The old adage “It’s a marathon, not a sprint” has special meaning now that I have completed a marathon.  A sprint is a short burst to do your absolute best for a sustainable duration.  A marathon takes pacing, planning and stamina.  It is a challenge that you almost have to lose yourself in rather than just focus on a finish line that you can see.  It involves a little faith, a little fear, and more than a little crazy.  Sound like parenting yet?

With the marathon, pacing is key.  Start off too fast and you will burn out.  Start off too slow and you leave too much on the table.  The same is true with parenting.  You have to pace yourself.  You have to be involved but not too involved.  Don’t burn out, don’t overdo it but don’t leave too much on the table.  Don’t regret not doing more.  Sure, it is a tough balance and one that you refine over time.  You don’t find your marathon pace without some long hard runs and more than a few failures.  Pacing takes practice.

Unless you are an elite runner (I am certainly not), you may not complete the marathon running the entire time.  You may have to take a few walk breaks.  I actually did my marathon using the Galloway method that involves scheduled, regular walk breaks (more on that in a future post).  It is okay to take a break now and then.  Similarly, with parenting, it is okay to take a break.  Have the kids stay with grandma or a friend.  Have a night or even a weekend out.  Recharge yourself, your relationship, your soul, with a walk break.  You will be a better parent for it.

As mentioned, practice and building up to the marathon distance are essential for success.  You must train to work up to the 26.2 miles.  I joined a local training team where we ran weekly, on a training schedule and worked up to longer runs.  It gave us a feel for what the marathon would be like.  With parenting there aren’t any real opportunities to practice – once you have the little ones they are your responsibilities.  But you can find ways to build up to being a better parent.  Read articles, watch others, follow the advice of veterans (not TV shows but people who have actually been there, like your parents).  Find ways to learn and build up and practice toward improvement.

Another important aspect of marathon training is the taper.  The taper represent the weeks before the actual event where you slow down, you reduce your distances in your training runs, to rejuvenate your body for the marathon.  It is an interesting, almost unnatural time where you feel like you should be running more, pushing harder, but by taking a break you are allowing your body to recover and be ready for the strain of the marathon.  By doing less you do more.  Do the same with parenting.  If you know a big demand is coming for your involvement or an event is on the horizon requiring your best patience or persistence, slow down, taper and prepare for that big event.  Pushing hard to prepare may not be the best practice, you may find yourself fatigued rather than fulfilled.

Remember that the marathon is the long haul.  You can have little setbacks along the way but the full race is long enough that you can compensate and overcome failures.  You may see other parents who seem to have a sprint mentality – always pushing and running around like there is no tomorrow.  Likely they will suffer some form of burnout if they try to maintain that pace.  While there may be some elite runners/parents out there that can maintain that pace for the entire time, pick you pace, find what is comfortable for you and remember, completing the race/successfully raising YOUR kids, is the ultimate goal.  You have it in you to be the best marathoners your kids could have – believe in yourself and live up to your goals.