The Balancing Act

Parenting, relationships and work can all take their toll on a runner's life. Dagny Scott examines ways in which you can keep up with a demanding schedule and still run to your potential. Buy this book

Posted: 18 June 2003
by Dagny Scott

This section is adapted from the Runner's World Complete Book of Women's Running by Dagny Scott. Buy this book!

There’s a name for women who try to pursue a career, family, exercise, spirituality, and social life. They’re called superwomen. But by that measure, what woman isn’t a superwoman? Today, increasing and myriad demands on time mean that every day is a balancing act of priorities.

Although on some days you might juggle it all with aplomb, at other times your tugging requirements cause life’s fabric to fray at the edges.

Running presents both a solution to the problem and a contribution to it. Finding the time to run adds another line to the to-do list in an already overbooked day. Yet for so many women, running is their salvation, their key to health and sanity. That is the justification for taking the time to run.

Why You Should Take the Time

"Exercise is not a selfish thing," says Susan Kalish, executive director of the American Running Association. "You become a better person, and that ultimately helps your family, your work, and everything else. Exercise keeps you young. It helps keep you who you want to be over the years." Kalish, a mother of two, says that she’s known for years that running makes her a healthier, more confident and optimistic person. "I’d rather give my family an energetic mom who’s going to be around a long time than not take the time to run," she says.

In fact, research has shown that a program of regular running or walking reduces anxiety, stress, and depression and increases feelings of well-being and self-esteem. Those things in turn translate into a healthy lifestyle that fosters more energy, better relationships, and even a better outlook on life. Getting fit makes you a positive role model for children. It creates a foundation of self-respect that permeates your other relationships. And it inspires confidence in all of life’s exploits. "When you are a strong person, you will be treated as a strong person," Kalish says. "And when you go into an environment saying that the sky’s the limit, then people will believe that you are capable of that, too."

When Partners Object

Some boyfriends and husbands don’t find all of the benefits of running particularly appealing. Reactions in partners can range from the rather silly (he’s embarrassed because it turns out that you’re faster than he is) to the frightening (he’s threatened by your newfound confidence and discourages you from continuing).

If your partner is less than supportive of your running, try to determine the reason. If he’s a nonrunner, he might be jealous of your time away from him or of your improving fitness. In this case, simply encourage him to take up the sport. Otherwise, as you grow more serious about your running, the gap between you and your honey in terms of fitness, lifestyle, and time commitment will only grow wider.

If he already is a runner and still disapproves, he'll uncomfortable with the idea that you can keep up with him—or beat him—on the road. Yes, some men still believe that they should be able to beat any woman at any athletic pursuit.

If you happen to be with one such man, you can sidestep this affront to his masculinity by always running separately. But perhaps better for the long term (and for womankind in general) is to let him come to grips with it on his own terms. And be sure to inform him that the best women runners can beat virtually any man, so he’s not in bad company.

Women whose partners never come to accept their running might have a problem that’s much larger than disagreement over a workout. Although a husband might complain about the amount of time spent running, the real issue could be one of control.

Make the Commitment

Even if you are already convinced that your health—and your running—is a priority, scheduling your runs on a busy day can still be a struggle.

Here’s a look at some of the best tricks of the trade to help you overcome scheduling debacles.

Do it first. It sounds crazy, but many women run as early as 4 or 5am, when interruptions and excuses are least likely. If you have trouble overcoming the temptation to sleep another hour, set your shoes and clothes by your bedside so they serve as a reminder of your commitment come morning.

Do it immediately after work. A run can help shake out job stress and serve as a relaxing end to the day. But beware of motivation sappers, such as the couch and the television. Instead of stopping at home first, go straight from work to your running location.

Use creative scheduling at work. Arrive earlier in the day or work later at night in order to take a midday break. Make your runs more than just exercise. Instead of meeting friends for lunch or dinner, suggest a group run.

Child-Care Issues

If you have an infant or toddler, you may have plenty of time on your hands—time stuck in the house making sure that your little darling doesn’t get into any mischief. Several of the following options will help you combine your workout time with family time, which works especially well for multitaskers with busy schedules.

Strollers. These days, it’s easy to run with a baby (or even two) in a stroller. Choose a stroller that is specifically designed for running so that it can handle wear and tear from the road.

