As a single mom with two teen boys, two dogs, two cats, and a fish, life for me fluctuates between total chaos and minimally contained chaos. You know the feeling, it’s like an ever increasing electrical current just under the surface of your skin. So how do I fit in training and racing ultramarathons? Structure, priorities, multitasking, and absolutely no procrastination.
My children are my first priority. Always. If they need me, everything else has to move out of their way. This is where the most chaos comes in. My oldest son (16) is very involved in the community and is an honors student. He has sporting events, tournaments, and school activities going on all year. I attend 95% of these. The only time I miss is for a race, but I always make sure he has someone there, like grandparents supporting him. My youngest (13) has a neurological disorder, which requires regular doctor’s appointments, meetings with his school, and lots of attention and help regulating his emotions.
My career as an attorney is my second priority. I work Monday through Friday 8-5 and am on call for a week (24/7) every other month. Being on call adds to the chaos occasionally. When I’m on call, I take all emergency calls for my office at all hours for one week. Trials also cause some chaos, but it is usually contained to work hours.
My training comes in third. I get up in the morning before my children are awake to complete my training. I run four days a week and do strength training and cross training (swimming and cycling) three days a week. My training calendar amounts to approximately 20 hours a week at its peak.
My sleep and social life suffer the most because no matter how you split it, there are only 24 hours in a day. Not many people can manage my schedule. It’s intense and I would concede that it’s probably pathological in some way. But here is the thing, If I can manage this, anyone can manage training for a 5k (3.1 miles).
You really have to ask yourself, and be honest, what is important to me? Is surfing the internet for two hours important? How about watching that hour of TV every day? Spending an extra 20 minutes in the shower? Keep a journal about how you spend your time for a week. I am sure there are things you can cut out to make room for running or exercising in some way.
As a single parent, structure is critical to maintaining sanity. I get up at 445 am finish my workouts by 7 am. Get my 13-year-old up and make breakfast. My 16 year old is already up and showered because he leaves at 715 am. I am in my office/court from 8am-5pm. I get home around 530ish make dinner, clean up the house, help with homework, snuggle and watch a TV show with my boys. Bedtime is 9pm.
Multitasking is essential. I try to include my children in as much of my training and racing as possible. I do my strength training with my 16 year old. I watch my 13-year-old play minecraft while I do my workouts. I talk with my kids while I am doing pretty much everything. We sit down to dinner together every night. On my shorter runs, I take my kids with me on their bikes or running next to me.
No procrastination. This is something I learned in law school. I stay on top of all of my responsibilities. I clean up the house a little bit every day. I throw in a load of laundry during the week just to reduce the weekend duties. I keep up with the dishes. I cook extra meals on the weekends when possible.
Many of us need to learn to let things go or “don’t sweat the small stuff.” Sometimes we are hung up on things we think are critical in our life, such as house cleaning and yard work. These things are important, but they are not as critical as we make them out to be. I’m not saying live in a pigpen, so you have more time to play. What I am saying is if you are choosing between scrubbing the kitchen floor for the fourth weekend in a row and the kids want to play a game of Clue. Go play, it’s okay, the floor will be there once the mystery is solved. If you miss a run, don’t panic. You can back on schedule the next day. Don’t double up to make up for a missed workout. Just breathe and let it go.
Kid issues are, at times, huge and overwhelming. Our children are not always perfect and some really struggle in life. We have to first realize what is in our control and what is not. Our child’s behavior is not within our control nor is our child’s feelings. This is really hard for some people to hear and accept. Our response to our child is within our control. Pre-planning and preventative measures are the best way to deal with difficult behavior. Talk with your child about the plan to deal with difficult behavior while everyone is calm so everyone knows what the expectation is and what the results will be. Other times you have to break things down into pieces and address each piece one or two at a time. Just like with strength training. You focus on a particular weak area at a time. Pick one or two of your child’s most challenging behaviors and really work on those and let the other less significant behaviors, just be. You’ll get to them once you have the others under control. As a beginning runner, you don’t start with the whole 26.2 miles, you take a little piece at a time it is the same when taking on a long term parenting project.
The unexpected is going to come up, you will have to move things or disregard them entirely. Every situation is different and each child is different. Being able to change your parenting style to your child’s needs is like changing from road shoes to trail shoes.
Nicole, I read and enjoyed your first posting. Thanks for taking the time to share with others who might also lead complicated lives as single parents. Your writing is intelligent, insightful, and surprisingly moving, given the fact I am not a runner (any longer) . . . Well done! ~Alan S