Marathon training for time-poor parents

If daily parenting duties already require a marathon effort, training to compete in a real one can seem out of reach. But these training tips for the time poor may help get you started.

The dream of running a marathon is something many of us aspire to. A recent study found there’s been an 84 per cent increase in popularity in Australia and 13 per cent worldwide in the five years since 2009. 

If you’ve come to a point in your life where you’d like to take up the challenge, but you’re wondering how to fit it into an already jam-packed schedule, father of three and five-time marathon runner, Chris Pavey, has some tips.

Create a midweek running habit

There tends to be two types of ‘marathon first timers’: those who’ve been running for a while and have decided to take it up a notch, and those who haven’t run a step for years, possibly ever, and want to use it as a motivating factor to increase their health and fitness.

Either way, but especially for the latter, the first step to marathon glory is to establish a regular running routine. With kids around, I’ve found that midweek tends to be the more ‘routine orientated’ part of our lives. So for most, it makes sense to start here if you want running to become a part of a routine.

There are generally busier days and less-busy days throughout the week. Choose your two least busy days with a minimum of a day’s rest in between and schedule your run on those days at a time that fits in with your regular parental activities. Keep up this twice-weekly run, and soon it’ll become second nature like breathing.

For me, after our third child, I got back into the habit with a slow four kilometre run twice a week on our treadmill, while the kids were having their afternoon sleep. Once back at work, I changed this to early mornings before everyone was awake, on Tuesdays and Thursdays. 

Make a midweek run part of your commute

As you progress with a marathon training plan, you’ll find the distances you can run increase. Four kilometres quickly becomes eight and sometimes twelve kilometres. If your midweek runs are in the morning, this will probably mean you have to get up earlier. If you run in the afternoon, it may start to impact your night routine with the kids.

A great way to overcome some of these impacts is to turn one or both of your midweek runs into a part of your commute. One less early morning can make all the difference. If your workplace has showers, perhaps try running all or part of the way into work. If they don’t, or you don’t like the idea of showering at work, make the run part of your evening commute. If you drive, you could try parking further out of the city at one of the train stations, catch the train in and run back. It could end up saving you money as well as providing a health benefit!

I live a fair distance from work, so I run half the journey home and then jump onto a train for the rest. I do this run on a Thursday. I find that later in the week, it’s harder to get up early. And by doing this run later in the week I can leave my work clothes and bag at work to collect them on ‘casual Friday’.
man stretching

Introduce a weekend ‘long run’

There’re some pretty intense marathon training plans out there with a lot of ‘run days’ and a lot of cross training. And while all of this is great if you have the time to commit, in my opinion you only need three runs a week, if you make the third run your weekend ‘long run’. You’ll probably find this run is just the same distance as your midweek runs to begin with, but gradually you will need to increase it. 

If you’re anything like me, weekends are your busiest time and you want to spend as much of it as you can with family. Squeezing this one in can be quite the challenge. A great way to motivate yourself for these longer runs and impact the family less is to build it into a family event. Often, I run to a pre-arranged location, like a park or the beach, and meet up with my wife and kids. It proves a great way to combine my running with some outdoor activity with the family. And jogging about with the kids at the playground after the run can be a great way to warm down.

Alternatively, when the weekends become full, you may need to force yourself up early to run while everyone else is asleep. Running early on a Saturday or Sunday morning (I like to keep the day flexible to fit in with family obligations) can be a great way to reduce the impact it will have on the family. It also helps prepare you for race day, which almost always starts early in the morning. 
 
And that’s it! If you can establish at least three consistent runs a week that work in with the rhythm of existing family life, rather than against it, you can set yourself up for an early victory against the first and one of the biggest challenges; finding the time to train. 

Good luck and happy running!
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