By Myrna Unger
I am a runner. I am also, and most importantly, a parent. Maintaining both roles is a challenge. Include personal relationships, a career, social commitments and finding balance often seems impossible. Yet the shear physical act of parenting and running adds quality to my life and keeps each role in perspective.
Parenting is an exercise in controlled insanity. As a single parent, I barely stay on top of the “must do lists” let alone getting to the “want to list.” Any parent, married and single alike can relate. For 26 out of 30 days a month, I am the conductor who orchestrates school events, sports, friends, and homework. I referee fights, nurse injuries both physical and mental, and learn to listen to the underlying conversation of my children. I am constantly looking for balance in the expectations I set and the encouragement I give.
As a runner, I am constantly juggling my schedule to fit in my runs. I plan when to run, how many miles to go, what races to enter. I juggle track and hill workouts. Fight to fit in a long run. Constantly looking for the balance between running too hard or too easy. I read magazines, journals, and articles, consuming information to apply to my running. In many ways, running is controlled insanity too. Sometimes I succeed in both roles – sometimes I fail.
When I succeed as a parent or a runner focus and discipline is usually present. Defining the goal or outcome is critical. Picking the battles to fight or the races to run is essential. Rules are set, consequences noted. Communication is key. Action must take place. Understanding expectations, executing the plan and following through are essential elements to successful outcomes. When we stop training the consequences are obvious. When family expectations aren’t met consequences occur. Knowing how to set a plan and maintain it is essential to both roles.
As a runner and a parent focus and discipline is not enough – flexibility must be present. We need to see beyond the limitations. Staying open to the possibilities provides hidden opportunities. As a runner and a parent, it is easy to be rigid in thought and action. Parenting like running requires letting go of the “musts”, “shoulds,” and “have tos,” and replacing them with the “what ifs”, “instead ofs”, and “why nots.” Options can be powerful tools for both parents and runners. Creating them gives us the flexibility to handle multiple roles and the permission to chose what’s important. There isn’t one perfect equation for running. To say the least, parenting doesn’t have one either.
There is no such thing as the “perfect” parent or the “perfect” runner. As a parent, I naturally fail at times. Accepting failure is not always easy but it is important. Allowing myself to be vulnerable, admit my faults and shortcomings, and ask to be forgiven is critical to maintaining cohesion and trust with my children. If we are committed to parenting as important work, we will be able to correct our mistakes and learn from the experience. Although the repercussions may not be as great, as a runner I also fail at times to meet my expectations. Learning to accept my limitations and move beyond the disappointment is when I become a winner. Realizing it is the running that it important not the unobtainable “perfection” or the unachievable goals we often set for ourselves.
Running and parenting are both important. Parenting is the most rewarding and humbling role in my life. It demands I put someone else before me. It shapes all the other roles I choose. Running also shapes the roles in my life. For over 20 years, it has given me tremendous joy and strength. It has given me a venue to find many answers to life’s questions. The difference lies in that running is a choice – “being” a parent is an obligation. As a runner I have the assurance that there is always another race. Parenting doesn’t give trial runs. Once the race begins there isn’t a restart. It really is all or nothing. I will continue to use the strength of both roles to seek balance in my life. Yet when a choice must be made, when I have to step up to the line and chose between being a parent or a runner. The choice is simple. I know which finish line I have to cross.
I’ll meet you at the finish…