with a stroller is also great, as is carrying Babykins in a backpack. But it’s not the same physical challenge as training with other similarly-paced adults, and you need that adult-only time. Trust me, you do.

6. Hire sitters and pay them well.

See #5. This is just part of life when you have kids. Don’t stay in every weekend (or sacrifice your fitness) just because it costs money to leave the kids with someone. If you are okay doing a lot of training on treadmills, consider a gym membership that includes on-site childcare. In our case, we were actually training outdoors so much over this past summer that we cancelled our gym membership. We spent less on sitters than on what our gym membership would have cost us.

7. Bring a support crew to the race event.

Grandparents or other relatives who don’t mind childcare duties are a gift from God. Offer to pay for their lodging or meals, and have them bring the kids to finish line to watch and cheer. If you don’t have the option of relatives who want to spend their free time looking after your ankle-biters and watching you run, hire a nanny. If at all possible, get childcare covered for the night before the event (so you can get guaranteed sleep) and the entire day-of (so you can race and then have a few hours to rest without having to worry about the kids).

family photo with mountains behind
Our support crew on race weekend.

8. Learn how to be happy for people who are better than you.

This is pretty counter-culture in today’s society, but it’s so important. After I did my first marathon, I felt pretty awesome. I kept doing endurance running, thinking I was pretty decent at it. But the more I ran and the more distance runners I met, the more I realized I had barely waded into the shallow end of a really deep Crazy Pool. It seems like it gets even crazier with trail runners. My business partner is one of those guys who does the 100-mile high-elevation races as a hobby. One of my best friends seems to win our age division in every race she signs up for (and yes, she’s a mom too).

I could easily let people like this annoy me because they are so good and they make it look like it’s nothing. I could also make all sorts of excuses for why I’m not as fast or as strong as they are. But what good would that do? It sure won’t make me any better at anything except feeling sorry for myself. Instead, I try to be inspired by their success. I’m deeply impressed that they can run like they do. And I love that I sometimes get to run in the same general area as them (a whole lot slower than them).

9. Don’t be too hard on yourself.

I’m not saying don’t try your best. I am saying that injuries, illness, bad weather, and kids having meltdowns late into the night right before your event are all part of this game. The whole operation (including your performance on race day) does not have to be perfect for you to get in great shape, have a lot of fun doing it, and create some awesome family memories.

10. Keep your sense of adventure alive.

This goes hand in hand with a lot of the advice above. Pick races that excite and intimidate you. Train with new people on new trails. Invite family and friends. Include the kids when you can. Surround yourself with people who love adventure, who push you to stretch your comfort zones and who cheer for you no mater what. Embrace the chaos of pursuing your goals and passions with your kids in tow.

It will be worth it. Good luck! 😀

Us with our kids, mountains in the background
At the finish line with the munchkins.

9 Replies to “Hitting the Trail: 10 Tips for Endurance Racing as a Busy Parent”

  1. Inspiring! It’s so essential to continue to improve oneself even after having children. Congratulations on your race!

  2. Everybody would like to wake up and run like this, without it interfering with a job… not possible for everyone.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Adolfo! I agree with you that this sort of hobby is not for everyone – there are many reasons someone might not want to do what we do. My post is just meant to inspire those busy parents out there who might want to give endurance running/racing a try, but are on the fence and need a little nudge. 🙂

  3. Great Blog. I totally resonate with all points. #10 especially. I did Ironman Kona a few weeks ago – a huge stretch for me. I brought my entire family and having my wife and kids congratulate me at the finish line was the highlight of the day!

    1. CONGRATULATIONS on the Kona Ironman! Whooohooooo! It was amazing following your training and race journey on Facebook! And what an amazing thing that your family could be there to cheer you on and celebrate with you. 🙂
      Thanks so much for reading and commenting! 😀

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