Juggling Priorities and Sacrifices

Priorities and sacrifices often go hand in hand, especially when it comes to marathoning. If one of your priorities is the marathon, it’s likely that at some point during your training cycle you will have to sacrifice something. Whether that is skipping a party because of a long run the next day, passing on your favorite food because it’s race week or giving up lazy Saturday mornings in bed in order to get a run in before the day starts.

Everyone’s priorities and sacrifices are different. What may be a sacrifice for one runner may be something that means very little to someone else. And another runner may put running at the top of their list while another runner may have a ton of other things that out-prioritize running.

It’s a question of What are you willing to sacrifice in order to reach your goals? But it’s not simple and certainly not black and white. If you were to tell me that I needed to give up wine or chocolate in order to run a certain time, then that would be a major sacrifice for me (and quite honestly, one I’m not willing to give up). It’s also not sustainable for me – I could go maybe a couple of weeks but I enjoy them both too much to go much longer.

I know some may look at my 4am wakeups and think that I am sacrificing so much in order to run the miles I want during the week. But for me, I’m not really sacrificing much. A bit of mindless TV at night and an extra 30-45 minutes of sleep (most nights) is generally what I’m giving up.

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The early wakeups have always been part of who I am. I remember being in the 5th grade – I would wake before 6am in order to shower, have breakfast and watch my favorite show on TV before I would wake up my mom and sisters. Fast forward to college. We had breakfast formation before 7 each morning. I would get up before 5 so I could run and/or go to the gym before the day started. My roommate of three years (Lauren!) thought I was crazy for getting up to run that early.

So it’s not a huge change for me to get up early to run before work. I’d rather run first thing in the morning while my boys are sleeping than at night after a long day. Add in that my husband is also an early-morning riser – and there’s not much of a reason for me to stay in bed. He owns and runs his own company and is often working by 4:30am. And when he’s not, he’s on the bike or in the basement lifting. Our days are just like most other couples, except shifted to the left a bit. We get up and go to sleep a few hours earlier than others – but it works for us. We sit on the couch, drink our coffee and share 30+ quiet moments together – talking about work, week and weekend plans and anything else that comes up – before our day begins.

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Now that I’m mapping out my training plan for Boston, I’m realizing I am still learning what is sustainable for me. There’s really no way to know ahead of time if something is or isn’t. It’s a lot of trial and error. Try it for a few weeks and figure out if you are sacrificing in other areas for something to happen. Determine if it feels sustainable and if the endstate is worth those sacrifices. Yes? Keep moving forward. No? Go back to the drawing board for a new plan.

As I begin Boston training, however, there’s still a lot of unknowns. I think that is what worries me the most. I love having a routine. I crave it. Being home with my boys afforded me the opportunity to follow a training plan to the “t”. There was a lot of flexibility with running. I could get up early and run. I could sleep in and run on the treadmill. If the weather was tough in the AM, I could run at night. Plus I had time to strength train. And I had more time to get the sleep I needed when my mileage and intensity picked up.

I’ve been working and juggling running for only three months. but here is what I know. Getting up during the week to run has not been an issue for me. Alarm goes off, I pop out of bed. My boys are still asleep, so I’m out and back before they even wake up. And I’m fitting in strength and core work when I can. Not ideal or consistent, but enough to keep me injury-free and feeling strong.

The surprising aspect has been the weekends. I feel like I’m stuck. On one hand, I have zero desire to set an alarm for a long run after five consecutive early-morning wakeups. I just want to sleep in and have a couple of lazy mornings with my little guys where I am not jumping up out of bed and starting the rush of the day. I so look forward to cuddles under the blanket on the couch in our pajamas while the sun comes up. That’s how I want to spend my Saturday and Sunday mornings.

On the other hand, I have less of a desire to leave them for 2-3 hours after the day has begun. Before I returned to work, I had zero guilt with doing my long run on Saturdays. I was with my boys throughout the week, so two or three hours of running on Saturday was no issue. During the warmer months, it required an early wakeup; during the winter, it was during daylight hours (for safety/footing/warmer temps). But now that I am away from them all day during the week, I don’t want to be gone from them for hours at a time on the weekend. I think I am subconsciously trying to fit in all the moments I feel I am missing during the week into the weekend days.

