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Making Time to Run with Laura Vanderkam

“Where did the time go?”

It’s a question mothers watching small children grow up hear often and ask themselves.

No, but really: Where DID the time go?

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Seven years ago, my small child lobbied for a dog, a memory that FB helpfully resurfaced for me. Awwww.

Think about it: There are 168 hours in a week. Let’s say you work 40 and commute 5 hours a week (that’s a half-hour each way) and sleep 8 hours a night (jealous!), for a total of 56 hours per week. You still have 67 hours in a week. What do you do with all that time?

That’s the question that powers the life and career of Laura Vanderkam, as you may know, if you’re one of the 6.6 million people who’ve viewed her TED Talk, How to Gain Control of Your Free Time.

“Oh, yeah, I know her!” said my daughter, Nina, who starts ninth grade this week. “We watched her talk in Literacy last year.” See? Those kids ARE learning useful life lessons in school! HA.

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Laura Vanderkam preaches time management

Maybe you’ve read one of her time management and productivity books, including I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time, or her most recent, appealingly titled Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done.

Or maybe you’ve listened to her podcast with her co-host and buddy Sarah Hart-Unger called Best of Both Worlds: How to Get the More Out of Life at Work and at Home.

In fact, our own Sarah will be on their podcast at an upcoming date, and Laura will be on the Another Mother Runner podcast this weekend because yes, that’s right…

Laura is Another Mother Runner, with four kids, ages 11, 8, 6 and 3.

She’s been running for 14 years; she ran through pregnancies until she couldn’t. Last year, she started a streak of at least a mile a day, which she writes, changed the conversation she has with herself: “I don’t ask, ‘Will I run today?’ I ask, ‘When will I run today?’”

And she has NO Mother Runner guilt about making time to run for herself.

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But back to the time math: Since you’re here, you obviously spend a few of those hours running, or at least thinking about it, and hey, reading this blog counts too!

What else? Driving the kid to swim practice, grocery shopping, doing laundry, feeding dogs, mowing the lawn.

You still have time, and Laura argues that you have more than you think. She suggests you track your time by half-hours for a whole week (including weekends) and see where the time goes exactly.

Her point isn’t to scold but to help you change the narrative from “I don’t have time to do X, I’m too busy” to “X is not a priority right now.”

I like that! Hello, sticky kitchen floor, you are not a priority right now.

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We got a dog! And then another... Luckily, dogs (and small children) don't care about a clean kitchen floor anyway—the chemicals hurt their delicate noses!

Laura took time to answer some questions for us:

Give us a little bit about your running background: when, why did you start?

I began running in November 2004. I had just gotten married. My new husband ran for exercise, so I knew it was something we could do together. I was so inspired by watching Paula Radcliffe’s hard-fought victory in the NYC marathon — literally by seconds after 26.2 miles — that I had to go for a run. So I did. And kept going. My husband and I ran our first half-marathon together on our first anniversary in September 2005.

Still doing your run streak? Why? Related: how much do you typically run per day/per week?

I am about 600 days into a running streak; I have run at least a mile every day since December 24, 2016. I have long been fascinated by streaks, and after running every day over that holiday break, I decided to keep going. I was already running 5 days per week anyway, so bumping that up to 7 was really about adding in a mile on two more days. I can get in my running clothes, run a mile on the basement treadmill, and change in 20 minutes, total, if I need to (I work out of a home office most days so I don't need to shower immediately afterwards). So I was really only committing to another 40 minutes or so per week of running-related activity. That didn’t seem so hard to pull off.

When people hear about my streak, they often ask me about injuries. I don’t run very far or very fast so that reduces the risk of that. I probably average 21 miles a week (about 3 per day). It’s almost never more than 30 miles a week. I run at about 10 minutes/mile — faster on the treadmill (because I find it boring!) and slower outside. If I know I'm doing a long run I will make sure to do a 1-mile day before and after.

How do you “find” (make) time in your schedule to run?

There’s no magic to it. I just make the time. I often run in the early afternoon during the week as a break from work. On weekends, I tend to run early (before all the kid activities). One of the upsides of the running streak is that it changes my conversation with myself from “Am I going to run?” to “When am I going to run?”

The second question is just a matter of logistics, and with some creativity, there’s pretty much always time for a run. Sometimes it’s 1 mile on a hotel treadmill at 4:30 a.m. before a full day of flying and speaking. Sometimes it’s been actual laps in a hotel room when there’s no gym, or I’m there with a small child who I can’t leave. The upside of the streak is that I’ve gone for runs in situations when I would have been tempted not to — like one early morning in Vancouver after landing at 1 a.m. Pacific time (4 a.m. for me!) I got up and ran along the waterfront, and it was so magical and beautiful it was more energizing than three espressos.

