5 Tips on Balancing Family and Obsessive Running

I don't know if I should be the one writing this article. I should probably hand the duties off to my wife and kids, because they are the ones who allow me to do what I do. Everyone always says that family comes first, but really, it doesn't always come first, and I think that's okay and healthy. The goal is to strike a balance. For some people running is an escape, the time on the trail and family time are kept separate and, like George's worlds colliding, are worlds that are best kept apart. For me, there's not much of a clear cut distinction between family and running, and for better or worse, I try to balance and combine the two as much as possible.

Me and the kids on a short hike

This came up during the Cuyamaca 100K. Paul and I were talking about how lucky we both were to be married to people who understood. Both of our wives have an athletic background and are still very active. So, when I tell my wife that I might take next Saturday and run in the mountains, oh and by the way, I'll probably be useless on Sunday as well because I'll be too tired from Saturday to do anything except maybe watch some football, she understands. Or, when I mention that next year, I'm thinking about taking at least 7 days to run through the Sierras, from Yosemite Valley to Mount Whitney, she doesn't laugh and tell me to stop posing in front of the mirror, she knowingly smiles, and makes sure I'm not doing it alone.

While I will give most of the credit for being able to run so much to my awesome, understanding and patient wife and kids, I have to admit that the successful balancing of obsessive running and a happy home life has taken years of subtle manipulation training. I'm still learning and experimenting with the process of balancing my family life with my running life, but in the process I have discovered a few strategies that help, so here are my 5 tips for being an obsessive runner while still maintaining a healthy family life.

1. Act like a total dick.

For me, this really isn't much of an act. If I don't get some kind of physical activity during the day, at least once, I am not a very pleasant person to be around, and by the second or third day, my wife and kids are practically forcing me to miss soccer games, date nights, long walks on the beach, anything to get me to run. When my daughter holds my running shoes out and gives me the Puss in Boots eyes, I know that I need to get out and run. You can easily work this one into conversations, like when I tell my wife "oh, I'm sorry that I just mistakenly told you that you are acting like your mom...I really need to get a run in." Believe me, she'll be begging you to leave.

Don't go overboard on this one. There is a limit to being a dick (just ask the guy who stole a dog's wheelchair). Also, the only way for this one to truly work, is you have to be pretty damn awesome most of the time, especially after a run or a race. You better come home with a huge smile on your face and ready to dole out hugs and kisses, empty the dishwasher, cook dinner, and be the super wife/dad/parent that you know you are. You know what that means? Ice cream for everyone.

2. Bribe your kids.

Speaking of ice cream for everyone, the kids add another layer of complication to the mix. There will be missed swim meets, missed soccer games, missed episodes of "Good Luck Charlie," but luckily kids are very susceptible to bribery. They're like miniature politicians. My kids are young enough to still love the shiny medals that I bring home and give them after a race, or they really luck out when Jelly Belly sponsors a race and I bring home Sports Beans. I have enough race shirts at this point to clothe a size large, polyester-loving army, so I'll ask for a small shirt or give the large shirt to my kids to sleep in. On the other hand, samples of blister shields, sun screen, and electrolyte pills don't go very far.

I will also have my family meet me after a run, and then we will do something fun. Fortunately, one of the regular runs I do starts and ends at a delicious coffee shop right on the coast, so I'll have my family meet me for a Saturday morning breakfast and then we'll spend the rest of the day at the beach.

Post-run (I'm sitting on a beach chair while my daughter teaches my son to surf).

3. Sacrifice.

Yes, there will be sacrifices. You're not going to make it to every swim meet, parent-teacher conference, or football game. It's important to prioritize, and ask yourself some tough questions before lacing up those running shoes, or allocating an entire weekend to a race. Is the parent teacher conference for the smart kid who always does what the teacher asks, or for the kid who misbehaves and likes to blow shit up in the name of science? Does your 6-year-old daughter have a chance of scoring a goal and winning the soccer game, or is she playing against the stacked team from Cuba where the six-year-olds drive themselves to the game and celebrate with beer afterward? These are the tough questions you have to ask yourself, but birthdays are non-negotiable. You've got to make the birthdays (unless it's the middle child, in which case, you can just buy him a really nice present).

Some things you just can't miss.

