We’ve all done it, signed up for a race with the simple click of a button, carried away with the enthusiasm of a recent race result or inspired by beautiful images from a race website, and only after do you begin to consider the practicalities of racing at the event that you have just so enthusiastically signed up for. Can you take vacation time from work? Is a major work project due the following week, meaning you’ll need to be working extra hours? Oh well, too late – your name is now on the race registration list so you’re committed and you figure that you can somehow manage things with work.
Probably one of my tightest work/race commitments was whilst I was working one summer as a tour guide in Interlaken, Switzerland. There was no way that I was going to miss out on running the stunning Jungfrau Marathon, which starts in the center of Interlaken before taking you 26.2 mountainous miles up to the mountain station of Kleine Scheidegg, located in the shadow of the north face of the Eiger. The marathon started at 9:00 a.m. sharp (the Swiss are notoriously perfect timekeepers) and there was the slight issue that I had to see 20 or so British tourists onto a sightseeing train at 8:35 a.m. Twenty-five minutes was not going to give me time to get home and change clothing, so there was no other solution than to turn up to work at the train station already sporting my shorts, singlet and race number, ensure some rather bemused tourists got onto the correct train and then use the kilometer or so distance to the race start line as my warmup. Maybe not ideal, but I was definitely a middle-of-the-pack runner at the time and so it all worked out just fine. The finish line was no less hectic; as soon as I collected my finisher’s medal in Kleine Scheidegg some four hours later, I hurried over to bag check, got out my work cell phone and began responding to various missed calls relating to work.
Although I would still do the same if I couldn’t get time off work and yet was determined to do a particular race, I now try to sit down and plan my racing calendar around my work schedule a little more carefully. The unfortunate reality is that we all have to hold down a job to pay the rent, to pay the bills, and of course to fund our ultrarunning habit! So whilst jetting off to each and every race we desire would be great, sometimes practicalities of the real world come into play, especially if we want to perform our best at the races we take part in.
My day job is in administration for a UK ski tour operator (the same one I worked for in Interlaken – I got away with not losing my job for showing up in running kit!). This means that typically from early December through the middle of April things can be pretty hectic and it’s near impossible for me to take vacation. For that reason I rarely choose to race key events during this time. There are ultras that I would love to compete at during this part of the year but I know that I will not be able to train for them and give them the focus required to put in the sort of performance I would be happy with.
It can be tough to make these decisions but ultimately our training and racing take up a lot of time and should be about enjoyment, and it can be hard to enjoy training if you are cramming it in after very long work hours and into weekends when you would prefer to be taking some well-earned down time.
When my day job is in its busy season I focus on base training and getting in as much running as I feasibly can, without cramming in travel to far flung races where I will be more concerned about checking my work phone and finding wifi to check work emails, than focusing on enjoying my race experience. Of course it’s hard to totally forgo racing for a good chunk of the year just because work is busy, so instead I choose races closer to home. A race like Chuckanut 50K is a great example; a few hours drive from my home in North Vancouver, a race distance which is manageable to train for even when work days can be busy and stressful, and a nice escape for a day without having to ask for vacation time from my manager.
As we all sit here in January flicking through magazines with stunning race images and browsing websites for race sign-up and lottery dates, before you pull out the credit card and click “enter” on a whim, maybe check your work schedule first to see if you can get the vacation time you need.