Treadmills. Investing in a treadmill is an instant child-care solution that will last for years. You can run at home and maintain a close watch over your child. (A bonus: You’ll be happy to have the machine on hand when the weather turns ugly.)

Pool running. You can take your child along while you run in the deep end of a public pool. Pool running is accomplished with the help of a special flotation belt that is available at sporting goods stores or that can be borrowed or rented at most public pools.

Babysitting co-ops. Find or start a group of women runners who have young children. Each woman can take turns watching the little ones on one day while the others run. The number of days you run each week will depend on the size of the group.

Tracks and parks. When children are old enough to play on their own, you can bring them with you to a track, park, or other area of limited size.

Family fitness. Have young ones ride a bike alongside you as you run.

A Changing Role

To strike a balance, you must find a place for running not only during your day or week but also within your life. The role of running in your life inevitably changes over time. Your fitness goals may fall by the wayside when life intervenes in the form of work, children, marriage, or anything else that puts demands on your time and energy.

If you have become more serious about your running, and especially if you are competitive, it can be hard to accept these changes. "You have to roll with the punches," says Kalish. "You do what you can do, and you set priorities, but then you must be willing to give yourself a break." For Kalish, it was children who rearranged her priorities. "Work didn’t do it; marriage didn’t do it; but boy, kids did it!" she says. She had been competing seriously before the birth of her first child and thought she’d quickly pick up where she left off. "If you’d asked me before, I’d never have said that I would let that affect my training. But then, 4 months after giving birth, I realized that my expectations had to change."

It was years before Kalish was able to resolve the anger and frustration of not being able to resume her running career at the same high level. "I finally realized that I was at a different segment of my life but that I could still have fun with running. My focus now is on building a fit family.

"You just never know which category you’ll fall into, whether it will be a piece of cake to run with kids or a job, or whether it will be impossible. And it can change from one experience to the next for the same woman. If you live long enough, you eventually will find balance," Kalish says.

Many women echo her frustration when they are forced to back off their training. They miss the feeling of being at peak fitness and the confidence that comes from pushing limits. They don’t like the way their less-fit bodies feel - or look. At times like these, it’s helpful to focus on positives. Running can still be a stress reliever, a social outlet, a healthful pastime, and a way to get outdoors. For all these reasons, any running is still better than no running. Sometimes it can take months or years to adjust, but all those good aspects are still there when the competitive aspects of the sport are stripped away.

When things aren’t going as planned, perspective can be a hard thing to come by. But running itself teaches the importance of patience, endurance, and a long-term outlook. "Occasionally, I have let running control my life," says Betty Roberts, who has been a runner for almost 20 years. "At those times, it ceases to be fun and it becomes the source of my stress rather than the release. But now I realize that even that has helped me to grow. I’ve learned to recognize when it is happening - not to take the bait of every challenge - and to have fun with my running. That’s the key, since I know that it is a thread that will weave its way through my entire life."

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Discuss this article

I've just read the article re "The Balancing Act". Some very relevant points! I've been a runner 'off and on' for years, in between three sons (now aged 6, 4 and 1!), two at school full-time and one at home. As a full-time Mum, approaching 40 (next week!) I thought I'd never find time to take up exercise again, but after a phone call to a long-lost friend who took up running this year and is loving every second, I thought - I can do that too! Hubbie (who has just turned 40!!) and I decided we'd done enough procrastinating and invested in a treadmill which now sits in the lounge and can be seen from the telly which reminds us not to sit down but go for a run! I have no excuse now not to go out in the dark on my own, or in bad weather and if I put a babygate up to keep Junior out of the lounge and away from the treadmill, he can still see me when I'm running. I've only been running this time round for almost 3 weeks, but am already running 2 miles fairly comfortably on the treadmill and go outside whenever I can (did 2.3 miles in 20.75 minutes last Saturday). I'm thrilled to bits to be runninng again as it's the only exercise I really enjoyed and now I have the time to fit it in whenever I can (even if it's 9pm!). It's got to be worth the investment, so if you can afford it - do it!
Posted: 20/11/2003 at 22:26

As an additional comment - not sure about running with a three-wheeler pram - I had one before, for the beach in summer, but it's a very distracting feeling trying to jog when you can't move your arms 'properly'! Any ideas / tips?
Posted: 20/11/2003 at 22:45

Well done Alison, I always say where there's a will there's a way!

