How do you train for a half marathon when you’re a working mum of young children?
As my children would say, it’s just ‘eight more sleeps’ until I take on my very first half marathon. The Cardiff Half.
Or to give it its full name, The Cardiff University Cardiff Half Marathon.
On Sunday 7 October I will be one of around 25,000 people running 13.1 miles (21.1K) around our beautiful city in the 15th Cardiff Half Marathon and the inaugural Commonwealth Half Marathon Championships. The run is Wales’ largest mass participation event and the UK’s second largest half marathon.
I’ve never run this far before. Depending on how I get on on the day, I might never run this far again.
I won’t be anywhere near the fastest. I don’t have a personal best to beat. My aim is simply to complete the course – and to enjoy it, rather than endure it.
And of course, to raise a load of money for Tŷ Hafan, the children’s hospice for Wales, and awareness of the wonderful work they do.
As a family, we have taken on a number of running events this year in aid of the charity. Tŷ Hafan offers comfort, care and support to life-limited children (children not expected to live beyond the age of 18), young people and their families in the hospice, in the community and in their home so they can make the most of the time they have left together. Tŷ Hafan needs to raise £4 million every year so that it can provide its services to families in Wales for free.
The five of us have already taken on the inaugural Ty Hafan 5K Bubble Rush followed by the Barry Island 10K for me and 2K for my children. The day before the half marathon we’ll all run the family 2K. We’re aiming to raise £1,000 in support of Ty Hafan and are grateful for any donations.
For me the half marathon is the culmination of the past nine and a half months, ever since I took up running at Christmas, more than 10 years since I last ran.
I was never a serious runner before I had my children. As a teenager I ran for my school in a few county tournaments. I could never sprint. In fact, I was never very sporty at school but when I was around 14 we started doing athletics at school… and it turned out I had a natural ability for longer distances. 1,500m was always my race. I ran a bit while at university in Swansea – the seafront path from Swansea Bay to the Mumbles is such a beautiful route. In my 20s, I did the odd Race for Life, ran on the treadmill at the gym and sometimes ventured outside. But my main focus was yoga and I’m a qualified British Wheel of Yoga teacher. My 30s were a blur of pregnancy, breastfeeding and looking after three young children. For the last five years or so every year when I watched the Cardiff Half I’d say ‘I’m going to do that one year’. But I wasn’t sure if I ever would.
I didn’t set out to run the half marathon when I started running again just after Christmas. I’d joined a gym because I wanted to up my general fitness levels. And because for the first time in eight years, I finally felt like I had enough time to go so that my membership wouldn’t be a waste of money.
I wasn’t sure what to do on my first session at the gym and so I headed for the treadmill… and remembered how much I used to enjoy running. I couldn’t run very far or very fast. But slowly it began to come back.
My goal was to be able to comfortably run 10K by my 40th birthday in June. But then on a weekend away with a big group of friends In May, which included a few serious runners, I was persuaded to sign up for the Cardiff Half.
And so I now find myself just days away from taking on the biggest physical challenge of my life.
A question I get asked a lot at the moment is how – as a work-at-home mum of three – I find the time to train for a half marathon.
The reality is that it’s not easy. My training hasn’t always gone to plan, especially with the longer runs, but I’m sharing my experience here about how I managed to fit in training around my children and my work in the hope that it will be useful or inspiring for other mums (and dads!) too.
Schedule your running into your family’s weekly routine
This is possibly the best advice I have ever received. It came from my friend Laura in this article I wrote last year on how mums make time to exercise around family life. Her realisation that all of her children’s activities were booked into the diary not to be missed, but there was nothing scheduled for her really rang true for me. For so long I had been fitting in things for me around everyone else. And so I set about fixing times in my schedule. Two early mornings a week at the gym. Saturday morning 5K park run; Sunday morning longer runs. A yoga class one night a week. Of course there are times when other priorities take precedence. But my commitments are scheduled in alongside my children’s.
