It is no secret that ultra marathon training takes up a lot of time. Even ‘low’ mileage runners who are running 30 – 40 miles per week will still find themselves needing to devote 5+hrs of running time per week, not to mention the pre and post run faff that can easily take as long as the run itself.
It is also no secret that having a kid takes up a lot of time too. So, how to make the two compatible? There’s no playbook for ultra marathon training as a parent but after 6 years of trying to do both, here are 5 of my top ultra marathon training tips for those of us who have little ones to look after too.
Make a schedule and stick to it
Most ultra marathon runners love to build a schedule or a running plan, log their miles and generally be pretty structured about their training. When you’re a parent this becomes even more important. Build your plan around the kids and commitments otherwise you’re setting yourself up for failure – that 20 mile long run on Sunday will go out the window if you’ve forgotten there’s a kids birthday party on the same day. If you get creative there’s always room to slot in you run but planning is key. Once you’ve build a plan, make sure it’s visible and everyone knows about it so there are no surprises. Stick to your plan. Without kids there’s always an option to make up a run on another day, with kids if you miss your planned slot for a run then good luck making it back up again. [Top tip – get yourself a giant white board / chalk board planner]
But know when to be flexible
Now go ahead and throw all of that first point out of the window. Well not quite but just like an ultra marathon, training for one with kids is all about adaptability. You’ll learn there are times when you have to stick to the plan at all costs and then there are times when things just have to change. No matter how many times you explain that Monday is your recovery run day, Wednesday is hills and Sunday is your long run, your kids are unlikely get it! Roll with the punches and get comfortable juggling things around if you have to. One run won’t define your whole training block. [Top tip – if there are critical runs such as your longest long run, your familiarisation run on the course or a run where you test out all your kit then make sure these are ring fenced well ahead of time.]
Embrace back to back runs
Before kids you most likely had the luxury of devoting an entire day to a long run. You could get up at a leisurely hour on a Sunday, eat a decent breakfast, drive to a nice route, go for a good 3, 4 or 5 hr run, then get back, have a nice long shower and spend the rest of the day on the sofa eating food, potentially with some nominal stretching or foam rolling. With kids you’ll be lucky to find 2hrs for the whole thing but here’s where you’re in luck because ultra marathon training best practice / perceived wisdom has your back, quite literally – back to back runs. In case you’re not familiar, a back to back run is essentially where you take your long run target distance, divide it in two (roughly) and then do it on two separate days. Want to run 30 miles, do 20 on Saturday and 10 on Sunday. [Top tip – back to back runs are a great way of not trashing your body and they’re also a great way of fitting in your long runs without completely ditching parenting duties for a whole day!
Find the margins
With kids on the scene you might not be able to get out onto your favourite trail and that’s tough but there’s always room in the margins. Want to watch a your kids football training? Then time your long run to end up on the football field and do 4 miles looping around the pitch (it gets a little boring after a while though!). Kids birthday party the next town over that you cannot miss? Run back fueled by birthday cakes and get weird looks from all the other parents who have no idea what you’re doing or why. There is always room to fit in a run, just think outside the box. [Top tip – always keep a pair of trainers and running clothes in the car just in case you can sneak in a run].
Take them along for the ride
If you’re lucky you’ll find a point in time when your kid expresses an interest in running with you. If that happens embrace it and see what happens. More than likely they won’t be that interested, or if they are they won’t exactly want to spend hours running. Have no fear – if your kids are little ones then why not check out a running buggy, if they’re a little older then perhaps see if they can ride their bike alongside you. Neither is a great option for a long run or trails but perhaps a way of incorporating some active parenting into your recovery run. [Top tip – pushing a running buggy is a ‘great’ alternative to hills or speed work].
So that’s it, 5 ultra marathon training tips for parents. And remember, if all else fails then your ultra marathon training so far has been great preparation for being a parent. Sleepless nights, complicated logistics and lots of kit are just some of the characteristics shared between ultra marathon running and parenting.
PS – check out my site for some impartial, field tested reviews of ultra marathon gear