The Balance Beam

img_6690-editI am asked all the time by my clients, family and friends how I balance my coaching obligations and my own training. My response is always the same: it’s a challenge and a balancing act. In fact, I have had to change my own personal goals this year to accommodate my coaching – which has been fine. It’s my choice. My own experiences with balancing work and running made me think of my clients and everyone I know balancing their careers and everything else in their lives.

Balancing training for a goal like a marathon is all about choices. I suppose it’s like anything in life. There are some folks who will prioritize a specific running goal above almost all else, while others barely train and hope for the best. Many of us fall somewhere in the middle. We’re smart enough to know you can’t cheat your way through marathon training, but also have other priorities and the marathon doesn’t make the top of the list. Running is something many of us do, and we are indeed runners. However that’s usually not the only thing we are or identify with.

So how does one balance goals if priorities swing one way or another?  Perhaps some years personal running goals need to take the back burner while something else moves to the front. Or perhaps the type of running goal you have changes – maybe you want to try an indoor track season or an Ultra – both completely different sports from the marathon. If I had all the answers, I’d be bestowing that wisdom upon you right now. Instead, I’ll admit I struggle to keep my balance sometimes. The silver lining is that when my own goals need to take the back burner, it’s usually because I am helping others achieve their goals – which is a pretty awesome job.

If you find yourself struggling to keep balance, figure out why. Perhaps you have been training for marathon after marathon, signing up and training for the next the minute the current goal is history. It’s natural to burn out, both physically and mentally. I’ve been there, and hard as it may be, sometimes a break is the best thing. The thing to keep in mind is that the marathon will always be there, whether you come back to it in one year, five years or fifteen years. Yes, your body may react differently to training if you wait fifteen years, or it may be extremely frustrating to build back fitness you know you had a year ago, but our bodies and minds are pretty darn amazing, and will indeed bounce back.

Personally, I am struggling with that right now. This past year I took off from pretty much all of the training I had done the last few years. No track work, tempo runs, hill repeats – none of what I had been doing to make me “fast.” (My fast is turtle pace compared to some and probably speedy compared to others, so I think it deserves quotations.) Instead, I focused on Ultra Marathon training, which made sense with my coaching schedule. It was incredibly easy to tally up high-mileage weeks, all done at an easy pace. Ask me to run a 6-minute mile, and I would be left dry-heaving on the side of the road. My body had changed, thanks to what I’d asked it to do. Yes, I’d run 15 miles per day, 6-7 days per week and feel great. But could I race a 5K with any dignity? Nope. But that kind of training fit my schedule best. It was the easiest choice – which I realize as I say that sounds pretty insane. Like me, you may find yourself training the way that best fits your current life – be it work, family, etc. The hard part is then trying to change that.

How does someone go from running easy 90-100 mile weeks to suddenly asking their body to run “hard” again? It’s incredibly humbling to be huffing and puffing to run at your marathon goal pace from a year ago. But again, our bodies change based on the training demands. Can I get my body to run 7:05s for 26.2 miles again? Absolutely. Would it take a lot of work and patience? Sure. But it can be a goal if I decide to work for it.

I suppose I have two points to this blog:

  • As long as you give yourself the time and the proper training, you can change your running goals and absolutely succeed at the goals you have carved out for yourselves. Try something new. Aim for that PR, that BQ, that OQ. The worst that happens is you fail. And so what? It’s not like you are losing a cash prize if you don’t achieve your race-day goals, right?
  • The second is that I am excited as an athlete to switch focuses and see what I can do with shorter distances. It will be a challenge to balance coaching miles and training miles, but it’s all about choices and priorities. It may mean I need to be creative with my quality workouts and my rest days. But just like anyone with a job and other things in their lives, it’s all a balancing act. I’m never going to be training full-time, so just like you, I need to be both focus and ambitious but also flexible.

If you have tips for how you manage your training, race goals and life – please leave a comment. I know I could use any tips – and I am sure I am not the only one!

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