The Balance: Life & Fitness

“Am I serving my training, or does my training serve me?”

Sage Davis

My sister, Sage, posed the above question on my post, Running in the Raw: The Truth about Running. My little sister is a smart cookie. She’s a wife, mother of two, DNP Primary Care Provider, and a hardcore triathlete (currently training for a full Ironman). 

No matter who you are or why you’re busy, you’re not alone if you struggle to fit in fitness. Balance is hard work. We want to be fully present in our significant relationships and exercise for our mental, physical, and spiritual well-being.

Here’s a glimpse into how we try to make it work.

Make Goals

What do you want out of your home life, social life, and fitness? How do your training goals fit in with other areas? We can’t prioritize without a clear idea of what is important to us, so it’s necessary to start with making goals to create a clear vision of what you want and how you will achieve it. Here are posts to help:  Make Objectives to Last and Running in the Raw: The Truth about Running.

What it looks like in our lives…

For us, everything begins with a core vision for our lives and our family. As you might guess, that vision has nothing to do with running. Not directly. Our vision speaks to who we are and how we want to live that identity out. It includes values like love, compassion, wisdom, stewardship. Running, therefore, hinges on its capacity to submit to the greater vision as well as further it.

That’s why community is so important to us, and that’s why intentionality and discipline matter. That’s also why we do whatever we can to make fitness time family time. Because our goals, while very much involving objective competitive outcomes, are more about giving life to one another and others.

Ask Zach sometime about his decades-long struggle to find deep meaning and real purpose in running. And be sure to ask him why it has taken so long (that’s present tense, there).

Take a quick look at some of our simple but important goals:

  • General: Use running to connect with God
  • General: Use running to connect with each other (family) and others (friends, community)
  • General: train and race competitively in a sustainable manner
  • Specific (Zach): Run 2:18 at Chicago Marathon
  • Specific (Andi): Get healthy then run a PR marathon at ___ (Chicago, Monumental, or another one later if needed)

Be Flexible

Balance would be easy if training were convenient, but alas, it is not–at least not for us. We live in human relationships with friends, teammates, spouses, family, children… And those are only some of the things that eat up our time every day.

The big question is what do you do when other priorities cut into training time? What do you do when those you love need you and it interferes with your training? How do you respond? I have found that expecting interferences and planning to be flexible has served me well. If a friend is in a crisis and needs support, I can move my long run day. 

If the interference isn’t an emergency or can be easily scheduled for another time, I do the legwork to make it happen, like by offering other dates or following up to reschedule. Saying no  for the sake of running without a solution or alternative shakes up priorities and furthers relational strain.

What it looks like in our lives… 

Oh man. Zach is not the most qualified person to write about this topic. (But I’m still going to try.)

The simple illustration here could be taken from any week in the lives of the Ripley family. Change is constant. This week is as good an example as any:

  • Zach planned to run twice on Monday. Part way through the day, Andi informed him that we were invited to dinner that evening. He immediately started planning how to make up the miles later in the week.
  • Andi planned to not run at all Monday, but Zach was able to get home early enough to squeeze in a second run after all (if said run involved ending at the destination for our dinner plans). 
  • Because the opportunity presented itself, they ended up running together (shorter than Zach originally hoped for Monday and longer than Andi originally planned for Monday) and made it in time to quickly shower before the rest of the dinner guests arrived (Zach is convinced no human ever sweat more than that while running 8min/mile for half an hour).

And that was only Monday.

Be Holistic

Let us also think about what is best for our bodies, minds, and spirits as we train. Being aware of and flexible with our needs in body, mind, and spirit will help us live more properly in balance. 

The idea of being in tune with ourselves doesn’t always mean slowing down or doing fewer miles. It is possible I have flexed just as much toward more training than less training. When I am going through heavy life issues I’ve often used another mile or two to process or pray about a situation. 

A word of caution: always be careful when using physical activity to cope with deeper life struggles. It’s just as easy to upset the balance by overdoing it. (I warn because I have absolutely done this and gotten injured.)

