Updated: May 10
I’m Going To Grow A Beard, Run A Really Long Way and
Oh Happy Valentine’s Day Honey! Work-Life Balance by Barry Sterling
It is 6:22 PM when my Wife Jen comes through the door. She has a dejected look on her face and my Spiderman senses tell me that it has something to do with work and training. As we make eye contact for the second time our gaze is interrupted by the squeak of a dog toy, quickly followed by a text message on her phone. She drops her bag on the countertop and gives Red, our chocolate lab, the attention he seeks in exchange for his blue squeaky bone then forces a smile to the dog for the 100th time “that’s all he has to give us is that toy.” I smile too and return to my evening chore of cooking dinner. Immediately she dives into the laundry only to discover that someone’s clean clothes are in the dirty clothes bin, and that is a “no-no”—the laundry is her domain. She calls the name of our fourteen-year-old daughter to come and explain how this could happen then launches into “what do you have for homework, how was your day, what happened at school” plus a couple of questions for me like “did you know about all this?” Digressing I learn about her trail running adventure that ended up with her running in one sock with the other sock in her pocket and for some inexplicable reason, the “pocket” sock had to be washed immediately. I learn about the day’s events at her demanding job where she serves as an Instructional Coach/Testing Coordinator for a very large middle school campus. She tells me how she painfully managed to resist the donuts in the breakroom, how she taught a new teacher classroom management techniques, and how she figured out the matrix of four different teaching/testing software. Finally, she picks up the glass of cabernet I’ve poured for her and relays her conversation with her brother. Then she leans over and looks at me and asks, “honey, how was your day?” I smile and tell her, “oh just the usual…I did some training and some work…nothing major…” we exchange a quick kiss. Oddly enough for me, this is a very truthful statement plus besides if there were something important for me to share, during this part of the routine, it’s not the “right” time. You see- this is our well-rehearsed tango dance almost every evening. The one where she unwinds right in front of my eyes and I simply listen. We are two running buddies, roommates, partners in crime, lovers, soul mates, best friends…daily enjoying the highs and the lows of life together. A life where she is constantly working to remain balanced while I’m always pushing the extremes.
Before 2019 I had only completed two full marathons. By October 2019 I had been fortunate to complete numerous ultramarathons as well as endurance bike races. My Wife says I’m obsessed with endurance sports although I like to use the term “passionate”. My days are far more flexible for various reasons and so managing the whole “work/life” balance while training for ultra-endurance races is just not as difficult as it is for her. This is a blessing for me, but for my Wife, it means more adventures, more travel, more training, more stress, and more things to consider. That said my awesome Wife has also completed multiple runs/races over twenty miles, put in tons of training miles, finished two ultramarathons, and multiple other adventures pacing or crewing for me. I often wonder how my beautiful, wonderful, talented, badass Wife manages to not only put up with but actually participate in my passion? I truly don’t know how she really does it but I’m going to give you some of the things I see her do each day in hopes of helping those of you who feel like “you just can’t juggle everything”. I am also going to throw in some things that I do that help us work better as a team. Make no mistake about it, I know that if I want to realize my goals and do what I am passionate about then I have to make sure that things are easier for her too. We are a GREAT TEAM but this is about her.