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And so, right now, the sacrifice of my quiet mornings and time with my kids on the weekend isn’t worth a sub-3:10 or PR at Boston. Not even close. They are at such fun, amazing, wonderful ages (3 and almost 5) and I truly love spending time with them. They are both really into board and card games right now – this past weekend, we spent probably over 10 hours playing games as a family.

Take last weekend, for instance. My plan was to run easy on Saturday and long on Sunday. I opted for the treadmill on Saturday so I could be close to my little guys. They played down the basement and we chatted about Christmas, Santa and Star Wars while I ran.

I set my alarm for 5:30 on Sunday but my littlest had come in during the night, so when the alarm went off, I shut it and opted for snuggles with him until he woke me up at 7:30! I was thankful for the extra sleep (which clearly I needed) but knew that a long run now would be tough. By 9am, I was dressed and out the door. The boys were at the window (as they are each morning when I leave for work). I made it to the end of the block before turning around. I couldn’t get their little faces out of my mind. And I knew my heart wasn’t in a long run. Ever try to do a long run when you really want to be doing something else? Yeah, it’s brutal. So I skipped the run. We finished wrapping all our Christmas presents, baked Christmas cookies and prepped for our Christmas Eve dinner (my whole family comes over on Christmas Eve).

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Homemade Dark Chocolate Almond Butter Cups

I don’t regret my decision in the least, but it does make me question how the long runs for Boston will go.

And so I’m trying to remain flexible the next few months (not my strong point). Maybe I’ll opt for my long runs early on Friday (right now, the runs are only about 16-17 miles which is somewhat possible but not sure if I will be able to consistently run 20+ miles before work). Maybe I’ll switch to a Hansens plan (shorter long runs preceded by a workout the day before). Maybe I’ll take a rest day during the week so I can sleep in one day – and then possibly be okay with an early alarm on Saturdays. Maybe I’ll be able to work from home in the New Year (one day/week) and that morning can be my long run.

Or maybe I just take a step back from racing marathons and focus on other things that don’t require the weekend time commitment. At the end of the day, running is my hobby. When I was home every day, my days often revolved around running. Now that I’ve returned to work, I am very much focused on my career. It’s s not just a job for me – I have every intention of working hard to do well in the company. And I have other personal (non-running!) related goals that I hope to achieve over the next few years. And so running/racing may have to take a backseat for a bit.

I thought the toughest part of my returning to work would be finding the time to fit in the training/miles I wanted, but it turns out that’s not the case. Instead, the toughest part has been finding the desire to be away from my little guys more than necessary for work.

I’d love any feedback or advice if you’ve been in a similar situation with trying to fit in training while working or having other priorities. Did you have to adjust your training? Does the guilt disappear? <3

Hope you had a wonderful Christmas!

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    28 thoughts on “Juggling Priorities and Sacrifices

    1. I really appreciate this post. I am nowhere near as fast as you, but I am a working mom of two kids with a spouse who has a very challenging work life. Running is an amazing hobby, but it’s not the be-all-end-all; I cherish the time I have with my kids on the weekend, and I’m very dedicated to my career. It’s nice to read a post like this from someone who understands, and who has a variety of priorities in their life. Thank you for sharing.

    2. I love this post and everything you shared here. It’s so hard to juggle and it’s impossible to do it all, even though we often hear the message that we can “have it all” and that there’s such a thing as balance. It’s tough especially since you’re still in the first few months of going back to work. It’s hard to be away from the kids so much but you are doing an amazing job. xox
      Christine @ Love, Life, Surf recently posted..Friday Round-Up: New Year PerspectiveMy Profile

