Updated: How I Trained For a Marathon As a Full-time Working Mom

I trained for three marathons in the past 3 years. One stunk, one was awesome, one was emotional. But the real marathon, the real RACE, was keeping the job, family, and home running while I was running.

Before I get into it, I do realize that stay-at-home-moms ARE full-time working moms – I’ve been there. I just want to say that while this post is directed to parents that work full-time outside the home, the suggestions apply here to any supremely BUSY person, parent or not.

There are certain disadvantages to working full-time outside of the home as it pertains to marathon training. This is especially true in a profession (like mine, teaching) where you often don’t even have one second in your day to go pee, or perhaps there’s a long commute involved.  This post will offer tips and tricks to sneaking in marathon training when you’re already so stinkin’ busy (like me: married, working, mom of two school-age kids, own an older home, own a dog, own laundry, and have a spouse who is a MAMIL.) My hope is these tips can be helpful no matter what your situation.

If you decide to train for a marathon you’ve got to know some things: Marathon training is like taking on a part-time job. Just accept right now that there will be things –things that you would normally be able to keep up with– that WILL fall by the wayside, and you have to decide if you’re okay with that.  For me, housekeeping and the house “to-do” list definitely fell apart. I’m no Martha Stewart, but there were a few times where I swear I saw some dust bunnies giggle my direction, as I lay prostrate on the sofa after a long run. We pulled from the clean clothes basket on the living room floor all week long. Sometimes we pulled from the dirty laundry bin if it came to it. What I’m saying is be prepared to, at some point, look around your home and declare: MY GOD, I LIVE IN A FRATHOUSE, and sink dejectedly into a sloppy Chaturanga on the dog-hair covered floor.

George Michael Bluth fall down

If you’ve run half marathons and are wanting to take on a full, buyer beware: Doubling the race mileage does NOT equal double the training effort. It’s not 13.1 x 2. It’s actually more exponential, more like 13.1 x 2³.  You don’t just need to run more miles. You need longer sleeps. You need more stretches. More foam rolling. More naps. More icing. More ibuprofen. More time needed to go down the stairs backwards because your hamstrings are sore.

Now that I’ve THOROUGHLY SCARED YOU from running a marathon, I’m here to say that IF I CAN DO IT, ANYONE CAN. Here are some things that helped me manage life when training was dominant. Note that some of these are services you pay for. That’s the point. I can be a Stingy McFrugalton, but I’m willing to PAY for something (if I’m able) that truly saves me oodles of time, and makes my training life easier.

1. Meal Planning. Even if you’re not much of a cook, take 20 minutes on Sunday and plan out your dinner meals. This is such a time saver if you have kids. Because I usually get home before my husband, I’m the one that’s responsible for dinner. If I don’t have a meal planned, I usually end up ordering some naughty takeout that my wallet and waistline don’t need. And as hard as I’ve tried, you just can’t have breakfast for dinner every night. A couple of years ago, I was gifted a subscription to The Scramble, an online weekly meal planner designed for busy families. The recipes are easy, adaptable, and you get a printed grocery list and nutrition info with each one. I highly recommend it. Because just like having a coach, now I don’t have to think too much about our weekly meals. Even stocking up on Trader’s Joe’s frozen meals and planning them out will save you time. Pinterest is a virtual carnival of meal-planning ideas (freeze-ahead, crock-pot, etc.) Be sure to plan out your snacks, because you will be RUNGRY TWENTY-FOUR HOURS A DAY. If you plan out your meals you will end up with a solid grocery list. Before you head to the store, consider…

2. Grocery Delivery. That’s crazypants! you say. I would never get my groceries delivered! I have to BE THERE…you know, to touch the bananas. No, it’s not crazypants, and no, you don’t have to be there. Here in New England, our local grocery chain, Stop N Shop, offers delivery service called Peapod. I LOVE THE PEAPOD SO MUCH I WOULD MARRY IT. I can place and update my order online on any device. It will even list for me “things I have purchased in the past that are on sale NOW.”  Nobody in the store will do THAT for you! Some people might argue that the $9 delivery fee is steep, but here’s what I say to that:

  • Pay attention to your email, they send coupon codes all the time. My last delivery was FREE because I spent a certain (easily reachable) amount and used a promo code.
  • I actually SAVE money because I’m not IMPULSE buying and throwing crap in the cart. I swear on the blessed surface of the local high school track that I save money each month through delivery. And while I don’t have time to clip coupons, they do take them, in case you were wondering.
  • It saves me from having to bring my kids into the store with me. Let me repeat: It saves me from having to bring my kids into the store with me.
  • THEY BRING THE GROCERIES INSIDE TO YOUR KITCHEN, and they carry them inside just like this guy:
grocery delivery marathon training

Think about it. Groceries magically show up on your kitchen counter. I’m tearing up a little right now.

Peapod update: My local store just started offering CURBSIDE PICKUP…for FREE! You place your order online just like Peapod delivery, pick your pickup window, pull into a designated parking spot, call the phone number, someone comes out and puts the groceries in your car. It’s free. OUTSTANDING. Practically made for marathoners-in-training.

3. Amazon Prime. This has been called, by more than one of my friends, a “working mother’s best friend.” If you can never manage to remember to put dishwasher detergent onto the grocery list, or if you’ve ever made your children brush with adult toothpaste instead of bubble-gum flavored, this is for you.

You pay a yearly fee (as of this post it’s $99), and with that fee you get:

  1. Free 2-day shipping on most items
  2. Access to Amazon Prime Instant video (tons of movies and TV shows)
  3. Amazon Kindle Owner’s Lending Library is a nice “borrow books” feature, if you have a Kindle.

