Friday 22 February 2013

Ultra Parenting

Taken from
As I sit here and type this, I have my beautiful baby girl Charlotte clamped onto my chest fast asleep (luckily the shear amount of hair there provides enough friction that she won't fall off). She is now a whole 8 days old, and is (without getting too mushy on you) absolutely perfect in every way. Thank goodness she gets most of her looks from her mother! 

Without getting into the gory details, the birth was a bit of an ultra in itself. Watching my wife go through 28 hours of labour kind of puts my piddly little races into perspective, that's for sure! Next time I start bitching about how tired I am at mile 80, I will look back on that experience and just man the f**k up. Actually, y'know what, scratch that; woman the f**k up!

And now here we are. I'm finally a father. It amazes me that they let any old idiot do this. Shouldn't there be like a test or something?! But having my baby girl is indeed the greatest thing that I have ever done with my life, narrowly beating finishing the Piece of String Fun Run last year (much to James Adams' disappointment). And now the fun begins!

Now that I have become a father, things are going to change. So how do I maintain the life of an ultrarunner whilst also being a good father? In Running on Empty, Marshal Ulrich describes how his relationship with his children suffered as he travelled the world chasing bigger and longer running achievements. Whilst I love to run, I love my family more, so the key for me is moderation. 

It doesn't hurt that my wife is incredibly accommodating and supportive of my running (she even helps with this blog, checking posts for mistakes before I publish them). She knows that it's not just a hobby for me, but a passion. When I was kicked out of the hospital on the evening when she stayed in after the birth, her response was, "Hey, why don't you go for a run in the morning?". No wonder I love her! And if I pull my finger out and get a good run in at the South Downs Way 100 this year, there may even be a pay cheque in it for me. Hey, nappies ain't cheap you know! 

It has only been a week, but so far things have been going well. I have managed to slot in runs of a couple of hours, either when Jen has gone out with baby, or had friends visiting. When I go back to work it will actually be even easier to get runs in, as running and cycling is my method of travelling to and from work. The local roads (the Highway to Hell that is the A14) and public transport around here can be pretty slow, and running and cycling are actually not that much slower. So that gives me a good 2 hours plus of training every day, which beats being in a car for 2 hours instead. I do my long runs nice and early on the weekend, leaving at 4 am so that I can be back from a 30 miler ready for breakfast. Hopefully maintaining this routine with the new addition to our family shouldn't be too difficult.

At this stage, things are "relatively easy" (compared to, say, brain surgery). As a father, there is not much I can do on the feeding side of things, so instead try and do everything I can to make Jen's life simpler (cleaning, walking the dog, changing nappies, occasionally even cooking). But there's a lot of downtime as well (babies sure do sleep a lot!). However, as she gets older, finding that free time will be harder when I would rather be playing with her, or helping her with her homework, or taking her to the park. So I got chatting to a few of my friends who have slightly older children about how they have found the balance for training and family.

The number one rule that crops up is communication. Whenever we are off training or racing, our other halves have to pick up the slack. Arranging to enter a race and not mentioning it to our partners is pretty bad form. As Chris Baynham-Hughes (finisher of the epic Dragon's Back Race 2013) put it:
"Your wonderful wife will be looking after your little angel(s) whilst you are out with your solo and comparatively selfish pursuit; setting your race calendar early allows your wife to schedule in visits or trips so she can enjoy herself (and get a little help or a break)."
Jen and I have a very good line of communication, and talk about everything. Importantly, I always run everything past her, and she knows that she can say no. A case in point is Spartathlon which I was planning on entering, but was asked not to as I am already running in Transvulcania in May. Buggering off to warmer climes and leaving her holding the baby twice in one year was a little cruel. No biggy - I'll enter next year instead. On the flip side, I noticed a 12 hour race going on at Fen Drayton (just round the corner from my house), and she told me I should enter. Swings and roundabouts.

Tiredness is obviously a factor in both ultrarunning and parenting. The standard response to announcing the pregnancy was, "Oh, it'll be good training for running through the night!" Bodily fluids are also incredibly important in both, and if you can learn to deal with these then you're well on your way! Luckily I am not particularly squeamish, and barely sleep more than 5 hours a night anyway, so at the moment neither of these have been an issue. A week; a lifetime; they're the same, right?! Most of my friends incorporate running into their family lives by just running at stupid times at night or the morning, which definitely fits in well with my plans. Who needs sleep, eh?

Pictured: Me ably dealing with lack of sleep.
One thing that I am truly looking forward to is seeing Charlotte out on the trail. Eric Schranz, host of Ultra Runner Podcast, told me:
"I've learned that there's nothing at all more powerful than seeing your kids halfway through a race. However shitty I'm feeling, they perk me up and force a smile on my face. I WILL NOT DNF in front of my kids."
I am hoping that Jen and Charlotte will be able to come and meet me at the finish of the SDW100 in June, and the thought of finishing the race with Charlotte in my arms is going to power me through any low times I may have throughout the day. Plus the faster I run, the sooner I will see her!

Eric also runs a lot of his miles with a stroller, and recommends it as a way to get them involved. They're expensive (especially if you're a gear guy and want to minimise weight etc.), but "ya gotta pay for the good stuff". One thing to be aware of is that running with a stroller too much can play around with your biomechanics, but as a way to add extra miles in and get your kids involved in your hobby it's definitely a great idea.

Things have been great so far, but as with any 100 miler, it's not a case of if things go wrong - it's when! There will be difficult times when Charlotte is crying through the night, and we barely sleep at all. Any number of things will happen along the way, but the one important thing is this; it's only running. Family always comes first, and that's the Golden Rule.

Or, if you're Chris, the Golden Rule is "protect your tool". Best not to ask why me thinks...

Because alcohol and parenting go together so well!


  1. Looks like some wise words, but the thing that concerns me the most is you cooking, I'm not saying it's bad, but Jen's is amazing! Sounds like exciting stuff, can't wait to come and see what all the fuss is about.

  2. Jen had the exact same worry about my cooking. That's why we have a spare freezer full of her cooking! Always plan ahead.

  3. You have to have the right terrain to use a stroller, even the super fancy running ones. Good if you live in London and have the Royal parks to run around as they have good flat tracks, but where I live the pavements are not in good enough condition to do this without getting into trouble with social service for excessive shaking of the baby! :)


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.