Make the most of the smallest windows of opportunity
I’m lucky I have the luxury of a supportive co-parent in the form of Cardiff Daddy who has been happy to take over childcare duties for me to run. I appreciate not everyone has this. Yet with the long hours he works and the busy lives we all lead, some weeks finding time to run feels impossible. But what I’ve learned is that you have to grab the opportunities when you can. I remember once he got home from work at 6.15pm and was going back out again at 7pm. In the midst of tea time and bedtime chaos, when it would have been far easier to stay at home, as soon as he was in through the door, I was off. I did 6K and set a new PB.
Accept running will mean you’ll sometimes miss out on other things you really want to do
In order to get up early to run, I need to go to bed earlier. Which means very little TV in the evenings; or not drinking alcohol on a night out so that I’m fresh in the morning; or coming home earlier than my friends. Or giving up a lie-in when all I really want to do is stay in bed. It also means missing out on some of my children’s weekend activities. I hate not being there but thankfully Cardiff Daddy is amazing at getting everyone to where they need to be. My children are really supportive too, asking me how far I’ve run or how fast I managed to do it. It’s good for them to see me being dedicated and working towards my own achievement.
Book in some shorter race distances to give you some mid-term goals
The idea of running a half marathon seemed very overwhelming when I signed up. It also seemed a long way off. I was worried that the pressures of family and work life would mean I’d keep putting off the training because it wasn’t imminent. With this in mind, I signed up to two 10K races over the summer so that I knew I’d have a tangible goal that I had to work towards. It also meant my family knew I had to be serious about my training too.
You need to be kind to yourself when training doesn’t go as planned
I read a lot of half marathon training plans when I signed up for the half marathon so that I could learn more about what I should be doing and when. They were all useful in helping me work out how to build up speed and distance. But a lot of the plans seemed quite rigid – and as a self-employed working mum, my life doesn’t always fit into such a neat schedule. Poorly children, husband away with work, my work deadlines all falling at once, a busy time of family birthdays and gatherings that can’t be missed, weekends away, school holidays, children’s activities… as much as I tried to make my running a part of our family routine, there are times when it hasn’t always worked out that way. I haven’t done as many long runs as I would have liked. I haven’t done as much interval training or hill work as I would have liked. But I ran as much as I could and as often as I could. As the saying goes: a short run is better than no run. It’s frustrating when circumstances out of your control mean you have a bad week of training or you have to miss a planned run. But in the grand scheme of things it’s not the end of the world. My aim is to complete the course. Feeling confident enough to take to the the starting line is an achievement in itself. As I always tell my children it’s the taking part and doing your best that counts. And I feel that taking on a half marathon with all the challenges of being a working parent of young children is a huge achievement in itself.
Get your family involved with your running
As I mentioned, we’ve been fundraising for Tŷ Hafan as a family, taking on various running challenges this summer. I’ve loved having this focus as a family. We’ve talked about the importance of keeping fit and healthy and also about how we all have a duty to help people less fortunate than ourselves. In preparation for their running events my children have attended the 2K Junior Parkrun Cardiff when we can as well as going to a weekly athletics class. It’s helped them realise that running races isn’t something you can just ‘do’; it requires commitment and effort. They have also realised that with training what once seemed impossible soon becomes manageable and even beatable. They also have an understanding of the distance I’m running (“it’s like doing Junior Parkrun 10 times”) and why my training is important. Seeing their proud little faces cheering me on at the two 10K races I did in the summer made me immensely emotional and they were so proud of me and excited for me.
It’s not been easy training for my first half marathon – but I’ve worked hard and done my best. All that remains now is to take on the course on 7 October. Wish me luck! And if you’re watching the race and see me please give me a big cheer. Knowing people are supporting you means so much.
Are you running the Cardiff Half? Or have you completed any other races or sporting events? How did you fit in training and what advice would you give to others? Do let me know in the comments below, on the Cardiff Mummy Says Facebook page or you can tweet me on @cardiffmummy
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