One challenge that many runners face is balancing their training with work and family commitments. Whether you log 20 miles a week or 100, the training takes time that could be spent on these other priorities, and a more complete pursuit of your running hobby also requires financial and other resources that impact those around you. While running is obviously good for physical health, it is only by taking appropriate steps to relieve the stress created by constraints and potential time conflicts that we can also reap the full mental health benefits.
This post will focus specifically on family considerations, but many of the same principals can apply to career development as well. Spouses and bosses often have the same concerns about your running hobby – how much time and energy will it leave for your other pursuits, and when conflicts arise, what will take priority? It is only through clear, open, and consistent communication and behavior that they will come to see your running hobby as something that contributes to your overall character and performance as a family member or employee, not one that detracts from these commitments.
There are several principals that can help you gain the support of your loved ones for your running.
Train at times that work best with their schedules, not just your own. Perhaps you are a predawn runner because you have work commitments during the day. But are your family commitments on the weekend any less important? Maybe that three-hour run can and should start an hour or two earlier even on the weekends, to gain the extra time with your family. Or maybe mid-afternoon, during naptime for younger children or tired spouses, is the best time to fit in your training. If in doubt, just ask. And if you do tend towards the predawn, take whatever steps are possible to sneak out and back as quietly as possible to avoid disturbing your loved ones.
Show even more support for their passions and hobbies. Far and away the best way to gain patience and support for your training is to make sure you provide more-than-equal time and interest in supporting your loved ones’ pursuits. Whether it’s watching the children so your spouse can attend a craft show, or agreeing to spend money on a trip or equipment to support their hobby, these investments yield tremendous trust and understanding when it comes time for the favor to be returned. But avoid keeping a “scorecard” that you intend to use to justify your own time away from the family – let the trust build over time, and you’ll find it grows faster than you can measure anyway.
Communicate openly and honestly about your plans, goals, and progress, but not obsessively. Don’t obsessively talk about your hobby – this is annoying for any passion. Allow your loved ones to lead the way in defining their interest in your hobby, and let them ask the questions. You should, however, take the lead in sharing your goals with them as a first step in building their support – not just “what” you want to do but “why” you want to do it. And you should also seek support when you need it – if training hasn’t been going well, if you are having trouble finding motivation. But keep the discussion focused and humble.
Don’t overemphasize the benefits of your training, particularly if it may make your loved ones feel inadequate. It is easy to let the endorphins that come from a quality workout or the weight loss that comes from a sustained fitness regimen give you an overwhelming sense of satisfaction. Recognize your loved ones’ sensitivities and take care not to tread too closely to these topics. Maybe you can afford to eat whatever you want – not everyone has that luxury, so do so with discretion. Or, at the opposite end, maybe your family doesn’t have the same passion for a runner-healthy diet that you might. Make the small sacrifices where possible, the few extra calories or fat grams will be more than offset by the better harmony and shared experiences that a trip out to the local burger joint or ice cream stand may provide.
Recognize the financial burden that your hobby creates, and seek to minimize it. Running may not be expensive compared to alternative pursuits such as golf. However, equipment and race fees add up over time, so for any family with financial restraints (which are probably most families) this hobby still creates a burden. Be open in discussing what you’d like to do and how much it will cost, especially for big investments like far-away races. The old adage that it may be far better to seek forgiveness than permission usually doesn’t apply to family situations such as this. And be ready to make small sacrifices in your plans by understanding what your true priorities are – maybe that 10K isn’t as important as you thought it was.
Seek ways to make your family part of your hobby. Perhaps they don’t have an interest in running, but if you can make an enjoyable family event out of traveling to a race, or run along with your children while they ride their bikes, you give them the opportunity to experience some of the aspects of running that you enjoy – the ability to be outside, the environment of a race, the feeling of accomplishment.
A missed workout always has less negative impact than a missed commitment. Relationships are built from years of sustained investment in the “emotional bank account” – the sometimes big but often small actions that build a sense of trust and faith. It is surprisingly easy to lose such deposits through a few seemingly-small inconsiderate actions – a missed event, a forgotten milestone, a lack of acknowledgement of someone else’s struggles. Missed workouts can be made up for easily or may even be beneficial in the long run. Missed commitments take far longer to overcome.
Just a little common sense can go a long way in building support for your hopefully-lifetime hobby. Like so much else about building relationships, communication, trust, and sharing are the key elements to finding the right balance and making running become a benefit for everyone in your family, not just yourself.