My main love for this service is the 2-day free shipping. I mostly use Amazon for many toiletry, household, and running items like toothpaste, hair products, GU gels, snacks, etc. A random sampling of my recent Prime purchases include: computer chairs for my kids’ desks (huge save on shipping right there!), a monkey-shaped cake pan for my daughter’s birthday party, new pedals for Marty McFly, razor refills, a 6-pack of my favorite soy nut butter, and my favorite running bra. SO RANDOM, I know, but that’s the point. I paid NO SHIPPING on any of those items, and I got them in 2 days!

4. This is the BIG ONE: PUT YOUR WORKOUT ON THE SCHEDULE. There will be days when you have not one moment to spare between awake time and sleep time. My favorite Mother Runners like to say, “You’ll never FIND the time to run. You have to MAKE the time to run.” If you use a calendar or Outlook, actually block it into your schedule. Sometimes, I had a window of exactly 35 minutes to get in a run between work and picking up the kids. I’d be picking them up all sweaty and red-faced, but it got done. Scheduling a workout with a friend and having that accountability is a huge no-excuses way to not only cross a workout off the list but have an enjoyable time doing it.

teacher, triathlon, training, bike

My teacher friend Rina (also a busy mom) and I in the school parking lot, squeezing in a tri training ride in after school, but before picking up our own kids. Gettin’ ‘er done!

5. (NEW!) Kid labor/spouse labor. My kids are old enough now that they help with chores. If your kids are old enough, and they are not helping around the house yet, get on that train, stat! It wasn’t always that way when the kids were small, but even just emptying the dishwasher, sweeping floor, folding the horribly wrinkled clothes that have been sitting in the basket for days is a huge help. They may not execute it the way you want it, but they’re doing it, so shut up.

As for spouse labor, this depends on several variables. What are your roles in the house? Is your spouse willing to take on more? Is your partner even supportive of your endeavor? Are you able to communicate effectively (i.e., not yelling) that you need help? My husband and I are both endurance athletes, and we’ve learned to schedule around each other in training, and we support each other. You might have a different situation in your home, so you must take that into consideration and plan accordingly.

What am i a chemist

And those are just the START of my tips. There are tons of smaller things like hiring occasional sitters, making lunches the night before, hiring a housekeeper (I did that for a few months, then I realized I’m a teacher married to an artist, and we should not be doing such crazy things). Despite my best intentions, I did drop the ball a couple of times. But you know what? It worked out. You will not be thinking about the toys on the floor when you are crossing that finish line. Trust me on that one.

What are some of your busy-person training tips? What ball do you drop when you are training? Do you pull from the clean laundry basket all week? How do you manage it ALL? Do tell in the comments below!

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14 thoughts on “Updated: How I Trained For a Marathon As a Full-time Working Mom

  1. Lots of wonderful ideas here, Nancy. Thank you for sharing!

    Just one thing: You CAN’T marry Peapod. You’re already married! XOXOXO

  2. Those are good tips for anyone. As a work-from-home writer and person-trying-to-get-back-into-shape, I find I need to act like I’m working outside of the home and schedule myself or nothing gets done. And any reason to avoid going into Stop & Shop is a good reason to use Peapod for me. Meal planning is a good idea for the reluctant (ahem, resentful) cook. Thanks!

    • I theory, I would like to think could handle a total work-from-home schedule, but the reality is I would really suck at it. I would sink into Netflix never to be found again. A freelance designer friend once told me that if she doesn’t get out of her pajamas by 8:00 AM, she’s toast for the day. And meal planning has made “the witching hours” (5p-7p) much more pleasant for everyone, because I’m not stressing about what the heck to throw together at the last minute.

  3. That’s awesome about your marathons!! Keep it up!! My husband has completed lots and I remember how grueling his training was. He got down to a 3:10 marathon, but decided to take a break from them. Your tips are good and yes, there is lots that goes into the training. 🙂

    • Wow, 3:10! That’s hardcore! Another thing I have to balance is that my husband also enjoys endurance events, so we are always tag-teaming our weekend schedules. Sometimes we are like two ships passing in the night, but we try to make up for it later. 🙂

  4. Love it! I trained for 2 marathon’s last year on top of Ragnar and a handful of other races. Nuts…Yes, but I have 4 kids and a husband who travels and no family around. If I didn’t run I would go nutty. I agree…I do get more done while being over booked. I did let my cleaning fall apart and I’m sure I had those crazy laughing bunnies at my house too. I’m still cleaning up after last years running aftermath. It’s all good! Thanks for a great article. Happy running to you!

  5. We just started using Peapod’s pick up delivery and love it!!! I think I need to “schedule” my workouts…It’s always too easy for me to find something else to do…like fold laundry!! Great tips!

  6. great tips! We don’t have that grocery service where I live in MI. Awesome advice to invest in your health and throw away some things that are not going to kill you (like extra chores and house work). I also use Amazon prime. I like to make meals that last a couple nights like stir fry and crockpot meals. And I take care of a few loads of laundry at once and FINALLY started having the kids help. There is an untapped workforce there.

    • Thanks Jill! I am THIS CLOSE to regularly taking my laundry to drop-off at the laundromat. It seems like the next logical step in outsourcing errands. I agree on the untapped workforce. I’ve got to get a regular routine going for their chores, then I’ll be golden.

  7. I’m excited to dive into your blog and see what I can learn. I am training for my 2nd marathon and am going back to teaching full time this year. Along with my 2 young children and my household chores to take care of, I’m beinging to think I bit off more than I can chew. Thanks for the inspiration!

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