    3. Great post! It definitely is a struggle being a working mom and chasing running dreams. My training cycle for Chicago I switched to Friday long runs. It made such a difference! Saturday was a relatively short run and Sunday’s were rest and morning snuggles. The late sun rises will make it more challenging to pull this off as I train for Boston, but I’ll find a way to make it work. I really love super early runs- but that is harder when the sun doesn’t rise until after 7! I have the flexibility in working at home- my company is in Connecticut so when I’m not traveling, I have my home office. What I struggle with is motivation once it gets later in the day. So that will be what I battle but I suppose if I block my calendar I have to do it! Good luck and love your posts

    4. I don’t have children and am in awe of your time management skills. I struggle to fit running and everything else into my day as it is so I think you are doing very well as it is. You have beautiful children and it’s so nice to be able to spend so much time with them and board games are just the best. I hope you figure it out and best of luck with it all in 2016 :)
      Fiona recently posted..Saucony Sonic Reflex Jacket : In ReviewMy Profile

    5. It definitely is a tricky balance. My Littles are almost 5 months and 4.5 years, and I’m a full time SAHM who routinely does the 4am runs to minimize time away. I’ve heard excellent stuff about the Hanson plans (and have seen great results from my friends who have followed it). I don’t have any answers — only commiserating — but hang in there. Day at a time…day at a time…
      Erin recently posted..2016: looking forwardMy Profile

    6. Thanks so much for sharing your honest perspective with us. You continue to inspire me with all you do and your discipline to keep making it all happen. Sometimes things will have to fall to the wayside, and sometimes you’ll figure out a superhuman way to get everything done. It’s never a failure if there is one missed run or one week that doesn’t go as we would like. You are doing amazing things every day big and small. Sending you a hug an extra hour in your day :) xoxo
      Jesica @rUnladylike recently posted..10 Ways I’ll Run Happy in 2016My Profile

    7. Hi,

      I am also work full-time with 2 kiddos at home. It’s certainly a struggle. What has made a huge difference for me is to work longer 4 days a week and then have fridays off. I wake up early to run 3/4 working days, do a long run on Friday. I take Saturday completely off and then a longish run Sunday morning. I really love this schedule. I run ultra’s so I have to put the miles in.

      When I was working 5 days a week, I did wake up early one morning a week to do a long run. The problem with this is that I’m a trail runner and I didn’t feel comfortable on the trails in the dark. As my races come closer, I’d have to change my long runs to Saturday or Sunday so I could run longer on trails. I really didn’t like it much, so I would only do one race a year so I didn’t feel like I missed out much on my family. Good luck!

    8. Great post Michele! There is just so much I love about it!!! Let me just start out by saying I think you do an amazing job….I love how running is a passion for you, but so are other things. I personally think it will always be hard, but you just have to do what is best for you and important to you on that day. I personally like to plan, but then take it day by day :).
      The training is actually something I have been thinking about lately after my last marathon. The marathon is such an amazing race and I love it, but not only is it physically draining, but it is also emotionally draining for me and a big time commitment.
      I think it is just a matter of evaluating, re-evaluating, and being flexible. I like to work hard, set goals and go after them, but there is really only so far I want to take that when it comes to running. A large part of that comes from these two questions; At what cost? And then what?
      Kind of like you said, there are some things I am just not willing to give up. I know that when I look back on my life I am not going to be upset that I didn’t spend more time training to get a certain race time. And if I were to get a certain goal time, then what? It can become an addictive cycle of setting new and faster goals that require more time and more training and where does the line get drawn?
      Right now I am really enjoying training hard and racing, but I am not going to beat myself up over a missed workout or pace goal. I think that you have to do what is right for you on that given day. It might mean missing a long run when you see you sweet boys or it might mean running that run and then spending time with them.
      My girls are older, but one thing I loved doing this summer was doing my long runs on Saturday and having my girls bike it with me.
      I guess my best suggestion is come up with a training plan and goal, but if something comes up don’t beat yourself up :). I really think it helps to have 1 day a week off too. During hard training I really look forward to that day and I can be flexible with what day that is so if one day is really busy I will use that as my rest day. You have had such an amazing year of racing though so you must be doing something right :).
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      • I love everything you said. That’s where I am currently. I’m running the LA Marathon in February, and obviously, things could go a lot differently if…I wasn’t finishing up nursing school, being a mom to 4 and 6 year old little boys, being a wife, and… I also love training and racing and would be thrilled to run this race to my full potential, but I can only control so much, and I have to accept that. Like I said when I responded originally, it’s supposed to be fun. There’s a time and place for my goals, as there are for all of us. I just have to keep things in perspective and one day, it will all come together. Anyway, just wanted to reply, because like I said in the beginning – I love what you said ?

