Fit To Parent: Finding Balance in Family Life
Chris Sansom

Regular readers of the OMM blog might remember my recent article ‘Secrets of the Pros’. In it, I talked about some of the things I’ve learned working alongside some of the world’s leading athletes. I’ve spent most of my life involved with sports in some form or another but for me, the realisation I wasn’t going to become a professional athlete came half a lifetime ago around the age of 18. It’s easy to look at what professional athletes do and attempt to emulate their workload, but the truth is that we muggles live very different lives to that of professional athletes.

I’ve always been lucky in that I’ve never struggled to regain fitness after an extended break. I built up a pretty solid aerobic engine during my days as a swimmer, I’ve always attributed my easy comebacks to that but – like most people – age, life and prolonged lack of training eventually caught up. With an 18-month-old keeping us up at night and a four-year-old up at the crack of dawn 2023 hit and I decided I was overdue a health kick. Always the optimist I headed out of the door, dog in tow and kitted up with some tired-looking Mizunos that were older than either of my kids. Half an hour later I was hobbling along the canal wheezing for breath and questioning my life choices.

Personally, after a good couple of years without any structured training, enough was enough and it was time to find a way to get back to my former fitness levels

Life’s just like that sometimes – between after-school classes, birthday parties, balancing work and family sometimes fitness and training are just not on the cards. It’s easy to berate ourselves when we see that single-digit Strava fitness score but the reality is that sometimes life just gets in the way. And that’s totally fine! Personally, after a good couple of years without any structured training, enough was enough and it was time to find a way to get (at least partly) back to my former fitness levels. 6 months and a little persistence and while I might not be able to match my 18-year-old self’s VO2 Max numbers I’m finally feeling fit, healthy and ready for new challenges.

PRIORITIES

This one was a big one for me. It sounds obvious but when fitness is low down on your priorities, you’re already facing an uphill battle. I’m not talking about leaving the kids to fend for themselves while you head out for a run, but I made a conscious decision that running would be a big priority for me. I’ve always been a super hands-on dad so the thought of missing an afternoon of cuddles on the sofa or the occasional bedtime story was a killer for me. I had to just stick with it and remind myself that I was at least setting a good example for the kids, there’s definitely worse things than seeing Dad head out on a run a few times a week. I also rethought my work/life balance. I’d got into the nasty habit of feeling like I needed to finish my list of work jobs before I had time for luxuries like a run. It hit me one day that (especially when you’re self-employed) my to-do list had rarely ever been completed, so taking- scratch that- MAKING time for my run sessions wasn’t quite the productivity killer I’d thought. In fact, my productivity on the whole only improved, returning from runs feeling fulfilled and energised for work instead of mentally burned out from one-to-many nights working late.

It’s called your Chronotype and essentially we fit into one of two categories – morning larks and night owls.

EMBRACE YOUR INNER BIRD

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard my dad extolling the virtues of a 4/5am start to the day. Granted, my dad is an old school workaholic the likes of which I don’t ever expect to meet again, but still, I’ve always struggled to shake the feeling that my aversion to the early morning starts must be…well…laziness.

Except I’m not particularly lazy. Most days I’ll finish putting the kids to bed and head out for a few hours of computer work, editing away until gone midnight without any problems. In fact, I realised that I’ve always functioned better at night, and even when I force myself to get out of the door for a morning run I’m noticeably more sluggish. Apparently, it’s called your Chronotype and essentially we fit into one of two categories – morning larks and night owls. The names are fairly self-explanatory and refer to our natural predisposition to rising early or preferring to burn the midnight oil.

Part of my strategy for fitting in the miles is embracing my night owl tendencies, often heading out between 10pm and midnight when my wife and kids are sound asleep. There’s something really peaceful about a proper night run and I get a lot of miles in this way. I usually reserve sessions and intervals for the daytime runs but everything else from shuffles to tempo runs I’ll happily run in the witching hour.

For the first few years of our kid's lives I found myself working out less and less until, at the start of 2023 I was probably the most out of shape I’ve ever been.

IT’S NOT SELFISH

I’m still new to this parenting stuff. Four-and-a-bit years and two kids in and I feel like I’m starting to get the hang of it (as much as you ever really can!) but one of the hardest things for me was missing time with the kids to train and I’m sure I’m not alone on that one. I’m really lucky in that most of my week is flexible. In true night owl style, I’ll do the bulk of my computer work and editing between 7 and 12pm and my wife fits in a gym session each morning while our youngest takes a nap. The trouble is, once you start upping the mileage it’s really difficult not to have to miss out on time with the kids. For the first few years of our kid’s lives I found myself working out less and less until, at the start of 2023 I was probably the most out of shape I’ve ever been.

I had to remind myself that taking time to stay in shape, and training to reach goals isn’t a purely selfish endeavour. Aside from the years I’m adding to my life that I’ll get to enjoy with my family, I’m just happier when I’m fit – aren’t we all!? I think we are all better parents when we take time for ourselves as well and for me; I love knowing that my kids are seeing me take health and fitness seriously, they see the enjoyment I get from it and hopefully they will grow up knowing the importance of staying healthy.  There’s also nothing quite like hearing your four-year-old cheering you on as you heave yourself around your local ParkRun!

