Athletic Training with Two Kiddos

When I last wrote about Jen Ellefson, we discussed her training for an Alaskan marathon (in winter!!) after the birth of her first child. It’s a tough argument to make that there’s something harder than training for a marathon in an Alaskan winter…but continuing a workout regimen with two young children just might take that honor!

Nonetheless, Jen kept up her fit lifestyle even after baby Tasman was born in 2008. She continued running through her pregnancy this time around, but worked out a bit less than she did while pregnant with Mattie. She says, “For one thing, I had Mattie, so that made it tough, but I also had some umbilical cord issues with Tas and needed to be more cautious.”

Within a month of his birth, however, she was back pounding the pavement. Her first unofficial workout was a sprint through the aquarium in search of a lost parking garage ticket. With 8 minutes until close, a looming $40 fine for a lost ticket, and milk-filled boobs, she dashed around while her mom watched the children back at the car. She found the missing ticket, was soon cleared for actual workouts, and set her sights on a 10K at altitude in Breckenridge, CO.

So how, logistically, does a work-at-home mom manage to actually train for such a thing? Jen purchased a double jogging stroller this time and just clawed her way through.

“Having a specific event I’m training for helps me. I like the training more than the race, and I have a hard time shelling out $30 for a 5k. I can just go run a 5k! I like a challenge.”

So she registers for things like 10Ks or sprint triathlons because, “once I pay the money, I’m going to do a race, which means I’m going to train for the race. You don’t want to go into anything without training or there’s gonna be a lot of pain and suffering involved. You can injure yourself. Signing up for something and having a goal is key.”

Then, it’s all about establishing a routine until working out in the wee hours just becomes part of your lived experience. As I mentioned before, Jen gets up at 4:30 in the morning to exercise 6 days a week. She’s home from the gym with email answered by 7am. With the morning endorphins, Jen says, “I just feel like it gives me energy to handle the kids all day. I have them here with me all day and I’m working and homeschooling as well. Training makes me feel good and gives me tolerance and patience. For me, it’s non-negotiable.”

And, since we all know something’s gotta give because there are only so many hours in a day, for Jen, her sacrifice is “showering. I rarely shower. I’m a dirty bird and I only shave my legs once a week. At best.”

I know very well how isolating it can feel to sit at home with young children and I find it easy to talk myself out of workouts. Jen’s answer to this is an accountability partner. Another former Penn State rugby player, Becky, has been Jen’s virtual training partner for years. “We keep a Google document for our workout journal, each recording what we’ve done in the week. We have a conversation each week in this journal and talk about aches, pains, triumphs. We’re on week 155! That’s three years of this virtual connection.”

Jen suggests if you find a virtual workout buddy, pick someone at the same level as you. Becky has 3 children, a bit older than Jen’s, and has a similar athletic background. “Becky and I talk a lot about our time constraints for working out as well as our aging, beat-up bodies! The way she juggles her work and family and workouts really inspires me. That sort of accountability is helpful.”

I proceeded to immediately follow Jen’s advice. While I was stewing about all of this, a friend told me she’d dreamt that we ran a half marathon together. How perfect is that?? I told her we should run a half marathon together in real life. My friend, also named Becky, has two children and similar struggles to me. She’s a work-at-home mama like me. She’s walked many miles in my shoes…which is to say she paces around in the wee hours with a sleepless baby.

So we signed up! We don’t have a spreadsheet or journal of our workouts, but we have a half marathon registration and we text each other every day, talking about what we’ve done or been too tired to do. She runs at night, after her kids are in bed, while her husband is home with them. I try to go in the mornings. Both of us attempt to do the 30 Day Shred during our kids’ nap times.

I love thinking about running this race with her in May and working our way toward readiness together. I like that each time I contemplate not exercising, I have to think about telling this to Becky. As I type this, I’ve missed two planned workouts this week and she helps me not beat myself up about it, but also encourages me to get my butt moving today. I think it will happen!

So who inspires you to work out? What are your strategies for making it happen while mothering young children?

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