4. Trick your family into thinking the vacation is about them and not about running a race.

This one is old, and everyone sees through it, but if you do it right, it never fails. I like to lead with the race. I tell my wife that I'm thinking of doing this race on Catalina Island, or getting a cabin up in Big Bear and doing a long run for my 40th birthday. I wait for her face to drop or her eyes to roll, then I say I was thinking about bringing her and "making a vacation out of it." That's the key, you have to slip in the word vacation, as if getting to Catalina the night before a marathon, eating an event-prepared bland plate of spaghetti, bunking with a bunch of people who need to be asleep by 8 PM and who are up at 4 AM, and being absolutely too tired and sore to do anything after the race except watch re-runs of "Keeping Up With the Kardashians" could be considered a vacation.

Hey, let's all go to Zion. I'll just spend a day running across it.

Half of my Hawaii vacation photos are of empty roads.

5. Guilt.

This is the last resort, and must be used sparingly. I grew up in a religious household where guilt played a role in every decision I made before the age of 16. It works, but it can really mess you up. I still worry that if I drink a can of Coke, God is going to zap me with never-ending hiccups or permanent insomnia, and I can already hear my Grandma saying, "see, that's what happens when you drink caffeinated beverages."

My wife is applying to nursing school, and she is currently volunteering at a local hospital, so when I'm planning out my adventures, I try to use this wholly selfless and benevolent choice against her. I always check with her before signing up for a race, saying something like "I really want to train for another 100 next year, and I know that you're going to be starting nursing school next fall and I won't have a lot of time to run once you're in school, so I was hoping to cram in a few races, and maybe some overnight running/camping trips into my schedule before you get started." Note: I hope those races that I signed up for next year offer refunds.

If everything goes as planned, your family will support you by setting up aid stations at grass-roots races...

and make you awesome welcome home signs.

Now, I realize I'm giving up my secrets and that they probably won't work as well going forward (let's be honest...my wife has seen through me since day one), but I'm willing to take one for the team. So, for the sake of runners with families everywhere, I hope you use these tips, act like a dick, bribe your kids, and guilt your way into a happy and balanced family life. You're welcome.

Thanks for reading. I'm off to pick the kids up from school, because I told my wife she should go work out. She was acting like a total...


  1. Great post! I do ALMOST all of those things short of missing the kid's games and performances. I also have my own business and volunteer at their school which doesn't leave much room for training. But when I am training luckily my husband completely understands since he spent a year training violently for the dual slalom and downhill MTB races at Sea Otter and Downieville. He gets it, which is huge. In fact, before I picked up running again he was begging me to start up again and find my passion. He may be eating his words now.

  2. Hilarious. I've tried planning races to coincide with 49ers games and even gave my husband my truck so he could sell his car and we could afford such things. But I haven't done ultras yet. First one is coming. Your tips will definitely come in handy as I eventual reveal that December's 50k is just a gateway to April's 50 miler, which itself is probably the start of a long road to...something unmentionable.

  3. Holy crap Dax, that post was hilarious! Thanks for the advice.

    Happy Running!

  4. I laughed out loud the whole time, mostly because I thought only I did this stuff. It was like reading my own autobiography. So funny I had to read it out loud to my wife and eldest girl who nodded in agreement at all 5 (it really is amazing how many points you get for bringing home Sport Beans). Probably bad form to blow the secrets in front of the unwitting victims but luckily I have one of those very understanding/supportive families too.

  5. Thanks for the great smile this morning as I try and figure out if I have enough time to get my mileage ramped up to run a marathon in December.

  6. LOL, I have a hard time imagining you watching "Keeping up with the Kardashians" under any circumstances! Nice post! Bottom line: remind everyone that running is more important than everything else in life, top priority, numero uno and if you have enough time or energy afterwards....other things might get done:)

    1. Yep. Keeping up with the Kardashians is a great motivator. I have so much negative energy after watching it that I can't not run.

  7. Bribery? It works a treat on a 14 year old boy that spends most of his free-time in an almost horizontal position on his ps3: "just think how cool you'll look in a t-shirt that says you've just run xxx miles!" But it also works on the ex... "Can you have our child a bit longer this weekend, then I'll have him longer the next one...so you can have more time with your new girlfriend" ;D (We have a healthy post-23-year-relationship relationship!!!)

  8. My kids would know when to tell me, "Mom, its time for your run, isnt it?",and I would hear them sigh in relief when I left.... so I could run guilt free...That was fun reading! Thanks!

  9. So that is why Shawn sometimes acts like a dick :) I will hand him his shoes next time! Sure miss you guys!

  10. Great tips, Dax! I hope that I can balance as well as you. You have an amazing family.

  11. Such a great post - I really enjoyed it! I feel like I fight to find balance between being a wife, mother, attorney and runner! And even though life gets crazy, I get crazier when I don't get my long run in. I am thinking about trying an ultra next spring/ summer. Your blog really inspires me! Thanks!!!


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