Balancing Act: Managing Family Life and Training

July 10, 2018

My oldest son was born just three weeks after the 2002 Western States 100. It was my first hundred-mile race, and I’m pretty sure my wife hoped it would be my last. The first few years were an adjustment period for all of us. As I ramped up my training in order to compete at a higher level, there were times when my sweet wife wanted me to throw in the towel. I asked a lot of her in those new-baby years. And while I know it wasn’t always easy on her, I did try to be as considerate as possible.

I did a decent job of hiding much of my training in those early years, when we had small children in the house. People often asked my wife about the details of my training mileage, but she could never give a clear answer. I ran at odd, off times to minimize the impact if had on family life. I must have logged thousands of miles with a headlamp in the predawn hours, and then thousands more with the moon as my running partner.

I’ve now been racing ultra marathons for nearly two decades. I’m often asked how I balance it all. And although it hasn’t always been easy to give ample time to children, marriage, three businesses and running, I have to say that it’s doable with a conscious effort.

For the sake of transparency, I have to say that I’m self-employed (and have been since 2001). I don’t work a typical 9 to 5 job, and that flexibility really does help the juggling act. I can work at all hours of the day — and night, if need be. Over the years, I’ve pulled more than my share of all-nighters to meet looming deadlines, and simply chalked them up to sleep-deprivation training for my next 100.

Leveraging my flexible schedule, I started logging my long runs on Friday mornings instead of on the weekends. I’d be back to work for half the day, and make up the other hours a couple of nights a week after the kids were in bed. That small shift was huge for family time. I counted Saturday as a rest day, and snuck in an easy maintenance hour workout at some point on Sunday. That left plenty of time for family fun.

I asked my beautiful wife for some input about those early years. It wasn’t always smooth sailing. She said things became more harmonious when she decided to let go of the expectation she had that I’d “get over the ultra-running hobby.” I also tried to give her a heads up when peak weeks were coming with regard to my training schedule so she wouldn’t be blindsided. Since my wife had attended college on a Division I, full-ride gymnastics scholarship, she understood the importance of putting in the work in order to perform.

As the kids grew, I evolved my training regimen a bit and prioritized maintenance running at lunch during the week so that I could be home during the evenings. I have ongoing meetings blocked out in my Google Calendar from noon to 2 o’clock each weekday. Of course, for those of you with stricter work schedules, lunch runs may not be a possibility. However, it’s worth asking your employer. I took a hiatus from self-employment from 2011 to 2014. I negotiated an earlier start for a longer lunch, and it worked beautifully. I kept my lunch regimen going and was still able to head home at a reasonable hour to be with my family after the daily grind.

Jeff celebrating a 3rd place finish with the family at the 2014 Run Rabbit Run 100. Photo: Paul Nelson

 

I would add, having a supportive spouse is key to this balancing act of working out so many hours per week. I won’t say it’s always been a simple path, but my wife and I have done a good job of communicating over the years. Admittedly, I took training too far from time to time. It’s an easy thing to do when you’re passionate about exploring the long trail in wild places. But family has always come before running in my book. And if my wife was struggling with my time away during a particular season, I always listened and adjusted accordingly. It’s a reflection of running a 100 miler – you ebb and flow. Sometimes it’s bleak and sometimes it’s great, but in the long run it seems to work beautifully.

About the Author

Jeff Browning (aka Bronco Billy) is an endurance coach and ultra runner. He has finished over 100 ultras on four continents, but still manages to regularly read bedtime stories to his three kids. Find out more about his running and coaching, and be sure to join his Trail Tribe video tips at GoBroncoBilly.com.