As life continues to fly by and I settle into my late forties, I often find myself thinking about the concept of balance. Being a husband, father, business owner and an ultrarunner keeps life very busy. The dictionary defines balance as “an even distribution of weight enabling someone or something to remain upright and steady.” Since the alternatives to upright and steady are sprawled and wobbly, I continue to pay close attention to the balance in my own life.
Sometimes, I get it just right and I can feel myself right in the sweet spot of balance. Other times, I feel off kilter, knowing that something is getting neglected. I ran my first ultra race 11 years ago, and below are some of the ways I’ve juggled the many areas of my life, alongside a demanding, sometimes selfish sport, while managing to keep it fun.
There’s probably never an ideal time in anyone’s life to begin training for an ultramarathon. That was certainly the case for me back in 2010, as I trained for my first 50-miler. A few years earlier, my wife, Krista, and I bought our dream home located directly on the Vermont 100 course. Sounds like a fairy tale, but it was more like scenes from the movie “The Money Pit.” The house was nearly 200 years old and in dire need of repairs. With no carpentry skills and limited financial resources, we turned to sweat labor and relentless effort. As we slowly picked our battles with our home, we also were the proud parents of two young sons, ages eight and five. We fed off of their endless energy, from t-ball to basketball, nature walks, bike rides and all other activities that included movement. On top of all of that excitement was this pesky elephant in the room, always threatening to take away time from my family and hobbies—my career.
Fortunately, as a rookie training for my first event, I was hyper-focused on hitting my mileage goals. And I stopped using my car when possible. We lived six miles from the baseball field where I coached my son’s little league baseball team, so I ran to and from practice. On Saturday mornings, I ran down to the local rec center, about seven miles away, to watch my son’s basketball games. I ran between work meetings, stopping at convenience stores to clean up and change in the bathroom. I also discovered a great new way to get miles in that was less disruptive to my home life: night running.
My first overnight run took place a few months before my first 100-mile race. It was June, and five of us headed out just before dark, ready for an incredible journey. That night we ran 60 miles, through six towns. At mile 40, we popped into Dunkin’ Donuts, and at mile 50, we ordered breakfast sandwiches at McDonald’s. We finished up at our friend’s country store, where we were treated to freshly made cinnamon rolls. And there was an added bonus—after running for more than 12 hours, with no sleep and covering the longest distance of our lives, we capped it off by running a local 5k race with hundreds of friends from our community. Needless to say, we received a lot of strange looks from the other participants.
A few years into my ultrarunning career, I had a realization. This new hobby was enhancing my life. My training was a lot of fun, and I found myself feeling like a kid again. Our races became a family affair, with our sons sometimes pacing us or running their own races. We signed up for a mountain race in northern Vermont, with one day of racing and one day at the indoor waterpark. We started traditions. We found like-minded people in our community who we enjoyed miles with. A snowball effect began to occur. The more I ran, the better I felt.
Everything in my life seemed to get better. My energy levels increased, and I slept better. It had taken me 35 years to discover this secret that was right in front of my nose.
It has been said that nothing stays the same, and I have definitely experienced that. In the early years, I was much more focused on speed work, intervals, mileage, personal records and race results. Over the last couple of years, my interest has turned to things like weekly elevation, time on my feet, new experiences and exploration. My sons are now young adults, with their own interests and schedules.
Krista and I used to hike a handful of times per year. Now, halfway through 2021, we’ve already summited 50 mountain peaks. Some of these changes we’ve seen coming, and some just happened.
As I look forward to the next 20 years, my goal is to keep having fun in this sport which has given me the balance that I have always craved. I’ve often wondered why ultrarunning has stuck so tightly with me. Was it the health benefits, endorphins, feeling of accomplishment or something else? And it finally hit me the other day, the reason, which is amazingly simple. I just really enjoy exploring the outdoors at a pace of four to five miles anhour.