Regular readers of the OMM blog might remember my recent article ‘Secrets of the Pros’. In it, I talked about some of the things I’ve learned working alongside some of the world’s leading athletes. I’ve spent most of my life involved with sports in some form or another but for me, the realisation I wasn’t going to become a professional athlete came half a lifetime ago around the age of 18. It’s easy to look at what professional athletes do and attempt to emulate their workload, but the truth is that we muggles live very different lives to that of professional athletes.

I’ve always been lucky in that I’ve never struggled to regain fitness after an extended break. I built up a pretty solid aerobic engine during my days as a swimmer, I’ve always attributed my easy comebacks to that but – like most people – age, life and prolonged lack of training eventually caught up. With an 18-month-old keeping us up at night and a four-year-old up at the crack of dawn 2023 hit and I decided I was overdue a health kick. Always the optimist I headed out of the door, dog in tow and kitted up with some tired-looking Mizunos that were older than either of my kids. Half an hour later I was hobbling along the canal wheezing for breath and questioning my life choices.

Personally, after a good couple of years without any structured training, enough was enough and it was time to find a way to get back to my former fitness levels

Life’s just like that sometimes – between after-school classes, birthday parties, balancing work and family sometimes fitness and training are just not on the cards. It’s easy to berate ourselves when we see that single-digit Strava fitness score but the reality is that sometimes life just gets in the way. And that’s totally fine! Personally, after a good couple of years without any structured training, enough was enough and it was time to find a way to get (at least partly) back to my former fitness levels. 6 months and a little persistence and while I might not be able to match my 18-year-old self’s VO2 Max numbers I’m finally feeling fit, healthy and ready for new challenges.

PRIORITIES

This one was a big one for me. It sounds obvious but when fitness is low down on your priorities, you’re already facing an uphill battle. I’m not talking about leaving the kids to fend for themselves while you head out for a run, but I made a conscious decision that running would be a big priority for me. I’ve always been a super hands-on dad so the thought of missing an afternoon of cuddles on the sofa or the occasional bedtime story was a killer for me. I had to just stick with it and remind myself that I was at least setting a good example for the kids, there’s definitely worse things than seeing Dad head out on a run a few times a week. I also rethought my work/life balance. I’d got into the nasty habit of feeling like I needed to finish my list of work jobs before I had time for luxuries like a run. It hit me one day that (especially when you’re self-employed) my to-do list had rarely ever been completed, so taking- scratch that- MAKING time for my run sessions wasn’t quite the productivity killer I’d thought. In fact, my productivity on the whole only improved, returning from runs feeling fulfilled and energised for work instead of mentally burned out from one-to-many nights working late.

It’s called your Chronotype and essentially we fit into one of two categories – morning larks and night owls.

EMBRACE YOUR INNER BIRD

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard my dad extolling the virtues of a 4/5am start to the day. Granted, my dad is an old school workaholic the likes of which I don’t ever expect to meet again, but still, I’ve always struggled to shake the feeling that my aversion to the early morning starts must be…well…laziness.

Except I’m not particularly lazy. Most days I’ll finish putting the kids to bed and head out for a few hours of computer work, editing away until gone midnight without any problems. In fact, I realised that I’ve always functioned better at night, and even when I force myself to get out of the door for a morning run I’m noticeably more sluggish. Apparently, it’s called your Chronotype and essentially we fit into one of two categories – morning larks and night owls. The names are fairly self-explanatory and refer to our natural predisposition to rising early or preferring to burn the midnight oil.

Part of my strategy for fitting in the miles is embracing my night owl tendencies, often heading out between 10pm and midnight when my wife and kids are sound asleep. There’s something really peaceful about a proper night run and I get a lot of miles in this way. I usually reserve sessions and intervals for the daytime runs but everything else from shuffles to tempo runs I’ll happily run in the witching hour.

For the first few years of our kid's lives I found myself working out less and less until, at the start of 2023 I was probably the most out of shape I’ve ever been.

IT’S NOT SELFISH

I’m still new to this parenting stuff. Four-and-a-bit years and two kids in and I feel like I’m starting to get the hang of it (as much as you ever really can!) but one of the hardest things for me was missing time with the kids to train and I’m sure I’m not alone on that one. I’m really lucky in that most of my week is flexible. In true night owl style, I’ll do the bulk of my computer work and editing between 7 and 12pm and my wife fits in a gym session each morning while our youngest takes a nap. The trouble is, once you start upping the mileage it’s really difficult not to have to miss out on time with the kids. For the first few years of our kid’s lives I found myself working out less and less until, at the start of 2023 I was probably the most out of shape I’ve ever been.

I had to remind myself that taking time to stay in shape, and training to reach goals isn’t a purely selfish endeavour. Aside from the years I’m adding to my life that I’ll get to enjoy with my family, I’m just happier when I’m fit – aren’t we all!? I think we are all better parents when we take time for ourselves as well and for me; I love knowing that my kids are seeing me take health and fitness seriously, they see the enjoyment I get from it and hopefully they will grow up knowing the importance of staying healthy.  There’s also nothing quite like hearing your four-year-old cheering you on as you heave yourself around your local ParkRun!

Chris is a professional sports photographer and film maker, two-time finalist on ITVs Ninja Warrior UK and fan of all things active. Working with a variety of international brands, national associations, multiple olympic and world champions Chris spends his spare time trying to keep fit around a young family
Chris is a professional sports photographer and film maker, two-time finalist on ITVs Ninja Warrior UK and fan of all things active. Working with a variety of international brands, national associations, multiple olympic and world champions Chris spends his spare time trying to keep fit around a young family

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