How running taught me to be a better dad

Thames Path Ultra with my son

When my son was born 2.6 years ago many of my friends and family warned me that it could spell the end of my running adventures. You won’t have time, they said. You’ll be too tired, they said. There’ll be no more of that, they assured me. But instead of hanging up my Nikes, loosening my belt buckle and waiting for the middle age spread, I kept going. And I’m glad I did, because what I now realise is that running 28 marathons in 9 years, surviving the Marathon des Sables and completing my first 100 mile ultra, has not only prepared me for parenthood but it’s made me a better dad. Here’s how…

Dealing only with what’s right in front of you

In running what’s right in front of you can be the next mile, the path to the next corner, the top of that hill or even just the bit between two lamp posts. Chunking up your runs into achievable segments that don’t make you sick at the prospect of what’s ahead is essential. It turns out that parenting is the same. But in dadding this can be anything from those sleep deprivation 4am feeds, a sudden bout of tummy bug sickness in the back of the car on the way to see the grandparents that leaves The Child’s Sunday best covered in sick or poo, or both. And if you dare to think too much about how many years this might all last, you’d probably sign up for the Spine Race just to get away from it.   

Expecting things to go wrong and being ready to roll with it when it does

None of the 28 marathons I’ve run went 100 per cent according to plan, every single one threw up problems I hadn’t planned for. For example, during my sub-3 hour attempt at the Virgin London Marathon in 2014, my music died at mile 16, right when I needed it most. In that moment you need to think fast about how you respond but it’s also important to be ok that things aren’t going perfectly according to plan.

Parenting works the same way. In your head that Sunday trip to the Playzone is going to be brilliant and it is, until The Child decides that they’re absolutely not going to go into Playzone until some arbitrary item of clothing, a toy or a snack that you definitely didn’t bring with you is handed over.

This will threaten to turn the wonderful family day into a screaming stroppy disaster. And you will be required to stay calm, think on your feet and find a way to convince The Child that this can still be fun.

Showing the 2.6-year-old that anything is possible

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I’ve taken my son to many races, or more accurately my wife has. At my most recent race I carried him across the finish line and gave him my medal. He may only be young but he understands the premise of what’s going on, claps and shouts support for the other runners and I believe that being exposed to these examples of endeavour can only be a positive thing, showing him that anything is possible, but not without effort.

Getting used to being short on sleep

When you’re a runner doing ultra runs up mountains, running for 20+ hours in one go, you learn how to deal with tiredness. It’s amazing how much more comfortable it is sitting in a chair for an hour, praying that your son will finally go to sleep than it is up a cold mountain with 6 hours running left to go.

In the moments when I’ve been most exhausted and about to reach breaking point, I think about how tired I was during the Lavaredo Ultra Trail or at mile 70 of the Centurion Running Thames 100 and all of my angst fades in an instant.

Running is great at teaching you that things can always be worse than the moment you’re in right now. And that if you take some deep breaths and just keep doing what you’re doing, these moments too shall pass.

Developing a healthy approach to food

Over the past nine years my understanding of what good nutrition looks like has been completely transformed thanks to my running adventures. In the pursuit of fast marathon times and not dying in the Marathon des Sables, with the help of Coach Ivor at Performance Fitness, I transformed my diet in order to get lean, strong and healthy.

As a result, I now recognise what a balanced meal really looks like and I can spot the foods that pretend to be healthy but aren’t. I’m also a big believer in guiding my son with actions rather than words and when he sees me scoffing down a plate covered in fresh veg, he’s far more likely to try it too.

If you haven’t shat yourself a little bit, or leaked some urine inside your X-Bionic base layer shorts, you’ve probably not been running hard enough.

Not being grossed out by piss, poo, sick, slime and open wounds

Having children forces you to be ok with faeces. It’s just a fact of life that in the first three years of your beautiful little sprogg’s life it creates more varieties of human ejections than you ever thought possible. You’ll naturally become ok with this, even to the point where you’ll happily leave the house with a bit of sick on your jumper, having wet wiped away ‘the worst of it’. Why? Because you’re too fucking tired to change into something clean. And you’re already late for work.

So how does running help? Well for me, running made this transition far easier, because there’s nothing quite like being 23 hours into an ultra run to desensitise you to a bit of bodily waste. In fact, if you haven’t shat yourself a little bit, or leaked some urine inside your X-Bionic base layer shorts, you’ve probably not been running hard enough. You smell worse than any child will ever smell and you’re already hugely adept at applying creams to sore bottoms.

Has running helped you be a better dad or mum?

I’ve love to hear your thoughts on balancing being a parent with chasing running adventures. How do you make it work? What has it taught you about parenting?Hit me up on TwitterInstagram or Facebook and share your thoughts.