//Words by Kim Loney//
I love to run. I love to run on pavements, beside motorways and through concrete city jungles. I love to run through green, tree lined parks, or up and over steep, rocky mountains and trails, and I love to run through deep, soft desert sand. I love to run in order to explore new destinations and I love to run routes I’ve covered hundreds of times before. I just love to run! That feeling of stepping out of the door, clearing my mind of anything and everything (or if needed, focusing entirely on something I wish to spend quality, quiet time thinking about) and simply concentrating on placing one foot in front of the other, sensing the momentum taking hold and carrying me forward while the kilometres melt away under my feet; this is what has me hooked.
The unpredictable nature of running, and running trails in particular, also keeps me coming back for more. There is so much that cannot be controlled when you are out for a run, from the weather, to the terrain under foot, to how your legs are going feel after 1 km or 80 km. For someone who usually thrives on being in control and knowing what is coming next, the enjoyment I experience when running was, and still is, definitely unexpected..and very much welcomed! I never know how my body is going to react and respond during a run. There are so many variables and I think it is this uncertainty that I crave, especially now I am a mum. It counterbalances my usual desire for routine, predictability and order in my 'mum' life. I guess it is a bit of a ‘let my hair down and go with the flow’ sort of thing!!
My morning run is another mum’s morning coffee. It leaves me energised and focused, and nowadays, most definitely a far more patient and fun mum!
So once my first child arrived, I knew I would need to fit my running and training in some way, somehow, without sacrificing too much quality family time. I was going to need fitness, and running in particular, in order to deal with what was inevitably going to be an exhausting and stressful time. And I was not wrong. Life has definitely become a hectic balancing act since our first daughter was born 5 years ago, and we reached a whole new level of craziness once the twins arrived and we had 3 under 2.5 years old.
So how did I manage to squeeze in the training and preparation required to train for a half marathon, marathon, breastfeed baby twins and care for 3 kids, all under 3? And now that our three girls are a little older (2 and 5), I’ve delved into the slightly crazy and awesome world of ultra running.
My key secret: I sacrifice my sleep. I have become a midnight runner. Yes, to fit in my running, more often than not, I have to get up and get out in the very early hours of the morning. When I was breastfeeding the girls, I would add in a feed and expressing session prior to heading out of the door, to make sure they were fed and content while I was out, and so that hubby had a bottle to hand should they get hungry before I returned, a hot and sweaty but very happy and energised mess!! Nowadays, with the step into the ultra world, I’ve swapped the early starts that were once needed for breastfeeding, for longer midweek runs and training sessions. It is the norm for me to set my alarm for 3 am and run under the stars with my trusty head torch beam, and then hit the gym on strength days too. This means I can get my training sessions done and be back in the villa in time to get my eldest daughter up and ready for school. But I wouldn’t be able to do this if my husband wasn’t there, in the villa, even if he is fast asleep! :-)
So that leads me to my second secret weapon which has enabled me to continue running and training as a mum of young children: having a super supportive hubby. He has always been my advocate and encouraged me to continue with my running. I think he knows I am much easier to live with if I have been for a run, so he actively facilitates my running addiction! He has always taken on weekend morning child care with enthusiasm and vigour when my training programme calls for time on feet out on the UAE trails. He works long hours during the week, sometimes not seeing the girls before they are tucked up fast asleep in bed, so for him, he loves this time alone with them…and I’m fairly sure he enjoys the fact I’m not around to question how things are being done ;-). Being expats in the UAE means we have very little in the way of family help, so we have to make it work between us. And we do. It has been essential, but not always easy, to balance family time, time for ourselves (he is also a keen, competitive sportsman) and time together. But we are both happier and healthier when we are training, so we make this a priority, whether it is gym sessions together in our home gym when the kids are napping, or tagging ourselves in and out of parenting responsibilities.
The days where I could simply slip on my trainers and run as far and as long as I liked, whenever I pleased are definitely no more. Instead, children and family life come with hefty responsibilities and mean there is minimal opportunity for obvious and abundant ‘me time’. This has meant I have been able to put my love of forward planning and the need for a consistent routine to good use. I have become meticulous with structuring my days and managing what little free time I do have to use for training. No more running endless miles, just to rack up ‘junk' mileage. I found following a training programme for the marathon really helped provide focus to my training and gave each session a purpose. It was the first time in 13 years of running that I had bothered with any sort of running programme and I was converted!!! So much so, that since venturing into ultra running, I now have an awesome endurance coach who structures my training to ensure that the time I do have available to devote to running is maximised and that each session counts positively towards achieving my goals. Having a programme to follow which is tailored specifically for me, my running goals and my lifestyle helps with forward planning and time management, which as a busy mum of three, is essential.
Other practical tactics definitely involve being fully prepped the night before my early morning runs, to avoid any last minute panics or excuses not to head out of the door. I have everything laid out (clothes, trainers, watch, nutrition, hydration) so that once my alarm shrieks, I can literally roll out of bed and be ready in minutes, requiring minimal mental and physical effort, which at 3 am is most welcomed, and it maximises the time available for training! I have also had to accept that perhaps I can’t always train as much, or as hard as others who may not have children, and that I am unlikely to have the luxury of proper rest and recovery during peak training periods. Small kids and rest/recovery? Oxymoron for sure!! But comparison is the thief of joy and I wouldn’t change my crazy days for anything! Being a mum is the single most rewarding experience of my life so far, and I will more than happily compromise a little rest in order to have fun and make memories with them! Just as long as I have run some miles in the morning ;-)