The Balancing Act

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."