As a young father in my late 20s and early 30s, I made the decision to back off heavy training to concentrate more on making a living and being a good father. That doesn’t mean I quit running altogether. It just meant giving up the 80-mile training weeks because that amount of running would not have been fair to my wife in terms of taking care of our children.
She knew that running was good for me overall. Having met in our early 20s, she saw many of my best days and some of the worst when it came to racing on the roads. From 1981 through 1985, I raced between 10-25 times each year, with a peak competitive schedule of 25 races in 1984. We were married in 1985.
Our first child was born in October of 1986. Fatherhood arrived with more daily activities than I’d previously experienced. Between feeding my son and changing diapers, driving him to daycare when she went back to work and picking him up at the end of the day, life was suddenly a string of commitments.
I still kept running. Sometimes it was early in the morning. Other times right after work while the kids were playing and I had 45 minutes to an hour to train.
When my daughter was born three years later the commitments didn’t exactly double, but by then I had developed a far mellower outlook toward running in general. Racing was reduced to 2-3 times a year. Running was 4-5 times a week. Finding time for workouts was challenging, but it worked out.
I never liked racing when I was half in shape. That’s what people in our running group used to asked me on weekly Saturday morning group runs. “Are you still just fit enough to get fit?” a former competitor once scolded me.
“Yep,” I’d say.
It wasn’t that we were running slowly. Some of those Saturday runs dialed up to six-minute-per-mile pace. That’s quick, but anyone that has raced at 5:00 pace per mile can tell you there’s a major difference when running sixty seconds faster per mile. I knew that my intensely competitive days were through.
The other hard part about finding time for workouts in those era was balancing work and fitness. Occasionally I’d sneak in a workout during the lunch hour, but the idea that daytime workouts contributed to productivity was not yet accepted in the work world. As an employee in sales and then marketing, there were quotas to fill and anxieties to manage. Running with a guilty conscience never felt good to me.
I was already an anxious person by nature. Ironically, to my nature, running actually helped manage those ruminative thoughts. Despite my conflicted conscience, finding time to work out during the day actually made me a better employee in many ways. Often while running I’d come up with a solution to some marketing challenge. It also helped my self-esteem to wind up some daytime endorphins. I’d be much more relaxed in presentations and sales calls.
As my children grew up, they noticed my love for running of course. Fitting it into the schedule came with a different type of guilt as I tried to balance parenting choices with how long I got out to run. That meant I frequently kept a strict schedule, telling my closest training partner and friends, “I can run from 6-6:45, but I have to be home by then.”
One friend gave me grief about that quite often. Sometimes he wouldn’t be ready when I arrived, or not even changed into running clothes. Then I had to wait. On more than one occasion I took off without him.
Ten years later, when he was raising kids of his own, he called one day and said, “Hey, I owe you an apology. I used to give you shit about going out running. My son is here literally clinging to my ankle telling me not to go. I’m sorry.”
These days all our kids are grown up, but sometimes there is still a tug and pull between us over what time to work out, and where. At this stage of life, we’re far more blunt about needs and time commitments. With age comes honesty.
Way back when I was training hard there was a phrase from the book Hotel New Hampshire by John Irving that used to cycle through my head. One of the main characters in the book was a wrestler urged by his coach, “You’ve got to get obsessed and stay obsessed,” he’d tell him. That was the key to success in his mind. For many things in life, that is true.
When it comes to finding time for workouts, here’s a bit of sage advice. There’s more than one kind of success in this world. Sometimes we gain more by giving up our most selfish concerns. I think that’s what these many years of training have taught me.
These days, I enjoy being a training companion for my wife. I admire her regimen and discipline. She never had the chance in life before to test her athletic abilities. Now she’s doing well. In a couple weeks, we’re traveling to Ironman 70.3 Worlds in St. George, Utah. She qualified this summer and has earned the chance to compete there.
I’ve been happy to be her support crew at races this year. My own racing schedule might come down to a late-September Olympic triathlon, and I’m happy with that. I find time for my workouts between other things in our schedule. I’m actually becoming a better husband this way, taking care of daily chores including feeding and walking the dog, emptying and filling the dishwasher, getting the pup to Doggy Daycare or the Bark Park, and making meals so that she can fit in the workouts she needs to succeed. I’ve been known to cry happy tears when she races well and is satisfied with her effort.
I do several workouts with her every week, usually a long ride on Saturday and a long ride on Sunday. During the week I fit workouts in where time permits. I do have flexibility in my schedule and find the time as it fits my writing and work obligations. This morning I ran five miles starting with a 2.5 mile warmup at 9:30 pace followed by a quicker 2.5 miles back at 8:23 pace. It was humid as hell and tough to run, but I congratulated myself on making a good decision to keep it simple and not turn it into a humidity sufferfest.
I laugh because during my warmup miles, a guy about my age rolled past doing probably 9:00 pace. I know because I tracked him a few hundred meters before the 2.5 mile mark. Part of me was tempted to follow him out the next half mile and scorch him on the way back. Instead I turned around at the planned 2.5 miles and left him in peace.
The same thing happens often in cycling. I love a good 25-30 mile ride or two during the week, and sometimes I get passed by a young buck or some determined type. If they say hello, I never mind. If they roll past like they’re all superior, my instincts are to run or ride them down. I’m still wired to a competitive scale, but also have a governor on those urges.
Last Saturday we covered 50 miles at 18.6 mph. We rode with friends and took turns leading. We were all different athletes with different aims, but the ride went run. Finding time for workouts is often a matter of making workouts a good time. For fitness. For thinking. For life.