You Gotta Wanna
One of my favorite business books is “The Great Game of Business” by Jack Stack. In the book Stack shares a list he calls the “Ten Higher Laws of Business”. Number 5 is “You Gotta Wanna”. Many people that start things and fail do so because they lose motivation or drive. They either lose sight of “why” they are doing something or the reason “why” they started doing it was not rooted deeply in their person or soul. When Jen comes in from a long day of work and training and she says something like, “I don’t know if I have the energy or desire to do this type of training with my schedule…” my ears perk up. I know that I need to pay attention to this verbal cue and dig a little deeper to find out what is going on. Jen’s “why” is deeply rooted in who she is as a person. This is the second marriage for both of us, and Jen was way more of a runner when we met than I was. She was fresh off her first marathon, and I was more of a gym rat. Funny thing is that our first date was a little 3-mile run where at the half-way mark, I had to say “uncle” and ask her to stop. The next month she bested me in a 5K, and to this day I have not lived that loss down. That is the way it started for us and the way it still is today. Why she runs and trains is because it is who she is, and out there on the trails, she can be a runner—and only a runner—there are no other hats to wear. She runs with other women, but even then, she can have time to process life, share, and enjoy being Jennifer. The only thing that has really changed is the distance—that is my fault. I jokingly tell her that she now has “more time to meditate”. If you asked Jen “why do you run?”, I would listen intently to see how she answered the question because for her I think it changes like the seasons, but make no mistake, her reason for running is strong and rooted deep within her soul. To be committed to something so overwhelming “You Gotta Wanna” and to wanna you have to have a reason “Why”. Find your “Why” and you will overcome the obstacles and roadblocks that will undoubtedly come between you and training.
Make it Fun for Them
For me, October 19th, 2019 was a fateful day. On this day I ran my first ultramarathon, but even more important than that I met a guy named Dale Cougat there. Dale was wearing one of those hats that looks like you would wear if you were running across the desert so he caught my eye. I caught up to him around the 4th mile of the first out and back. It should be noted that I never “talk” while running, but for whatever reason I had this awesome conversation with Dale for 5 fun miles. Before I pulled away from Dale, he imparted some sage wisdom to me that I will always remember “Have fun and make sure to make it fun for them too.” We are still good friends to this day but I wondered what did he mean? Well, now I know he meant that if you are planning a big adventure or a race make sure that you “make it fun” for your significant other or whoever is going to be on the journey with you. This is critical for your success because even though you might be the one running the race they will also be making sacrifices so that you can finish that race. If you “make it fun for them” then you will surely have their full support along the way. For example, this past summer we traveled to Colorado for a long and fun vacation. Part of that vacation was one of my races, the Telluride 100 MTB Race. While I was off on my MTB for a long grueling day my wife was also crewing me from the start-finish area in the town of Telluride, CO. Because the race was going to take me a very long time to finish we were able to carve out a couple of hours for her to go get a facial and a massage in between my pit stops. This made the day fun for her and fun for me—you know a “win-win.” It might not always be possible to do things like that but if you try to make it fun and special for “them” then you will find that you will be more successful.
Plan on Planning
One of the reasons why I love endurance sports so much is that you have to make a plan. You have a training plan, a race day plan, a recovery plan, some have a diet plan, and a travel plan. To be successful it goes without saying that you need to “Plan on Planning”. I personally believe this is applicable to most aspects of life but it is of vital importance for training and work/life balance. One thing I can say is that Jen does this very well. Our coach provides our prescriptive workouts and she then works those into her weekly schedule. To do this she has to have a big bag full of “training stuff” that she carries with her everywhere that allows her to do what and where she can. Sometimes she might forget her headlamp or her weight vest and then that’s where I come in! I am usually close by and can bring whatever she has forgotten to help her through her day. You have to plan for this stuff because if you don’t you might end up with headphones that aren’t charged, a headlamp that is dead, and no weight vest when you are supposed to do a 4-mile weight vest hike. Add nutrition into this and then you have even more to plan but if you take the time to plan ahead you will undoubtedly be able to do more of your training.
I know what you are going to say, “Hey Barry you just said make a plan!” Well, you are right, but at the same time you need to be flexible enough to call an audible or as my coach likes to say “pivot”. What do I mean? Well, if your day turns upside down then you might need to power-hike at lunch because you are going to need to work late or you have to pick-up a kid from school. That’s when having all that gear readily available is a good thing. Sometimes you might need to change from a night workout to a morning workout or vice versa. The point is that you need to be flexible with your schedule and realize that you can also be flexible with your training. It is okay to deviate from the plan so long as you adjust the plan accordingly. Jen is very good at doing this, and the reason she is good