Seems like you are not that much into racing. Can you talk about why?

I’ve done one marathon (Big Sur) and a lot of half-marathons, but I don’t push myself to achieve time goals. I like running because it feels good, and running really fast feels painful. So I generally don’t push. As for races themselves, I’ve gotten a bit burned out on finding parking a mile away from the start, sitting in the cold for an hour before running, etc. I’ve also realized that one big reason people sign up for races is to motivate themselves to make time to run. I like to run, and make time for it anyway. So I don’t need races for that.

Do you plan talks/podcasts/blogs on the run?

I definitely get ideas for blog posts on runs! I talk through arguments and think about examples. I get ideas to use in all my writing — articles, books, etc. Indeed, if I’m having trouble thinking through something I’ll often go for a run to figure it out.

Do you have a BRF?

I mostly run alone, but I have a few friends I run with from time to time. One bit of running irony: though I started running to run with my husband, we seldom run together anymore now that we have kids. We tend to trade off on weekends!

Your podcast tagline is “How to get the most out of life at work and at home.” What does that mean to you?

People often say “you can’t have it all,” but I want to challenge that kind of limited thinking. It is definitely possible to do meaningful and enjoyable work, raise a happy family, and take care of yourself. Sarah (my podcast co-host) and I both love our careers, our families, and our hobbies. My favorite letters from podcast listeners come from young women who don’t have children but want them in the near future, and are happy to hear that being a working mother might not be all misery.

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Laura making real memories with her four kids

You have talked about mom guilt… some mother runners suffer from an added layer — training. How would you tell Mother Runners to sidestep the guilt trap?

My first answer is that for guilt to be an appropriate emotion, somebody needs to be hurt. So who, exactly, is hurt by Mom going for a run? The kids get a bit more time with Dad or another adult in their lives. They see that physical activity is important. These aren’t bad things.

My second answer is that even if you’re training for a marathon, running might consume less time than you think. When I was training for a marathon many years ago, my long runs topped out at 4 hours. Add in a 2-hour run and two 1-hour runs and that’s 8 hours, leaving a great many hours for other things.

Your new book is called "OFF the Clock: Feeling less busy while getting more done." Can you share a few high-level pointers for Mother Runners from it?

Off the Clock is all about how we perceive time. I have long wondered why some people with full lives feel relaxed about time while others feel like time just slips away from them. I had 900 people with full time jobs and families track their time on a normal March Monday, and I asked them questions about time perception. I found that the people who felt like they had the most time were highly likely to have done very interesting things on the day they tracked. People did things like going to a big band concert, going to salsa dancing lessons, or going to a movie. On a Monday night!

What’s going on is that when we say “Where did the time go?” What we’re really saying is we don’t remember where the time went. When we do memorable things with our time, then we remember — and we feel like we have more time.

So plan little adventures into your life! Go for a run somewhere beautiful. Meet a friend for lunch at a restaurant you’ve been meaning to try. Take your family to the playground after dinner instead of watching TV. You’ll form memories, and those memories will make you feel like you have more time.

How about you? How do you make the time to run? And have you had any little adventures recently?

4 responses to “Making Time to Run with Laura Vanderkam

  1. Sophie, I am likewise divorced and had to plan long runs around ex-husband taking child every other Saturday morning and otherwise running on treadmill in basement. It’s much “easier” to fit in a run now that my daughter is 14, but I am still up at 5 am to fit it in before workdays. Honestly, I wonder how much time mothers actually have “free.”

  2. It sure was easier to find the time when I was married. I’ve been divorced for about 1 1/2 year, with a 9-year-old son (from China too!), 2 little dogs and 2 cats. I have full-custody of my son. I’m training for a marathon in October. I usually have the energy to wake up at 5 am 2 days/week. I do a slow treadmill run for about 45 minutes. My ex-husband often comes for 2 hour-long runs (but sometimes changes his mind at the last minute) and I manage to find a sitter for the long run during the weekend. I’m looking forward to reading the book. I’m sure I’ll learn a lot. I’m also sure that I won’t train for another marathon until my son is able to be by himself for a few hours at home. Being able to run outside early in the morning again will be fantastic!

  3. 4 a.m. always worked (and still works) for me. I find it interesting that most of the people telling us how to manage our time never have to actually get dressed, get their kid(s) to a sitter and then spent ten hours away from home at their career (with an hour and half commute).

  4. This has come at an opportune time. My youngest is starting preschool this year and I will have a little time to get things done. I look forward to reading the book and seeing what I can accomplish and still enjoy time with my four kids.

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