Here are a few of my favorite strategies for marathon training as a military spouse with small children!
Have a plan
Find a plan from a reputable running program (Hal Higdon, Runner’s World and Jeff Galloway all offer solid options for runners of all levels), and select a plan with weekly mileage and intensity that matches your experience level. For instance, if this is your first marathon, begin with a plan with lower total mileage and a longer mileage build period, perhaps considering a plan in the 16-week range to ensure you have time to increase your workload steadily.
Once you have selected your plan, print it and find a prominent location in your house to post it — include space for notes about each run on the training schedule. Find a couple mantras that speak to you and post those alongside your training plan (more on mantras below!). Keep them in mind as you prepare for your first run.
Once prepped, take the print out of your training plan to a wide two track trail (cement or hard pack dirt paths will both work) in the middle of the wilderness (desert or deep woods are perfect) and allow a few dozen multiple-ton vehicles — with and without treads — to run over the training plan. Go ahead and review what is left, fold up the scraps and put them in your wallet as a keepsake of what you hope to accomplish. If your spouse is seafaring, be sure to roll up your plan, put it in a bottle and throw it out the sea at your next “port of call” as they say!
Before you begin training in earnest, be sure to work with your spouse to plan your runs around their work/PT/duty/deployment schedule. With the remaining hour of the day, find the times around your children’s nap/school/sports/feedings. Take those fifteen remaining minutes to dig deep into the miles you have laid out in your plan and always remind yourself, it’s the journey and not the destination!
Marathon training requires a higher intake of calories and a broad assortment of nutrients to ensure you maintain stamina and energy for higher mileage demands (a.k.a. the time you will spend for a babysitter so you can run alone). Be sure to have on hand electrolyte replenishment in the form of a sports drinks, dissolvable electrolyte tablets, salt pills, or electrolyte water to ensure that you replenish what you lose when training.
Also find a energy supplement to eat while running. Select one that works best with how you eat on the go. Most runners find energy snacks in the form of gels, gummy chews, or full-calorie supplemental sports drinks such as Tailwind. Some appreciate energy on the go in the form of a once melted then reconstituted Snickers bar forgotten in the center console of the family vehicle, with or without wrapper bits still attached after opening mid-stride. Either way, the importance of eating during longer runs means maintaining energy to continue and even speed up in order to return home sooner and pay less for the baby sitter watching your children while you selfishly attain your fitness goals and your spouse supports and defends our nation’s freedom.
Eat prior to your run, and allow at least a third of an hour in between sleeping through your alarm (more on sleep below!) and before your baby sitter arrives to digest your food. On a related note, be sure to also include a route with bathroom locations.
In the day before your long runs, remember to properly hydrate (more on hydration below!) by cutting back on caffeinated drinks and instead order a 36-ounce lemonade to accompany your Arby’s Half pound roast beef sandwich and curly fries that you are eating at 9p.m. on a Friday evening in the front seat of your car because — -gurllllll its been a week.
The correct balance of carbohydrates and protein at the right time will ensure you will make the most of your training!
Drink a gallon of water a day and in addition to that, consume at least 3–6 ounces of water every 15–20 minutes while running. Remember to hydrate in the days prior to a long run or race to ensure you are well hydrated at the starting line. Or just drink coffee. Drink coffee and water, or better yet, make your coffee with water, that’ll be fine. But don’t drink coffee on a run. Drink water and a sports drink like mentioned above, or have someone buy you a sports drink at the base gym when you run out of cash and you didn’t pack a credit card and you are prepared to go all Krav Maga on a poor junior enlisted just trying to workout and get back to their barracks to shower before the chow hall ends breakfast. Thank them for their kindness and skulk away, being careful to not chug your sports drink and barf it up on the front steps of the base gym!
Every marathoner can tell you the importance of getting a lot of rest during a training period and especially before long runs and races. Be sure to sleep with all electronics outside the bedroom, except in the case that you need your phone as an alarm, or your spouse is stationed in a part of the globe 11 hours ahead of you and you are awaiting a call, or your spouse is on duty and carrying either an outdated cell phone or radio communications technology. Then be prepared for sleep interruptions in the form of a jarring ringtone that hasn’t been reset since the dawn of cellular or a conversation between your spouse and a caller about a wrong number.
If you have small children, like I do, be prepared to wake up to the unnerving sound of your doorknob turning at 2 in the morning so that a small silhouette, backlit by the hallway night light, can come tell you about a bodily function, bodily malfunction, or a need to cuddle. Once settled in your bed, be prepared to answer questions, including those about unfamiliar noises, shadows, the actual time on the clock, cartoon characters, mummies, ninjas, and how long until awake time.
Cherish these moments with your junior training partners, remember they look to (the uniformed service member standing next to) you as a hero!
Cross-training technically includes anything that mimics the action of running or uses the same muscle groups including: cycling, elliptical trainers, swimming, and chasing a toddler through Walmart. Cross-train once a week, or don’t. Or cross-train instead of sleeping, because (as outlined above!) sleep is for the weak.
Mantras encourage runners of all levels to focus on a single phrase that elicits strength and confidence. For years I have enjoyed the simple mantra of “OFIFOTO” or “One foot in front of the other” as a simple reminder that moving forward is what matters most. Find a mantra or develop one of your own that reminds you of the most important pieces of your running journey.
You will find that when it comes time to dig as deep as you can, a simple phrase will help put things in perspective and help you find that next level. A few favorites from my time as a military spouse include:
“I think I just saw that pit toilet cleaned”
“Stop crying it ruins your breathing”
“Hurry up you only have the babysitter until 9”
Find your own mantra and be sure to share it in the comments!