Keep it up and enjoy:o)
Posted: 21/11/2003 at 08:15

Very interested to read this article - I am a working mum of a 4 year old - and a single parent following divorce. I took up running only very recently as a way of losing weight primarily. But i was surprised at how addictive the fitness side of things became. I do feel i am constantly battling to get enough time to run/exercise while balancing work and being a single mum. So any ideas that make running time available are welcome.
Some ideas don't apply to single parents eg I would happily get up early to run but there is no one here to look after my son if i do ! On the otherhand an early morning "run" might be possible if i get a treadmill.
I have been pondering the (big) expenditure on a treadmill but now i am reading this article i will definitely get one.
I have also just recently got hold of a babyjogger - which is a buggy specifically designed for runners - it's very expensive in the UK . US prices are cheaper but then there are big shipping costs. I eventually got mine new from an ebay seller in Germany at a vastly reduced price!
I only just got it this week so have yet to test it out but it looks great.
I have also invested in a trailer that goes on the back of my bike , so i can take my son with me for a ride.
It occurs to me that i wouldn't have to buy any of this expensive equipment if i weren't a single mum - so it seems a bit unfair !
On the other hand it's a great benefit to be able to combine exercise with spending time with my son.
It's also noticeable what a positive affect my running is having on him - in his awareness of fitness and willingness to be active himself plus the fact that i have more energy , as a result of the running, and can join in his games more - much to his delight.
Not everything can be joining in with him though obviously and i do a 30 minute slot on my exercise bike most days without "attachments" of any kind . Initially he didn't like me not playing with him for a 30 minute stint - but now he knows it's important to me and he amuses himself happily at the kitchen table painting/making while i hop on the bike in the neighbouring room. He pops his head round occasionally to check on my progress but seems to accept that he has to wait until i am finished. In fact, he now reminds me if i haven't used the bike that day! Young kids love routine (and are very quick to spot inconsistencies between what adults say and what they do) - so he has actually been a great help several times in "reminding" me to do some exercise every single day and to stick to what i said i planned to do !
Would love to hear from other single mums out there who juggle work exercise and kids. Although i only have one kid and sometimes feel like i am making a fuss over nothing compared to those mums (with or without supportive husbands) who have two or three or more !
I think all women with kids deserve a huge pat on the back frankly as it's miles harder than any paid job i have ever had!
Posted: 27/02/2004 at 23:47

Well done ladyofkent! One in the eye for your ex too, I'd say! Yes it does seem unfair that you need to spend money on gear to get time on your own, but even with a partner around you still need time alone sometimes, or just half an hour to think of nothing! For the record, I ran 5.4 miles last weekend in just over 48 minutes, so am making good progress towards my 10K fun run on April 25th. With the treadmill, I never run "steady all the way" always throw in some gradients or speedwork - breaks the monotony! As for the stroller - it feels peculiar to start with but with practise it really does get easier - you just need to find the best way for you. I find I run one handed and swap hands every now and again. Good luck!!
Posted: 28/02/2004 at 07:59

One other tip - be as flexible as possible when it comes to fitting in your run. Sometimes I walk the kids to school, then run; sometimes I fit a run in just before lunch (having done the shopping); or in the afternoon, I'll run and end up in the school playground to fetch the boys home (you get some odd looks from other parents, but hey, my conscience is clear!); or I'll run later on the treadmmill when they're in bed (usually when hubby's favourite TV prog is on - I wouldn't mind if he used it during Eastenders - big 'if').
Posted: 28/02/2004 at 08:13

Ali, Thanks for the tips and encouragement. I know what you mean about getting odd looks from others when you combine exercise and childcare - got loads of looks and staring when on the bike trailer - although mainly amused smiles - and a "iwantoneofthose" request from a woman who wanted to take her dog in one as the dog couldn't walk as far as she wanted to go on her bike!
As for the treadmill, I am expecting lots of derisory comments from my ex when he sees it appear in my living room.
I planned the same as you said - to run on it when kids in bed - but am wondering if it will be too noisy as my son is a light sleeper. (Although i think i have a cunning plan involving a large piece of thick rubber matting under the machine that is supposed to deaden the sound - and can get cheaply from a local factory ).