What it looks like in our lives… 

We strive to schedule running in such a way to support priorities and help achieve balance. Just the other day, we realized Zach would need an evening run on a friday, but we also wanted to spend time with friends. We ended up all running together with the jogger followed by tacos at the pool. 

Strategizing how to integrate running into life has helped us meet many tangible and intangible needs while still keeping the important things on top, like relationships.

  • Andi, with some friends, started a running moms group to find time for both running and connecting with friends in a way that is also fun for the kids and gives the moms a little break.
  • Zach runs the majority of his mileage between 5-7:30am so that the evenings can be more devoted to spending time with family (that does, as you will notice, often involve running as well) and friends.
  • Andi and Zach both intentionally leverage solo runs to pray, meditate, make plans, and reflect (perhaps Zach will compile a post in the future about the science of daily doses of intentional time to meditate, reflect, etc.).
  • And to tap into Sage’s enduring wisdom, neither Zach nor Andi allow training schedules to transcend common sense and years of intuition when it comes to finding our reasonable limits.

Communicate

Ask for patience and support. If you’re in a committed relationship, let him/her know your goals and what it will take to achieve them. Create a team instead of trouble. When I know what to expect out of Zach’s training in a week, I can plan ahead. If he doesn’t tell me, I have unmet expectations and it wears on our relationship. (That’s probably a bit of an understatement, even.)

Ask your loved ones about their needs as well. Training is not an allowance to neglect work in a home and relationship. I have certainly asked a lot of Zach during periods of my training without giving much in return. The excuse of training can feel like a righteous one, but if we look at our priorities and the needs of those we love, we can see how we are potentially draining others.

What it looks like in our lives… 

Andi said it best above: when we know what to expect, things work out fairly well. When the unexpected kidney punches us unnecessarily… 

When we are on our game, this looks like:

  • Talking about the week (usually on Sunday night) to clarify what each needs and hopes for training and other details.
  • Communicating changes promptly and sensitively. Zach has a tendency to do the “Oh yeah, I can’t do that anymore. Sorry I forgot to mention earlier…” You can guess how much Andi appreciates that.
  • Seeking honest feedback (we do NOT do this very well yet) from each other and others (when relevant). We need to ask each other regularly whether the schedule is working or wearing. We need to ask others whether our goals or schedule is inconveniencing them. And we need to listen humbly to the response.

Our next post will further develop the run-life balance by diving further into our strategies for bringing the whole family into the experience. As always, we would love your thoughts on this topic or the next. We are always excited to include input from others and further build the running community!

Balancing takes practice. We certainly have failed many times. Sage’s question has really helped me. So what’s your answer?

7 thoughts on “The Balance: Life & Fitness”

  1. Great post! Even though George and I don’t train as seriously and don’t have kids, it would be good for us to get into a habit of going over our weekly schedule each Sunday before our lives get busier!

  2. Thanks for addressing the importance of finding a balance between life and fitness, I appreciate it!
    Do you ever write out each other’s runs on a calendar? I have found that I am more likely to run/workout and keep to my goals if I write them down.

    1. That’s a great strategy, Livie! I have recommended exactly that process when working with athletes, especially younger ones (coaching high school, college, etc.), though in my experience, such a thing is a good strategy for anyone!
      As it were (and I should certainly only speak for myself), my current trend is a move toward less rigidity and more fluidity, having spent almost a decade living and dying by the schedule. At this time in life, I am moving away from structure a bit so as to strike a healthier holistic balance.
      That said, everyone finds different nuances depending on their situations. The key for one and all is understanding the big picture goals and steps to achieving those goals while knowing oneself well enough to implement the right mix of accountability and flexibility.
      Love your idea! Keep them coming!

    2. Thanks for the comment, Livie! I function in too much fluidity (Zach and I are different that way) and need more structure, so I appreciate this comment. I do think it would help me to write down the week of training, even if we need to change the day. Thanks for the suggestion!

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