Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Balance & Time Management

I was recently asked to draft an essay for a half-marathon training group, addressing issues of balance and time management.  I know many others who are training for spring races.  As the miles add up, we can find ourselves stretched thin at home and work.  In this essay, I share some tips and tricks I learned while I was in the midst of my heavy training.

Here it is:

One of the questions I often get is, “how do you have time to train for marathons, work as a surgeon, and spend time with your family?”    The answer is time management and balance.  I would like to share with you what I have learned along the way, and give you some tips and tricks for how to tackle the training necessary for a full or half marathon, and stay balanced in your life, not neglecting your other responsibilities at home and work.

I had completed three marathons already by the time I met my wife, so she knew that I was a runner.  However, until you live with one, it is difficult to understand what that means.  Full marathons generally require at least one long run of 20 miles and several long runs of 12-20 miles in the weeks or months before that.  Not to mention the weekday runs, too!  The mileage for a half is obviously less, but the principles are the same.  You might be gone for 2, 3, or 4 hours on your long run, but it isn’t just the time on the actual run that counts.  The night before a long run you generally are going to want to go to bed early and eat a certain way.  After the run, you are going to be tired and sore and not feel like doing a whole lot.  Pretty soon, the long run can dominate an entire weekend.  If you aren’t careful, this can result in resentment from your spouse or significant other if he or she is not on board.  To this day, my wife is mad that when I ran the Salt Lake City Marathon, we never went and looked at the Great Salt Lake.  I was too tired!!  We joke about it now, but she was really disappointed!

I’ve compiled a few suggestions on how to manage your time and balance the demands of training with family and work responsibilities.

1.  Get wise as to your why’s, and share them.  If you have a spouse or significant other and he or she is not a runner, explain why you are training.  Maybe it is get in shape, lose weight, connect with friends, deal with stress, or achieve a bucket list item.  Whatever the reason is, share with those around you.  They will better understand your motivation and are more likely to support your endeavor.  My wife has learned that when I am training, I am the best version of myself.  That spills over into every other aspect of my life at home and work.  For this reason, among others, she is extremely supportive of my hobby.  Also, when you truly understand why you are doing this, those reasons will help to keep you motivated.  For me, my goal was to run a marathon in every state.  That goal got me out the door lots of mornings I would have rather stayed in bed.

2. Make it a family affair.  Whenever possible, include your family in your training.   My wife and I planned our wedding during long training runs for the Country Music Marathon in 2004.  It may not be practical to include your family in long training runs, but try and do some of your training with them.  My wife and I often go on short jogs together now, and use this time to connect away from the distractions of home and work.  Similarly, if your children are old enough to run, ask if they want to run with you.  Even if it is only for a hundred yards, you will both enjoy it.  Finally, if you have small kids, I highly recommend a Baby Jogger.  It’s a great way to include young children in your run, and can lighten the load on your spouse.

A positive side effect of this will be the effect it has on your family.  One of the things I am most proud of is the culture of exercise that exists in my house now.  My kids think it is perfectly normal for running shoes, hats, and sweaty tech shirts to be lying around.  They love to put on headlamps and run around in the back yard, pretending that they are running marathons in the dark like dad.

3.  Sacrifice.  You will have to sacrifice. My job involves long hours away from home so the last thing I want to do is sacrifice family time in order to train. For this reason, I have become extremely efficient at training. My goal for a weekend long run is to be home by the time everyone is eating breakfast. In order to do this, I usually have to get up and be out the door by 5 AM.  I started one long run at 3:30 AM!  I love these early morning solo runs.  There is nothing more peaceful than a long run on a dark morning.  I have found, too, that the miles seem to go by a little faster when it is very dark and early in the morning (probably because I am half asleep during the first half of it).  I am usually home by 7 or 8 and don’t feel like I’ve missed much.

4. Use your time wisely.  As a surgeon, my days can be unpredictable.  I never know what might be waiting for me when I get to the hospital, and never know exactly what time I might get home.  I have made the mistake of putting off a run until evening, assuming I would have time.  Invariably something comes up that prevents me from getting the run in.  Do it first thing in the morning before the many demands of work and family pile up.  Sometimes, however, I can’t get my workout in before work, if I have an early surgery or emergency.  For this reason, I keep a pair of running shoes and workout clothes in my car and hospital locker at all times.  Even if I can only get away for 30 minutes, that is much better than missing a workout altogether.

5.  Realize that running isn’t for everyone.  I love running marathons and I love training for marathons.  My wife has actually trained for and ran a few with me.  She is a very gifted runner and has much more natural talent than I do.  At first, I couldn’t understand why she wasn’t as passionate about the sport as I was.  She could be so good!  Over time, I have, of course, realized that running long distances for many is boring and pointless.  She has other interests and doesn’t enjoy being tired and in pain.  I’ve realized that she is actually the normal one, and I am the nut.  I’m glad she has shared the experiences with me, and I enjoy our short jogs together.

6.  Say “Thank You.”  This is probably the easiest, yet most overlooked and most important key to balancing a time consuming hobby like distance running with family life.   There are so many benefits to running, but let’s be honest, training for a half marathon or greater distance is selfish.  I don’t mean that in a bad way, but it is.  Recognize that others are probably making sacrifices, too, and acknowledge their contribution.  When I ran my final state in Nevada my family was there to celebrate with me.  The Las Vegas marathon is run on The Strip at night.  I finished well after 9PM.  My wife insisted that our young children be there at the finish, so she woke them up, loaded them into the stroller and Baby Bjorn, and navigated the throngs of people to get to the finish line.  With help from my brothers-in-law, they were able to get through a barricade at the finish and with three kids in tow, we ran across the finish line together.  Tears running down her face, my wife said, “it was so hard getting here!”  I knew that she didn’t just mean getting to the finish line that day.  The thousands of miles and hours before that were hard.  Not just for me, but for my whole family.  Be appreciative of the sacrifices that your family is likely making, too, and acknowledge them.