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Balancing Marathons + Motherhood: "Balance" Doesn't Always Mean Doing It All

Sometimes, finding balance requires taking inventory. Registered Dietitian, 7x marathoner, and mom Heather Caplan shares what this means for her.

Balancing Marathons + Motherhood: "Balance" Doesn't Always Mean Doing It All

I’m working with a running coach as I train for a half-marathon this fall. My original goal this year was to run my fifth Marine Corps Marathon in October, to use the bib I deferred from last year while I was seven months pregnant and in no shape for 26.2 miles. But when I stepped back and took a look at the big picture, training for a marathon this summer didn’t line up with my priorities. It would throw my life out of balance.

Marathon training is a huge time commitment. I know this well, as I’ve trained for and completed eight of them. Most of the time, I’m training in the summer and it requires getting up at or before five in the morning to at least avoid some of the oppressive heat and humidity in DC. And when I’m not running, I’m trying to rest up, work, maintain social and family relationships, and maybe read a book or two.

For me, personally, marathon training can feel like a part-time job. It’s not always easy to balance this goal with other work and life things. (This is to say nothing of the ultras and Ironmans of the world!) I’ve worked with a coach for a few training cycles to at least alleviate the mental gymnastics of when, how far, and how fast to run every day of every week. As a sports dietitian, I at least know most of the right things to do in that arena. As a human that covets sleep, enjoys socializing, and never wants to miss out on patio happy hour season, every training cycle was an experiment in how much to run versus how much to go on living life as “normal.” Have the beer outside with friends, and enjoy it, too—drink a little extra water and electrolytes before the long run tomorrow! That’s usually my mantra.

Now: I am taking care of my now-five-month-old son, and working part-time in my private practice and freelancing business. I have a small window of time each morning when I can run, sans baby, and I cherish that hour. On the weekends, I’m not as interested in spending three to four hours on a long run as I am in getting my run in, then spending time with my little family.

I decided to work with a coach again, to focus more energy on running and maintaining my business and coaching my runners, but letting someone else do the coaching for me. And ultimately, I decided to shift my focus to a goal half marathon, because to me, that’s where I can balance work, life, and running right now.

Recently I ran seven miles—my longest run in over a year—on a very hot and humid Saturday morning. I did all of my usual things; I ate a snack and hydrated before I left, brought water with me on the run, and immediately refueled with a solid breakfast, and an iced coffee. Yet, as the day went on, the “long” run took its toll. By late afternoon, I could hardly muster up the energy to do anything other than cuddle with my babe and watch back-to-back episodes of a Netflix special. My husband convinced me to get out of the house for dinner and walk to a restaurant down the street.

It solidified my choice to focus on the half versus the full marathon, for now. I learned a lesson in rest and hydration (though, if someone could mention the “rest” thing to our babe, that would be great!), and in what balance looks like right now.

Balancing work, life, sport, and time for a cold, refreshing beer will change as life changes. At this moment, in this year, I want to spend more time with my family and fewer hours on long runs and then recovering from hard efforts. I don’t want to be spending mental energy on preparing pre-long run meals and snacks, packing up chews and gels and hydration mixes, and setting early alarms. I want to keep growing my small business and doing work that I’m excited about. I want to enjoy my sport of choice, run for fun, and be relaxed in my approach. And I want to enjoy a cold beer on a hot summer night, running the next morning, and then rehydrating and refueling to enjoy first-time summer activities with a little human.

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