Experiment: Training for a marathon as a single parent

For 10 days recently I had the chance to experience what it is like to try and fit in a marathon training schedule around the routine of a 19 month old toddler on my own.

My wife was back in the UK for a trip. Originally my Mum was going to be coming out to help, but unfortunately that just didn’t work out. So the following is my experience and what I have learnt.

Being Flexible

Please come home soon Mummy! Please come home soon Mummy!The thing about toddlers is, they don’t like change. They like their routine and they don’t want to deviate. If you do try to make them fit in around you then there will be tears and tantrums, and in the end it will just end up not being worth the trouble.

The upshot of this is, you need to fit your training in when it is convenient for them. This has meant for me that all weekday runs have had to be completed at lunchtime, (half of them were anyway). The knock on effect of that has been needing to get in to work a bit earlier to allow me to have extended lunch breaks.

The weekend runs were moved to the evening, and required a babysitter to come round after Max had gone to bed while I pounded the roads.

I am in a slightly unique situation living here (we live in the Cayman Islands); I don’t have any family I can call on to step in and look after Max while I go out. This means that if I was doing the full 18 week plan as a single parent then it would be worthwhile looking into investing in a decent treadmill for ~$700 rather than spend $40-$50 a week on babysitters. This would also allow me to do some of the weekday runs in the evening and free up some lunchtimes to do a few of the other things that need to be done around the house.

Stamina Workout

As well as finding the time to train, there is also the motivation and fatigue factor to think about. This is especially prevalent at the weekends when the long runs normally take place. You are up and about chasing after a toddler for 12 hours and then it is time to put your shoes on and hit the roads for anything from 10-20M. I have only had to do 6M and 12M as part of the first week of tapering and the 12M was not enjoyable at all. I was tired before I went out and it caused my pace to really drop off in the last few miles.

You also need to remember to fuel correctly, you can’t just put your kid to bed and go straight out for a 10-20M session if you haven’t eaten. Luckily Max is at the stage where he can feed himself, kind of, so there is an opportunity for me to get some food down while he is having his tea which is perfect timing to be able to then run a couple of hours later.

Late Nights

As well as no family to help out, living in the Caribbean means that long runs have to take place either before dawn or after sunset in an effort to avoid the heat of the day. If there were family around and I lived in a more temperate climate then it might be possible to deposit Max with a family member for a couple of hours in a morning or afternoon.

As it is though the babysitter cannot/won’t come out at 4AM (understandable!) so it is evenings for runs. I finished the 12M around 9:30 but it would have been 10:30 or maybe even 11:00 if I had been on a 20M run, and I have to cool off, get some food inside me, shower and then make sure everything is ready for the following morning. It could be after midnight before I get to bed with no guarantees that Max won’t wake up at 5:30 and want to play with Daddy. I caught a break after my run as he had a lie in until 7:45 which made a big difference.

Even after just a single weekend of this I was exhausted. I am sure if this were a regular thing then it would become more of a routine that I would be able to optimize.

Trying to do 55M+ weeks at the height of training and still have enough energy and time to be a full-time Dad would be burning the candle at both ends, especially with the limited support network I have here. I would have to set my expectations a bit lower with regards training and racing to ensure that Max got all the time and care he needs from me. For example the current training plan calls for running anything up to 10M on a Saturday and then 20M on a Sunday, I would definitely be looking at a plan that only required one long run at the weekend if this were a more regular occurrence.

I would say if you are the type of person that also wants to fit in strength training as well as a spot of yoga and still run 6 days a week then you need to either be Superman/Wonder Women, or maybe you have a family or a helper that can come in and help out all the time you are out training. I just couldn’t find time to relax all that much once I had completed the chores in the evening (washing, cleaning, getting everything ready for nursery the next day), not if I wanted to go to bed at a reasonable time.

Conclusions

All in all it was an eye-opening experience. Anyone who actually manages to do this full time has my utmost admiration, even without the marathon training. I coped for 10 days without too many big issues, but I was certainly happy to see my wife when she got off the plane!  I can’t personally imagine having to complete 50M+ weeks with 20M long runs, not to mention back to back long runs at the weekend and also keep up with a toddler that just wants to play with Daddy the whole time he is awake.

The main points I did learn were:

  • Have a plan and be organised, this applies to training and also keeping household chores under control as well as time with your child.
  • Have a plan B. If you have a toddler then you know things change quickly. If Junior decides to cut some teeth and is up in the night then be prepared to adjust your training accordingly.
  • Be sensible with the training. Don’t try and do too much. If, like mine was, your partner is away for a short period try and adjust the schedule accordingly, maybe have a step-back week.
  • If this isn’t just a short term thing then pick a plan that works best for you as a parent, not necessarily you as a runner. Maybe go for the Intermediate level instead of Advanced!
  • Remember your nutrition. Moving long runs around and accommodating your child’s needs means running at different/strange times so ensure you remember to fuel correctly to account for it.
  • Child comes first! Kind of obvious, but some of us get very obsessive about training and doing everything perfectly (I can raise my hand to that!), embrace the new experience of just being able to get out when you can and do whatever you can.