My daughter turned two a fortnight ago. The day marked the latest in what feels like a series of milestones, in what has turned out to be – from the instant Rowan was born – a dramatic learning curve. Regardless of how many self-help manuals you devour or hours spent scouring the internet for guidance, parenting when you’re new to it, can be both terrifying and life changing in equal measure.
It surely can’t be an accident that pregnancy lasts nine months as it gives the parents-to-be time to digest the stark truth of what is about to happen, and yet if the whole experience to date has taught me one valuable life lesson, it’s that nothing can properly prepare you.
As someone for whom running holds significant meaning and purpose, I was understandably anxious about what impact our new arrival would have on my ability to carve out time to lace up my trainers and pound the pavements of Nottingham. A cursory glance of runner forums suggests I’m not alone in having these concerns, with countless ‘runner Dad’s’ probing the length of time it takes to return to some semblance of normality, as well as sharing their own heartfelt experiences of upheaval and transition.
It is somewhat curious therefore that research on fatherhood in leisure studies remains under-developed. As academic Tess Kay suggests, for the most part, fathers have not been recognised as a subject of enquiry within leisure and sports research, and that the complexity and diversity of family situations within which fatherhood is practiced have also been neglected.
Applying my own auto-ethnography, as well as drawing upon the experiences of fellow running fathers, a number of common themes emerge. The one which I find myself frequently grappling with is the underlying sense of guilt and selfishness that wishing to go out for a run now evokes. I can recall writing on my own Running the Line blog ‘the autonomy I experienced pre-fatherhood to run pretty much whenever the mood took me has well and truly upped sticks’. This was penned six weeks after Rowan was born, and whilst in many ways those early days of fragmented sleep and constant fatigue are now a distant memory, trying to uncover a contented balance between home, work and running remains an elusive challenge. I remember too at the time seeking some solace in Phil Hewitt’s book Keep on Running, on how he utilised his running as a way of handling the transition into fatherhood. He wrote ‘it seemed to me that if I got a regular run in, then in so many ways I was able to be a better dad’, something that his wife, Fiona, actively encouraged having been able to recognise the benefits.
Of course there are solutions, or rather compromises, which don’t rely solely on the goodwill of a supportive partner. The most commonly cited and bleeding obvious, is to run either ridiculously early before the household wakes, or to head out late at night when the little ‘un is asleep. I’ll be honest, neither impart a great deal of pleasure, especially given Rowan’s inclination to rouse about 5.30am, whereas by the time evening comes around and I’ve completed my usual household chores, being slumped in front of the television can feel like a bit of an effort.
The other is to invest in a jogging stroller. Given their expense, this can feel a little like a leap into the unknown, which wasn’t helped in my particular case when her maiden excursion – a nearby 5K Santa Run – ended prematurely with tears and a tantrum upon catching sight of Mummy at the beginning of the second lap. Since that rather inauspicious beginning, I’m happy to report that Rowan and I have become parkrun regulars. Saturday mornings are ring-fenced as Dad and daughter time to explore the outdoors together, as well as providing some valuable respite for my partner. What is noticeable however, is that despite parkrun being framed as a ‘run not a race’ there a few people who don’t like to be beaten by a pushchair, but thankfully the majority of runners are a friendly, inclusive bunch, whilst wheeling Rowan about tends to act as a starting point for conversation and curiosity.
A significant proportion of my weekly mileage meanwhile is made up through running to and from work. The added benefit of this is there no protracted getting ready time in the mornings. It’s simply a case of throwing on some (often pre-worn) running kit, which means I can be responsible for Rowan’s pre-nursery routine. The only downside is the predictable nature of the run-commute, with only a limited number of routes given the relatively narrow timescale that I need to be at work. But that is a minor grumble given that I’ve managed to amass 1,000 plus miles each year since becoming a father, including two marathons and one ultra.