Juggling family life by Jo Pavey
It may sometimes feel daunting to set yourself running goals when you’re busy juggling family life. Like many running parents, I know what it feels like to try to fit training around all the kids activities, parties, play dates and the school run as well as work related responsibilities. It can definitely feel challenging and it does require you to be more flexible with your training. But the happiness that parenthood brings combined with the opportunity to keep active together as a family can really boost motivation. I’ve set myself a goal many times during my running career and I relish trying to achieve it. There are always many ups and downs along the way but I like a challenge, and if things don’t work out I enjoy the journey along the way. Before I had children, I’d been pleased to pick up some medals including European and Commonwealth silvers and a World bronze. But it wasn’t until I was a busy mum, over the age of 40 and just coming back from having my second child that I finally achieved my goal of a gold medal at a championships. I was thrilled to win the 10,000m at the European Championships in Zurich in 2014. It was a huge surprise to me as I would’ve never imagined that I would achieve this goal at this stage of my life and under those life circumstances. I realised then that although I had a busy family life it was still possible to achieve my goals as well as have quality family time.
Before I was a mum, I solely focussed on my training, I went on training camps all over the world, to South Africa, America and Australia to train in warm weather and sometimes at high altitude. I didn’t have as many responsibilities or as much to work around compared to having the joys of parenthood. I had so much time to purely think about training, rest, recovery and getting ready for the next training session. I do feel fortunate to have had so many experiences at that time of my life. However I got to the point whereby although my love of running remained undiminished, I no longer felt happy with solely ticking off the miles. I desperately wanted to be a mum and of course I knew that once I had children they’d be my main priority and the way I did my training would be very different.
Our first child Jacob was born in 2009 and Emily was born in 2013. My husband Gav and I were thrilled to have a little family. With two little ones in tow life became very busy but in a good way. In early 2014 Gav and I decided that we would give it a go to see if I could make the British team for the championships just more time. Medals were definitely not in our thoughts!
Even making the team seemed an extremely big ask especially as the trials were in May and I was still breast feeding in April. I had also required a c section, which meant it took slightly longer to return to proper training. My first runs back involved us all going to the running trails as a family. I ran back and forth, keeping near to the pram being pushed by my husband in case our newborn needed a feed. Jacob meanwhile would be charging up and down on his bike. As time progressed we started to go to the track. My sessions went terribly to begin with, but I didn’t stress, I knew I could only try my best and it was so important to enjoy precious time with our new baby and our little boy. Like all parents would know, the expected sleep deprivation made things tough and because Emily wouldn’t take a bottle until she was 5 months old, I always had to be close by when training. We invested in a treadmill to help with this, it meant I could do some runs without leaving the house! It helped that my husband Gav is my coach and we can plan training together, it definitely made it easier to be flexible and adaptable with the schedule.
As the trials approached the quality of my training started to gradually improve. But it was such a huge surprise to win the trial and an even greater surprise to finally achieve the gold medal. The whole experience taught me that even though life can get busy, having a good balance and feeling happy may lead you to achieve things that you may at first thought weren’t possible.
Before I had children I probably worried about my training a bit too much, I had so much time to think about a workout beforehand and to dwell on how it went afterwards.
After Becoming a mum, I continued to put full effort into my sessions when training, but the rest of the time having so much more to think about and being kept busy juggling everything actually seemed to affect my running in a positive way. Two years after the European championships in Zurich, I was fortunate enough to make it to my 5th Olympics.
Nowadays as the children are getting older and running continues to fit well with family life, I feel that I’m enjoying my running more than ever. All of us that are running parents have the opportunity to be good role models for our children by being active ourselves. I enjoy showing my children that’s it’s fun to be active. I feel it helps them associate being active with having a happy and healthy life too. It’s also a huge motivating factor for me that we can keep active together as a family. We try to do this whenever possible for some of my training. It’s a great way of enjoying quality family time whilst keeping the whole family fit and healthy. It also means that I get a workout done without being away from the kids and they have a good time too. We regularly go to beautiful locations such as a forest, a canal or to the coast.
My husband and I run, and our children Jacob and Emily love going along on their bikes. They’ll often do a little bit of running as well. We make it part of a fun day out by taking a picnic and staying around afterwards to mess around on bikes or in the play park or we might head down to the beach. The forest we go to has a bike pump track so we can have fun using that while we’re out too. When we go to a canal, we frequently take an open canoe and paddle for a bit before or after the run. If I’ve got an interval session, we occasionally all go to the track together. Our kids join me for some of the warm up and warm down and enjoy trying a few running drills too. For the children it’s always important that they’re having fun. Therefore we try to make the activity part of a longer day out to mix things up a bit and do lots of different things as a family. It’s always handy to have your running kit ready in the car if you’re out with other adults in case a good time arises for you to nip off for a run, for example during a day at the beach.
Another way of being an active together is to enter events as a family. It’s great for family bonding and a chance to soak up the atmosphere as well as enjoy the experience. You may want to run in an event where you can run alongside each other or go to an event where you can run a race and there’s also the opportunity for your children to take part in the kids races, parkrun and junior parkrun are also so fantastic for families to take part in.
I absolutely love the happy balance that family life has given me, of course it can be challenging to fit all the necessary training in. My husband and I find it important to prioritise the more essential units of training, this would be units such as interval sessions, tempo runs and a long run. We then work out how these can fit around what’s going on with family life in any particular week, we modify the plan if circumstances change. The lower priority units such as an additional steady runs or some longer mileage which we ideally want to complete can then be added in if possible. Owning a treadmill, a cross training machine or stationary bike is useful to be able to exercise without leaving the house if necessary. We have learnt to be very flexible with our schedule and not to stress if things have to be adapted. It’s important to feel happy, embrace challenges and enjoy your running. It’s great to chat to other runners who are parents too. Events like the Windsor Women’s 10K provide such a lovely opportunity to meet other women runners, many who are mums and share experiences and ideas and encourage each other.