    9. Hi Michelle,
      I read your blog while nursing my second daughter. It really helped to give me that push out the door to run when it was a bit of a struggle! Have you thought about focusing on shorter distances for a while? I was never drawn to marathons, but in other years half marathons were my main target. This year I decided to focus on just getting faster over shorter distances. I stick to 5-16k races, usually close to home. My youngest is now 3, I am back to work and in the best running form of my life on around 50km per week average. The shorter races keep me motivated and I feel I can get a good performance out of myself without feeling too overstretched time-wise. As well as feeling less conflicted, you might find that a whole load of new PRs are there for the taking if you shift to shorter distances.

    10. I think it is great you have managed to keep working and your training. Yeah 4am is really early but you are right. If all you are losing is mindless tv, then I think it’s a win. I have done the 4am workouts when I worked 12hour shifts. I was training for a triathlon so I had to find out when to fit it in without losing valuable time with my husband. Hope you are able to keep it up!
      Daisy @ Fit Wanderlust Runner recently posted..Current Life Update: Review of 2015 Resolutions/GoalsMy Profile

    11. I have found that being a fit and driven mama isn’t that difficult. What’s difficult is making the decision to live that lifestyle and then formulating a plan to turn that into action. I work full time and have 2 kiddos and a husband as well so I get the struggle … but it’s not much of one is it?! I never imagined myself as an early riser by choice but since having kids I don’t give myself an option; 4:30 am runs/gym is where it’s at and I love it. I’m able to do me before taking care of everyone else. I’m able to do me before conquering mommyhood/work/wifey mode. I’ve tried working out while the boys are awake and like you, I found it’s much more of a struggle because all I can think about/all I want to do is be with them. I won’t sacrifice that precious time.
      You are an amazing woman – an amazing athlete and mama and you are doing great things!

    12. As someone with a long commute and a 4.45 alarm, I have a recommendation.
      Take it easier during the week, run less, sleep more. It will make you feel more energized and relaxed during the weekend.
      What I think you are experiencing now is exhaustion and stress from the work week.

      Cheers!

    13. Before I had my daughter, I was running 40-60 miles a week and training for half marathons and running a lot! I spent a lot of time at yoga, total body classes, spin classes, etc to keep myself injury free. Then i had my daughter and I went back to work after 4 months and i found it really hard to run a lot of miles. I really struggled with it and finally reached out to a friend who is a part of my running club. They meet on tuesday nights and saturday mornings and I just couldnt do that. I was able to connected with other men who I work with who have young kids too and understand about priorities. We started to running at work during lunch and that really helped me to run more. I have been able to get back up to 40+ miles a week but some weeks I don’t. I don’t do long runs anymore, only about 9-10 miles max. I focused on 5ks this past 6 months instead of running a half marathon. It just felt better to keep the runs shorter so i could spend time at home. I do miss running longer but for now this is what I can do and fit in and I am ok with it. I know that eventually I will get back to half marathons and maybe even run another marathon (although it really isnt my thing – Ive only run one). Its tough but honestly I don’t miss the 2+hours of running. I like running shorter and I like running interval workouts and tempo workouts instead of running longer tempos. this past fall I really focused on running fast which is something I love. I think you just need to find something that works for you.