My running is very much a beginner thing at the mo - I am aiming at a 10k on bank hol 3 may in Kent which will be my first ever race (I hope). Actually I have hardly run lately , after reading and speaking with coach who is looking after rw beginner marathon runner Kerry (see her thread elsewhere) - have been advised i am too heavy to run at mo and will damage knees and ankles - have to swim, walk and cycle instead till i get lighter and stronger. 10k seems worryingly close though.
Also really hope i can get some experience running with others before then - thinking of a 5k run with the London serpentine "last friday of the month club" - as it's a lunchtime thing in central london -if i take a day off work ,i can drop my son off at nursery 9.30am, drive to london , run and drive back in time to pick him up at 4pm i hope ! Will take a whole day to do one run race but will be an amazing achievement for me as i am such a beginner. (Although i started at the end of last year, we have been dogged by colds and flu so progress is bumpy).
Am just off to go and put the jogging stroller together as it came flat packed...
all the best
l o k
Posted: 28/02/2004 at 12:54


I dont agree with this too heavy to rn thing
Im 3 stone overweight and run marathons
an my knees are fine
Good cushioned shoes are the answer
Posted: 28/02/2004 at 13:01

For advice on treadmills, see Gear/Kit on this website and check out the treadmill reviews. As for noise, well they are all a bit noisy, but all 3 of my kids sleep through it OK at night. The sound of the TV being on is noisier, but still doesn't wake them!
Posted: 28/02/2004 at 14:37 might get hooked. I did a half marathon PB at Stroud in 2001, and got beaten by a bloke pushing a 3 wheeled buggy with child on board. I think he did 1:45.

Mind you I got my own back in 2002. I was better, the child was heavier!

I've got 2 kids & wife, but get up early on Saturdays for the long run. Back in time for late breakfast.
Posted: 28/02/2004 at 14:49

thanks for the pointer on treadmills

plodding hippo
i thought that all that too fat to run stuff was rubbish too and i guess it is, if you are only 3st over - but in fact i am more over than that - and was already having knee probs from walking up the stairs!
When i started running i immediately found these worsened and i think following a coach's advice to stop running and start walking has saved me from wiping my knees out altogether

I think he is happy for me to run once i have got down a stone or so - which would still be 5st over (as i write this i can't believe i have got so heavy ! but that's a messy divorce for you!)

Also it depends how tall you are - 3stone over may not be so much percentage wise if you are quite tall - unfortunately i am short so being 6st over when i started amounts to 175% ie nearly double the weight that my knees were intended to carry by the "great knee designer in the sky "(!)
On the other hand I did used to be play indoor football infact without worsening the knee thing - but the floor was sprung there in a sports hall.
I am sure you are right about the importance of the right shoe - i have good ones but it took a long time to find them.

- i think you missed my earlier point about who looks after the kids when you are out !

Posted: 28/02/2004 at 22:06

Good on you, Ali and Lady of Kent. It's not easy to fit it all in, is it? I have a 5 yr old and always feel faintly guilty about going out running, even though my husband is around and pretty supportive. To get it together as a single parent is amazing, LofK - and it's lovely to hear how your child is supporting you.

I'm 5'6 and I used to weigh 16 stone, LofK. I lost 4 stone during 2001 and 2002 and have kept it off. I think you are right to wait a bit before running - my knees used to give me gip when I was really heavy, but are fine now. I exercised a lot on a bike while I was heavier, I think it's ideal. I started running outside last year and have completed a few races, albeit very slowly. I would like to lose another couple of stone to improve my running, but it's proving an elusive goal at the moment!
Posted: 01/03/2004 at 10:19

Im short
5 ft 2 and a bit

you keep on going
Posted: 01/03/2004 at 10:24

Well done to all of you.

Am alsoa mum of 2 ( 4 and 16 months) and the only way I can keep on running is in the local gym. Although hubby is around he works really long hours and is often out from 6:30 - 8pm. Early morning and evenings are therefore often not possible.

