My wife’s path to signing up for her first ultra is likely one that many of us are familiar with:
“I will never do a race that long! Are you crazy?”
“Sure, I’ll have another glass of wine.”
“Oh hell, I can do that.” (clicks button)
(Morning After) “Sh*t!”
All joking aside, I couldn’t be more excited to cheer on my wife at the Oregon Coast 50K, just as she has done for me at many of my races. But aside from the obvious challenges that come with training for her first ultra (increased mileage, running hills, etc), my wife and I have also had to adopt a strategy that allows us both to work, run and raise a toddler at the same time.
We’ve had to be creative getting our miles in without sacrificing family time or lost productivity at work. Below are a few things that have helped us make the transition from a household with one ultrarunner to two ultrarunners in training.
Are these training methods ideal? Probably not. But they allow for a nice combination of running and psychological well-being (see: catching up on sleep)—which is exactly what we’re looking for right now.
1) We don’t let long runs consume our weekends.
There’s no denying that you need to do long runs to get ready for an ultramarathon—and they’re even more important for new ultrarunners like my wife, who need to adapt to the increased physical and mental demands.
But doing a long run every weekend eats up more time than we’re willing to commit. If I spend four or five hours on the trail every Saturday and my wife does the same every Sunday, we give up a large amount of weekend family time and are unable to enjoy many of our other passions like camping, having cookouts with friends or seeing local concerts. We don’t have the luxury of hiring a babysitter in order to both run at the same time (or we would), so one of us needs to be home with our son while the other is out running.
Our solution—we alternate long run weekends. I’ll do a long run one weekend, my wife will do her run the weekend after, and so on. This allows us to always keep one “family day” open every weekend.
2) Family Trail Days
Another challenge we face is my wife running alone on trails. There have been several times when running plans with friends have fallen through and she’s been forced to run by herself. My wife is new to trail running and in order for her to get more comfortable on new terrain she has to get on trails similar to what she’ll be running during her race. This means running in areas with no cell coverage and on trails she is not yet familiar with. While we both prefer that she runs with a training partner, sometimes this isn’t an option.
One solution we have found is that I will hike with our son (in the same trail system) while my wife is running. This gives us both peace of mind that someone is nearby in the unfortunate event she might need assistance.
This also allows me to spend quality time with my son while also getting a nice workout in. As an added bonus we all get to go to lunch or hit a brewery afterwards which makes for a fun day all-around.
We also just ordered a Garmin inReach that we can carry during our trail runs to stay in touch with one another.
3) Treadmill Training
Even if you hate running on treadmills, you can’t deny the convenience they offer. My wife and I do a lot of runs on the treadmill in the mornings or at night when our son is sleeping. Is it fun? No. But it gets the job done. Treadmills are great tools for preparing your climbing legs for an ultra, and treadmill hill intervals are one of my go-to training runs before a hilly race (in addition to my favorite daddy daycare workouts).
4) Being Flexible
If the opportunity presents itself for a weekday long run or meeting for a trail run at lunch, we always take it. We are flexible with our training and continually modify our runs to fit our ever-changing schedules. We make sure to get our important workouts in each week, but specifics are never set in stone. Life gets in the way (as it should) and it’s important to adapt running to life’s demands.
5) Encouraging, Enjoying & Celebrating
After a big training week, we love to go out for a beer together and celebrate the hard work we’ve put in. I know that training for a first (or any) ultra is a daunting task. It can be physically as well as emotionally draining, and you need to break it up into sections. Celebrate the small victories. It’s important to give support and let your partner know they are doing a good job. Be a fan. Get involved in their training and enjoy the process together.
While our goals are different, my wife and I both started running for the same reason – to get in shape and to spend more time outdoors doing what we enjoy. If training becomes overwhelming and starts to negatively impact other areas of life, take a step back and see if there is something you can do different. Training for an ultra should never take joy away from running, or from anything else.