Between the nappy changes, sleepless nights, gurgles and cryng fits (there are some good bits, I promise), it is hard to look after yourself during early fatherhood. Three months in, I thought I’d come up for air to share five thoughts on trying to remain a runner during this crazy period. Some of it might be relatable or useful for other new dads (and mums), but as with all things related to babies, some of it will no doubt be entirely individual too…
Evidently, I love running. More than that though, I love the satisfaction and graft that comes with ticking off session after session of structured training and seeing this translate into race day PBs. It’s my number one hobby by a mile (no pun intended), and what keeps that fire burning inside me.
However, it took several years to become a dad. The unexplained infertility and IVF rollercoaster (with mammoth Covid delays) was a long, emotional, and mostly terrible one, but we were one of the lucky ones to have a happy ending (and a shout out here to the quite incredible NHS service we received throughout all those years).
We now have our beautiful baby boy, who this week comes to the end of his ‘fourth trimester’, so called because human babies are so utterly dependent on their parents for the first three months of life that they may as well still be in the womb.
Anyway, my main point here is that I’ll never get these pivotal first months of his life back, and as much as I love and live for running, it will (hopefully) always be there in my life. I’m happy for it to take a distant back seat for as long as it needs to, especially given what it took to get us to this point.
- Pick your moments and commit
Despite a thousand warnings, the first few weeks of parenthood were far more intense than I had anticipated (especially while also starting a new clinical job and navigating a flat sale and purchase at the same time). It’s no exaggeration – but undoubtedly gross – to admit that we sometimes didn’t even get round to having a shower or brushing our teeth, such was the intensity of those frenzied evenings.
Trying to wait for a calmer moment for self-care / a long run / strength work etc was and still is a pointless move; it will never come. A better approach is to be realistic, pick perhaps one of these things you want to do each week, commit to a time and try to stick to it. Half of those times there will be a last minute drama that prevents it, but at least you’ve tried!
- Embrace the run-commute
I have been very pro run-commute for years, but it’s now reached the point where I do very little running outside the commute; it must be responsible for 80+% of my weekly volume currently, and my running would have fallen off a cliff without it. If you can make it work for you (i.e. you have a shower at work – everything else can be worked around with a bit of planning), it really is a no-brainer. For me, the time difference to public transport is negligible, it saves money, helps the planet, and is a journey I have to make anyway, as opposed to finding an excuse or that non-existent ‘good time’ as a new parent to get out of the door for a run.
If a run commute doesn’t work for you, the same can be said for any other journey that you needed to make anyway. Perhaps it’s easier to say from the perspective of someone who lives in a city and doesn’t own a car, but those first few weeks of parenthood were filled with me running to collect second hand baby clothes / kit / buggy from all over London. You spot an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone and you take it, basically.
- Accept you can’t do it all
All that said, it’s essential to accept that you can’t do it all. This applies to all elements of life when you’re a new dad (with the exception of the five star service I maintained for my private clients, of course 😉), but running training in particular. The unpredictable nature of those first months means that consistent training is just not going to happen. My week by week Strava graph from October onwards resembles a child’s drawing of a mountain range, and I’ve long since accepted that this is fine…you just have to be kind to yourself and keep things ticking over as best you can.
Perhaps even more so than the running itself, though, is the impact on everything that goes alongside it. You can pretty much wave goodbye to any good routines you had around S&C, recovery, sleep etc.
Starting with sleep – yes, it is as bad as everyone says, especially in the first couple of months. I had long held the suspicion that my already terrible sleep quality that comes from the trauma of working on ICU throughout the pandemic (plus the early starts of ICU life) might mean that this would all be less of a shock to my system than it might be for some new dads, and I’d say this is probably how it’s turned out. I knew it was all worth it in the long run!
However, what has taken a massive hit has been any sort of S&C, warm-ups and stretching / yoga, all of which I had finally started to develop some consistency with in recent years. With every passing week, I realise these are the good habits that are quickly slipping. Each time, it’s ‘next week’, and so on, and so on. As we all know, it’s so much easier to continue doing something than it is to restart it once you’ve paused.
- The baby lunge
The only exception to the above is my signature move: the baby lunge. Little Ray seems to love being held while I count through a few lunges (something to do with repetitive movement and me generating heat, I’m sure), and it’s second only to white noise* in terms of getting him to sleep during a crying fit. Naturally then, this tactic gets resorted to a lot, often in the middle of the night, and with the pressure on me to keep the lunges going for as long as possible and Ray slowly gaining in weight, at least I now have quads of steel even if the rest of my body is slowly turning to mashed potato!
*Specifically the ‘Womb Sounds’ app. Words cannot describe how grateful we are for this! We were recommended it during a particularly desperate evening of non-stop crying in about week three, and just looked at each other in disbelief at how quickly it worked – genuinely like giving a sedative. If this little snippet helps any new parents out there, then you are very welcome.