Realizing that running and parenting were going to take some work at mile 60 of the Angeles Crest 100
In August, I was the proud parent of a 2-week old baby girl, and I took on the Angeles Crest 100 Mile Endurance Run. Despite my best intentions, fitness, and optimism, I learned the hard way that my firstborn had a physical and emotional effect on my athletic abilities. With a gentle smile and a light coo, she challenged my focus, motivation, and priorities, leaving me a sappy mess, dropping from the race at mile 60.
A few weeks later, I saddled back up for the Pine to Palm 100 Mile Endurance Run. The night before I laid awake, nervous and uncertain if I would be able to maintain focus and hold onto my desire to run to my physical limits. I questioned my identity as a runner/parent, my ability to prioritize myself, and my capacity to finish the race. I ended up spending nineteen hours and fifty-seven minutes (finishing in 3rd place) finding out that:
- Running was still very much a part of my life
- That I loved my daughter deeply despite spending 99% of the day running
- That I could have balance even in a sport of extremes.
These are my most significant takeaways from the race that helped me find my identity on the other side of childbirth.
Finding balance and redemption at the finish line of the Pine to Palm 100
1) Let Your Goals Build Naturally
In previous years, I have picked the highest possible goal for a race (a course record) and let that be my motivation through training and racing. Realizing that my years of near-perfect training blocks and life management are behind me, I found that first set the goal of making it to the finish with enough time to catch our flight home was most appropriate. I wanted to qualify for race lotteries, I wanted to maintain a streak of finishing a 100 Mile Run every year, and I wanted to cross the finish line with Lindy in my arms. Taking this as a basic goal, I did mental math along the way estimating my cushion that I was building with each aid station. By the halfway mark, I realized I had 21 hours to run the last 50 miles (which I was more than capable of). I eventually lowered my goals to sub-20 hours and felt a natural, pleasurable chase occurring rather than a hurried struggle.
Mile 65 of Pine to Palm, running into a brilliant sunset
2) Create and Enjoy Your Moments of Zen
Like any good race, there are parts going to suck. Getting through an overly technical section, dealing with extreme adversity, or just getting through a long night with a teething baby can be trying. Dealing with these trying times was my greatest fear, as I didn’t know if I still had the fortitude to attack them well. I eventually found myself focusing not on the immediate task at hand, but thinking about the natural beauty of the terrain I was in. A beautiful technicolor sunrise, the patterns in ridgelines, the dancing flames in our wood-burning stove- these are things that I’ll never forget not because they were beautiful moments in life. Rather, they are things I focused on as I pulled my mind away from anxiety, fear, and exhaustion. I focused on these aesthetics until I wore out those draining emotions, and found my way back into competition.
This face makes it all worth it
Additionally, there are unfathomable amounts of Dopamine and Serotonin to be found by staring into your child’s eyes or watching them sleep. Though children can be extremely demanding and difficult, those peaceful moments can give you all the peace you need to fight a thousand wars (or do something else incredibly epic).
3) Let the Rhythms of Life be Opportunities
Lindy is not always the most pleasant baby. We have our moments of unbelievable cuteness, but she also has lungs that can break glass if she isn’t fed, played with, or cleaned up. Even now, as I type this, I’m taking advantage of her being in a good enough mood to watch me type and read to her. When the times call for complete and undivided attention, I set down everything else and focus on her 100%, savoring the moments that will never be replaced. If I really need to get out, I load up the jogging stroller and take her on a run. If I just need to cross-train a bit, she’s the target I kiss in the down position of a push-up, the 15 lbs weight for a lunge, and the audience spotting my form on a chin-up. When the moment comes that I’ve worn her out, she’s asleep in the crib and I’m out hammering a climb in front of the house.
Meeting everyone's needs
If Katie (my wife) really needs time to herself after being attached to Lindy all day, and I’m too tired to do anything but lay next to Lindy, then I accept a zero for the day and make plans to set myself up for a good workout by getting to bed early, eating well, and setting an extra early alarm. My COROS Apex recommends a higher training load, and after a fierce 90-minute suffer-fest, all is eventually balanced out again. I don’t get upset that miles get moved forward, backward, or canceled during the week; I just savor each moment and opportunity.
4) Actually Embracing the Concept of Doing Your Best
As an NCAA Division I athlete, I never had the luxury of even thinking of an excuse for poor performance. If I didn’t run at my highest potential, I was the sole reason for every single cause that lead up to it. This mindset is great at building accountability and empowering individuals to take control of their lives. However, there is a slippery slope in the extrapolation of the mindset to believe that you can be the next champion/world record holder/Olympian in a matter of months or years. When you set absolute definitions of success, motivation and happiness can run short when you don’t achieve those extreme goals. Sports naturally release Adrenaline, Dopamine, and other natural highs. These hormones are in critical demand when Cortisol and other stress hormones are at all-time highs with the arrival of a new child. Spending any energy deprecating yourself for “failing to do what I used to do” or “being a shell of my former self” is like choosing to have more problems. Whether it’s coming back from injury, running a 20-mile week, or crossing a finish line; embracing each small victory paves the way for progress, happiness, and sanity.
Lindy, always eager to experience life
5) “The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday”
Navy SEALs use this saying religiously, and the same holds true for kids. Though there is a shell shock upon their arrival, it’s often noted by other parents that those were the easy days. As your patience and parenting skills grow, so do their abilities to test them. What once was enough play to knock them out for a nap, a week later fails the same effort fails to even make them breathe hard. Having a mindset that you will continue to develop and be tested every day of their life helps keep expectations reasonable for your parent-athlete life balance, and reminds you to embrace the challenge instead of praying for mercy (because that word does not mean anything for a looooooong time).
Without a doubt, kids are a major life enhancement in terms of happiness, exhaustion, confusion, pain, ecstasy, and all the other departments. However, there is no reason that without a little bit of mindfulness you can choose which parts get amplified (at least part of the time).
Written By Dominic Grossman