Sunday, September 9, 2012

Ultra training for busy parents (Or: How I run >100 miles/week and still have weekends free)

Being a good parent requires sacrifice. Taking kids to school, doctors appointments, soccer games, and the water park all take time and energy. Playing with your kids, going to the beach on the weekends, throwing a ball in the backyard are even more important activities that cut into time we could spend on the trails, preparing for that next ultra. While most people can train for a marathon running on 40 miles a week, most ultra runners need much more than that, and hence more time spent away from our families. Parents who are ultra runners have an especially hard time because we feel guilty being gone for 5-6 hours on a Saturday when your kids want to be with you on the beach.

As runners, we also try very hard to replicate race conditions in training. We test our shoes, clothes, run hills, test out foods to be eaten, and on and on. For longer ultras (100 milers) one critical race condition is almost impossible to ‘practice’; that being, the pure exhaustion near the end of the race when you seemingly have no motivation or energy to keep going. Even a 40 miler in training won’t help you much for that end game exhaustion.

I recently married my second wife and now have 3 kids whose time I enjoy very much, but I wanted to be able to get to 100+ miles/week consistently without taking away any time with my family, and came up with a workout that solves all of these problems.

The workout has three pieces and is meant to be done during a normal workday when spouses are at work and kids at school. The leaving your weekends free for fun and relaxation.

Phase 1: Wake up at 3am and take some time to wake up. Have a cup of coffee, small breakfast, or your standard pre-long run fuel. Grab your running gear and set off for a 16-20 mile run near your home. You will be out in the dark on roads with drivers not expecting runners that early so you need to be careful. Time it such that you are home before your kids wake up.

Phase 2: Now that you have had a good workout getting endorphins flowing, you start your normal day. Send the kids off to school, go to work, and keep moving. When you get home don’t relax or take a nap but rather spend quality time with your family. The key is to become (and remain) tired. Put the kids to bed and then stay up maybe cleaning the basement, organizing your running clothes, whatever. Just don’t stop moving.

Phase 3: At midnight or so, grab your running gear and head out and do another 16-20 miler. By far the hardest part of this entire workout is the start of this second run for the day. This is what the rest of the day has been focused on. Get out there and start running. After a few miles, you wake back up and make it through.

At first look, you might think that this workout will kill you. Remember that first 15 mile run you ever did? Remember how awful you felt afterward? After a few such runs, they become easy. This workout is similar in that each time is easier than the last time. Your body will adapt quickly to this crazy plan.

This is meant to be your long run for the week and if you do it on a weekday, your weekends can now be spend more with your family than alone on the trails. With a little planning and sacrifice of your time, you can get weekly long ultra training run done without your family having to lose their time with you. Weekends can go back to being family time, sleeping in, playing on the beach. Something all parents wish they could do more of.