    14. Great post, Michelle. I don’t have kids yet, but still really cherish time with my significant other, so I’m also an early morning workout person. When I started a new job, I also struggled with strength. A couple of ideas: a quick strength training at lunch. I’ve found that if I keep it light, I can freshen up with just a shower wipe, then eat lunch at my desk. Another option is to get up just 15 mins earlier and add a small strength routine in the morning during the week. There are some really effective exercises! Also, I’ve been known to close my office door during a conference call and do squats…..:)

      You’ll figure it out! Best of luck to you!
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    15. I prefer to do long runs during the week if possible, before work, or in the short winter days I come into work very early and take a very long lunch break and stay late. If I can’t fit it in during the week, I sleep in on Saturday and do the long run around mid-day, which is great in the winter to avoid super cold temps/ice/lack of daylight – and helpful for Boston which is a mid-day race. During Boston training last year, I would have my husband meet me at the gym a few hours later with the kids, and we would do family swim time after. It allowed me to do the morning sleep in, family breakfast, fun time with the kids and husband, and not feel guilty while I was running because I knew the kids were having fun playing at the gym. I think the key to being a full time, working mom, and a marathon runner is to never plan too far ahead in too much detail. I create a weekly training schedule on Monday morning and hope that I can stick to it, if I can’t – I quickly get over it. Otherwise, the joy gets sucked out it, and it becomes a source of anxiety. I base each week on how the few weeks before went, what is going on at work that week (sometimes I have to work nights/very early mornings/late etc), what is going on with the kids that week, and go from there, all with the bigger plan in mind — which is simply getting in a couple 20/21 milers in, a few 18/19, one 23, and several 14-16 milers throughout the next 16 weeks. I map those out on a calendar, and that is the most long term planning I will do for marathon training. I had a coach last year and it was awesome, but also anxiety producing because I couldn’t always stick with the plan. If anyone can succeed at this marathon working mom thing, you can! Just don’t let the planning part ruin the joy, and don’t worry if you don’t stick to your plan, because in the end, no matter what your marathon time is – you still did it, with a ton of other things going on in your life, that is a huge accomplishment. Good luck, and I still think you are going to do awesome at Boston!

    16. Such a great post. It is a constant struggle. I have a three year old and a four month old and have a super demanding job with an hour or so commute. I agree completely – weekday runs are no problem but after getting up at 4:30/5:00am all during the week it is so hard to do that weekends as well. And my husband runs too so by the time we both finished our weekend long runs it was often mid afternoon. I don’t have any answers, just commiserating with you. :) I recently made the tough decision that after maternity leave ends in a few weeks, I am going to go back to work only part time. While on one hand I am excited to have more time with the kids and likely won’t feel as much guilt running on the weekends, I am a bit saddened to have to give up the career I spent the past 10+ years building (with part time I have to take a different position at the company). I’m sure you can relate as you stayed home for several years. The only advice I have is that running is important to you too and you are still a good mother if you take a few hours on the weekends to do something that makes you happy or gets you closer to your goals. That said, you train so hard (it is very admirable) that maybe a season off from marathoning with a focus on a shorter distance would give you the chance to recharge and spend more time with the kids. Good luck! And keep us updated if you figure it all out!

    17. I think you’re amazing Michelle – you do so well! Is running to work on Fridays possible? I often used to take all my kit to work on a Thursday and complete 20 miles on the way to work as I was able to start a little later on Friday mornings and could eat breakfast (second breakfast!) at my desk while checking emails. I used a training plan with shorter runs, and only 2 20+ milers for my current PB race and it worked really well! I loved it, hope you can make something work!
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    18. Hey Michele – just wanted to say that I 100% relate. I’ve concluded that I just don’t have my heart in racing marathons anymore – the time when I did about 2-3 years ago, life was very different. My kids were younger (they’re 4, 7, 8 now) and I desperately needed “me” time. Now that they’re in school and I’m working on my blog, my needs are being fulfilled in other ways. The shift in mindset has been great for my relationship with them as well as with my husband! I didn’t realize how pressured I felt by my marathon goals, oddly I became resentful of my time goals I think and that’s not how I want to live! I genuinely want to give more to my family – while I still enjoy running for pleasure, the running goals just don’t have power anymore.
      Michele @ paleorunningmomma recently posted..Running Goals 2016 Plus Weekly RecapMy Profile

    19. Oh Michele, that’s tough! You must feel so torn. I think once you get into a real training cycle for Boston, that’s when you’ll figure out what will work for you. Right now it might be tough to gauge because it’s the holidays – I know over the last couple of weeks all I’ve wanted to do is be close to my boys and spend as much time with them as I can. Big hugs, mama! I know you’ll work it out.
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    20. Awesome post….. Kudos to you for turning around and spending the day with your kids. Marathon training takes a ton of time; add work and family into the equation……something gets pushed aside.