I find a good way is to book shortie into the creche and paying for it in advance cause I only get my money back if I give 48 hrs notice when cancelling.So far this has worked for me and he now goes mo-fri 2 hrs each day as I'm training for FLM. Admittedly, I hate doing the miles on the treadmill but it's better than not at all.
Posted: 01/03/2004 at 13:50

Notty, Plodding Hippo, and Pinkfelina
Nice to hear from you all!

Well done on Notty on amazing weight loss on what's more on keeping it off

Hippo - I "beat" you in the short department as i am only 5"0 (or 5"1 if i really stretch!). At nearly 14st, I have yet to find someone with a worse BMI than mine on this site!

Pinkfelina - I think the creche is a great option if you have one . I have one a little way from me. Unfortunately, that option has been off the menu for me because my son got *very* clingy after divorce and couldn't be left with anyone he didn't know really well. He's four and a half now - and finally he's getting alot better - so might reconsider using the creche.

Actually i think the treadmill i just ordered for home, will solve most of my probs on that front - though it's hideously expensive - to buy a decent one. But i am hoping the expense will encourage me to use it !

Posted: 05/03/2004 at 01:08

which tready did you buy in the end
(wow, im taller than someone)
Posted: 05/03/2004 at 08:09

Inspirational. It's hard enough fitting your life and running around the kids, and there are 2 of us.

When I worked shift work, I was often at home with my boys while my wife was at work, and that was hard enough. I am in awe of single parents that cope 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Personally I go out at 5-5.30 in the morning so my running doesn't interfere greatly with family life, but equally have been known to be out at 11pm - midnight too.

Posted: 05/03/2004 at 10:52

Plodding hippo (though i am sure you are not one..)
on the treadmill thing, i went for the Reebok TR3 in the end . I sense that i might get better value if i wasn't paying for a trendy brand name , but i liked the look of it and features and another RW reader is happy with their TR2 which is largely similar.
The model i went for has one of the largest running surfaces i have seen - i don't need the length so much - being short and short-striding therefore - but i do tend to be a bit of a penguin so my feet are widely spaced/ a little outward pointing - so i wanted the widest one.
It doesn't have ifit thing - but it has everything else i wanted, and i am not convinced i would use the ifit link up anyway . Instead i am hoping to place my laptop which plays dvds, on a shelf in front of it, so i can watch a movie while i run , hence counteracting the boredom factor
I hunted around for ages on price especially ebay - and nearly got badly scammed by a fraudster on ebay- in the end went for expensive option - buying from John Lewis - as they promise installation and 30 day trial . i can't face trying to install the thing - putting stuff together i hate and can be fiddly and i have no patience or time. The 30 day trial appeals in case it's all a horrible mistake
It's available cheaper online from "fitness superstore" and sweatbandfitness i think.
But after my experience with ebay i decided i needed a trusty household name.
I must say that gymworld website has by far the best advice and explanation on treadmills and very helpful emails, but they are pricey and don't sell reebok. I was sorry not to give them my trade, but they seemed a bit sniffy about reebook quality - whereas for me, i sense it's the right compromise between price and features - all the new reeboks have heart rate control which i think will be very useful.

OK probably told you much more than you wanted to know there! Just justifying the big expense to my self and alot of pouring over specifications

Posted: 06/03/2004 at 01:36

Fat Squirrel
Not sure who your comment was aimed at -but as for me, I don't think my life up close would qualify as inspirational!
(Especially not the chocolate i just ate)

I am in awe of anyone who gets up at 5.30 - i mean voluntarily . I only see that time if my son has wet the bed or something or if i have had to do an allnighter to catch up on work!
I am rubbish without sleep - do you combine your midnight runs with your 5.30am ones?!
Today i nearly fell over in awe - as the lady boss at my local bakers told me she sleeps 10.30pm to 2.30am everyday ie 4hrs only - and she's just started going to the gym - not surprisingly she is noticing lately that she is completely kn*ck*r*d all the time!

Posted: 06/03/2004 at 01:42

look here ladies
Come and join us on the plodding thread on beginners-loads of encouragement
or the working at it slowly thread
keep training
Posted: 06/03/2004 at 09:05

ladyofkent, don't give up on the idea of the creche at the gym. If you arrive already dressed for exercise and then spend 10min'settling your son you could easily get 20 min of exercise before they call you back. Gradually, if you go 3x per week your son would get used to it and you could stretch it out longer every time. I did this with my son and he ended up loving it. I only ever left him for an hour. I think it's good for them to gradually get used to you being gone and the gift to yourself is of imeasurable value.

