Balancing life and training

Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.

Albert Einstein

Last week my partner and I decided to go visit Presqui’le Provincial Park in Brighton, Ont. He hadn’t been there in years, and the last time I was there was in February for a rather uninspiring (read: gruelling) long run. We’d start at the lighthouse on the southern point and I’d run north and meet him at the gatehouse.

I set off on interior the road through the park. It’s well-kept (no gravel or back-country potholes), one-way and with little traffic. About one kilometre in to a 10km run I saw a trailhead and took a detour. Trails trump roads every time.

It was an easy day of training – a low intensity run (and mileage towards my Great Virtual Race Across Tennessee). The wind had been raging, the water rolling when I’d left the lighthouse, and now it was pouring. I loved it. The colours and smells of the woods seemed more vibrant, more alive and all my senses were dialled into the simple joy of being alive. Running does that.

About 7km from the gatehouse the weather passed and I texted my partner to say, “Why don’t we meet at the beach and check it out?”

“Already there,” he said.

I took the turn off the main road, ran through the parking lot and then followed an accessible mat to the beach. Looking left and right there was sand almost as far as I could see. We had the place to ourselves, save for some shorebirds. I made my way down to the edge of the water and came to the place where the waves kissed the shore.

“Why don’t you take your shoes off? The water is amazing,” he said.

“I can’t. I still have 2km left to run.”

It took about 2 minutes of watching the moody clouds dance across the sky, the waves crashing against the shore and the silly birds side-stepping through the churn for me to give my head a shake and realize, this is an amazing moment – be here now. I can make up the 2km later.

Dedication to big running goals is important, critical even, especially when training for long distances. But running is a part of my life: it isn’t my life.

“Although there are certainly many things to learn about training and racing from the professionals, it’s a mistake to attempt to emulate a professional approach at the amateur level, especially within the context of a busy life,” says Matt Dixon, author of Fast-Track Triathlete. “Professional triathletes [I’d argue this refers to runners as well] train many more hours every week than you can, and they can put more time, effort, and resources toward training and recovery because triathlon is essentially their full-time job.”

Big goals require big commitment, but unless you’re an elite level athlete, other priorities, such as work and family, need to be factored into the training plan. There may be consequences to missing a workout, but there are also consequences to always choosing the training. What are the tradeoffs you are willing to live with? If you always skips a workout, maybe you need to adjust your training plan because your goals have changed. But if you’re always saying “no, I have to train” just be conscious of what else you might be missing.

It’s easy to feel the pressure to keep up (and get those virtual high fives) when there are so many ways to share runs and training on Instagram, Garmin, Strava, or Facebook. But comparing your training to anyone else’s is a recipe for injury or burnout – and sometimes you just need to take your shoes off and play in the waves.

Want more?

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu coach Valerie Worthington wrote a great article called “Having it all: How to Cram Training, Working and Life into Every Day

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