    21. I’m right there with ya on this marathon go-around. When I was “just working,” plus kiddos and being wife of course, I could get up early and workout before work. Now though, being in nursing school, my days are packed with class, clinical rotations, kiddos, being wife…oh, and an abundance of homework. Getting up earlier has been few and far between…especially since I’m up so late getting said homework done. I’ve tried to switch my long runs to mid-week – the one day both boys are in school together – so I don’t have to sacrifice the family time on the weekends, because like you said, so much is already sacrificed during the week. Anyway, I’m still trying to figure out what works and I know, much of this is temporary…so I’m really trying to embrace being flexible. I’m not going into this marathon with any expectations, other than finishing. After all, it’s supposed to be “fun,” right ?

    22. I don’t have much advice for you, but I applaud you. The fact that you are having this struggle means that your priorities are right!
      I can relate somewhat. Running is definitely a hobby for me too and with 5 kids, it’s almost a necessity for keeping me sane :) But they are little (my youngest being 5 months old) and my husband is training for his very first marathon so I have been constantly sacrificing my runs in order to support his training and take care of my littles.
      At the end of the day nothing is more important to me than my family, so I am happy to sacrifice things for their well being and happiness. I also know it’s important to take care of myself, but that time will come. It always does. My husband has already concluded he does not care for the Marathon distance, so he won’t always be training for one. My babies will grow up and eventually all be in school and I’ll have more freedom to run when I want. So for now, I run when I can, don’t stress out that I’m NOT running as much, and try to enjoy everyday with my family.
      Hang in there!

    23. This one pulled on my heartstrings! I was picturing your boys watching you leave for your long run out the window and can imagine how tough that was. As a mom who runs fairly competitively (but in the end it’s still a HOBBY for me) I know my kids have grown up going to a lot of races and seeing me come and go from training. They know running is a big part of my life but I want them to know they are ALWAYS more important to me. I do not have all the answers and it’s tough to find the tight balance that works for your family. My struggle tends to be with racing. I love to race (and do a lot) but I know it takes up a big chunk of time on Saturday mornings.
      In your case, maybe you could use one of your weekdays for your long run like you said and count on Saturday or Sunday as full rest day for one and then short easy run as another. That way weekends would be a lot more open for family time. I have a good running friend who runs 3:11 marathons/ 1:29 half marathons off 4 days a week running. One day is long (with long/ fast combo), one is speed, 2 are shorter and easy. She is very big on being home when her kids are home. Her running schedule is M, T, Th, Fr. I know this wouldn’t work for everyone but she’s been doing this as long as I can remember and it’s also kept her relatively healthy. It just comes down to finding what works for you and your family. It might take a little more time (and trial and error) but you’ll get there! : )

    24. It is so hard, I totally agree! Finding a sustainable schedule was top priority when I began Fall marathon training. I opted for Friday off completely and was getting up before the sun on Saturdays to be back home as early as I could. That way our Saturday schedules were not revolving around my training schedule, and I wasn’t missing out on much – I only missed breakfast with my son and husband, generally.
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    25. Single mom here who totally relates to this post. I had the same situation this week. I needed to run long on Sat/Sun (Hanson’s), but I just didn’t want to spend any more time away from my 6-yr-old, and put him into the child care at the gym while I slogged away at the treadmill. I wanted to just lay on the living room floor and build legos all day with him. So I cut my Sat run short and skipped Sunday with a short at-home workout before he woke up. My race plans < spending time with my little, and I'm ok with that.

    26. I don’t have kids yet, so I can’t imagine trying to balance your time with kids/work/running. It sounds like you’ll figure out what’s right for you right now. My two cents for what it’s worth: running will always be there when you have time to come back to it, those moments with your kiddos are precious. :)