The other thing I did was the babysit swap. I would go over to a friends place and mind both our little ones whilst she ran and then she did the same for me. Once again, we started off only being gone for 30 min and stretched it out to 45. The kids ended up great pals and we got fit.

Good luck to everyone trying to juggle running with kids, it can be hard work but it IS possible!
Posted: 07/03/2004 at 20:39

Hi all
So I am not the only one desperately grabbing the odd half hour here and there when hubby can have the kids!
Im running FLM and getting worried at the inconsistency of my training at present, what with shift work, 2 kids, animals and a house to run. (Hubby works opposite shifts which doesn't help matters). Some evenings all I can do is 30 mins four times a week and a long run at I really going to get roud 26.2 miles???

Posted: 27/12/2004 at 21:03

I too am struggling to fit in my runs with my two boys aged 9 and 11, working 4 days, hubby who works shifts and overtime on most weekends. I do go along to a local running club once a week, bit of moaning to start with from hubby and parents who babysit after school, then for couple of hours every other week when hubby is working, but has become routine now and nothing is said. Also go out when youngest is in football training on a Thursday teatime(do get some strange looks from other parents)

Feel running is essential to keeping my sanity with emotionally demanding job (I'm a college counsellor) and homelife demands. If I am working with a student with low self esteem one of the suggestions I will make is that they do something that they enjoy. I believe us Mums don't value and look after ourselves enough, where would our families be without us?!

Martocks-how far is your long run at the moment and what training are you doing in your 30min segments?

Noticed that the threads above are from earlier on in year. Would be nice to know how the girls are doing.
Posted: 27/12/2004 at 23:14

i see this thread has popped up again after laying dormant since march!

hi to martocks plodder and Zzz

i don't know if the other mums on here are around still (though you can trace their latest posts through clicking their name)
but i can tell you about me....

my son is now 5 and starting school has made a big difference - more of a routine - which is a good thing and
am working in picking him up from school by bike (with the kiddy trailer) .

on the other hand, school is much less hours than nursery especially when they started - so it was really hard at first to get time for anything
the summer will be a big test too

he's too big now for the babyjogger but he can keep up running with me when i do my slow jog
i've also bought a treadmill not the reebok one in the end
treadmill is best thing i ever bought - i can run while he watches telly or is asleep and i don't need a babysitter and so is fab
(especially this time of you when i don't always want to be outside anyhow)
but is a BIG expense

most of my running is on the treadmill these days as it makes it much easier to fit in with his needs

i still can't square the circle with regard to time for work and all though

i reduced my work hours right down when he started school - as they started them off mornings only and only 3 days a week
He's full time now but the hols are the problem from a work point of view
I'm self-emloyed so i have flexibility in many ways, but i don't earn when i'm off work!

January will be interesting

I have been on and off with the running really - gone in phases / injury / motivation sometimes lacking

I've run a couple of 5k races
couldn't do 10k as never got the time to train after getting an old injury flare up

five year old has also run some kids races himself which is so lovely to see - i wish MY parents had got me involved in something like that as a kid !
Posted: 28/12/2004 at 20:41

lok-thanks for updating us on how things are going. Its seems like you keep on bouncing back from whatever is thrown at you. Well done!

Have you got something to aim for at the moment? I always have my next couple of races planned, and the first one paid for, to keep me motivated. Next is an 8 miler at end of January, 10k in February and half marathon in March.
Posted: 29/12/2004 at 21:27

interesting point

i don't have anything lined up at the mo

perhaps that's a good idea

yours sound good - how close are you to being ready for those distances? i mean are you running 8 miles already now?

Posted: 30/12/2004 at 08:33

I got up to 10 miles in September, and did a 10 mile multi terrain race the end of October. Was doing 10miles weekly till I started working an extra day a week, since then I have only managed the long run about every three weeks. Will need to be consistent now though as half is in March and want to build up to 15 before that (have warned hubby I will be going out on Sunday afternoons with a couple of other girls from running club who are doing half too.)

Whats your longest?
Posted: 02/01/2005 at 22:53

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