How to (Un)train for a Marathon When Your Main Title Is “Mom”

This article was originally published by Runnerclick on 5 March 2018. 


A quick glance at my running logs of the past three years or so and you would guess that I am a regular half-marathoner. Solely considering the mileage I put in most weeks, some would say halfs would be the wiser choice. But instead, I sign up for trail marathons and ultras that involve anything from 2000 m altitude gain. I hear you ask “but… why”?

Why don’t I follow life-consuming marathon training programs or enter shorter, easier races? Well, because life is so much sweeter if you can have your cake and eat it!

African Trail Run. Photo credit: Alfred Lor.

Running as a Lifestyle

Running is my drug of choice. I look forward to a run a the end of the day like someone else would to kicking off a pair of heels or cracking a beer. As a mom, my runs are my time to meditate, to recoup, to strategize, to mourn, to celebrate and to dream. It is my time to rest mind and soul and to not have to be responsive to anyone else’s needs.

When Hubby thinks I’m in need of some special pampering (read: a sanity reset)? He treats  me to the ultimate, all-inclusive, soul-indulging, mind-relaxing mom-cation: An entry to a mind-blowingly beautiful trail race. And since he knows that Mommy needs loads of time to really recharge, nothing shorter than a technical 42.2 with a time allowance in excess of 7 hrs will do. A half-marathon? It barely gets you beyond the city limits. And by the time you get back everyone is just about ready for the breakfast you’ll be preparing.

But as much as I enjoy and need running, I love hanging out with my family more. And while our kiddos are this young I wouldn’t trade the time I get to spend with them for anything. Not even running.

 Biting Off More Than You Can Chew?

The other day one of my Strava friends remarked that he hoped I trained “more” (harder? longer?) for an upcoming marathon than I did for the one before. To his standards my training was clearly not up to par. But then again, our running goals and circumstances are worlds apart.

My Strava friend trains and runs for a podium finish. He wisely follow  training programs that build up over six months. Then,  afterwards, he takes time off from running to rest mind and body. I, on the other hand, have maintained a virtually consistent running routine for the past several years. I never over-train (on the contrary!) so I don’t need time off from running. I would barely call my preparation for a race “training”. We just do life with a little bit extra towards race day.

Do I get the medal after a race? Usually, yes! Do I finish on the podium? Of course not. Do I enjoy my races? Every single one of them. But have I had to make peace with lots of walk-breaks and hanging with the crowd at the back? You bet. In this way my race photos will usually include a few heavily bandaged runners, severely hung-over runners, a great number of novices and many DNF-fers. In fact, half of my pack usually don’t make the cut-off. And sure enough I have been there too. But no less than a day or two later and I’ll be scouring the web in search of the next beautiful killer.

2015 Zermatt marathon finish.

Time Constraints and Challenges

Being a homeschooling mom of two young boys and wife to a fellow runner that travels extensively for work, my training time is limited.  Even with my husband home, our chock-full schedules only allows for 30 to 40 minutes of running on alternating week days and one long run. So, much like most people with busy schedules, I have had to become pretty creative to feed my running needs.

With Hubby away on business trips and the kids alone in my care, I have learned that any run is better than no run. So over the years I have earned the black belt in running repetitive, short laps.  Laps around our neighborhood while our littles were sleeping, baby monitor in hand. Even laps of our 80 m driveway. Anything for the fix! And I was grateful for every single one I could complete.

Lately, since moving to the countryside, I have been lucky to have 300 m long, steepish hill right at my back door. And since this is the ultimate all-rounder, one-size-fits-all running workout, I gladly embrace a few weeks of consecutive hill-repeat workouts when I’m on solo kid-duty and can’t head out too far for a longer run.

A few screen shots from a recent two -week solo-parenting hill-training-only stint.

The How’s

Adventure racer and Otter African Trail Run director, John Collins, holds a personal best of 04:56:43 on the Otter, which won him a fourth place overall in 2010. Around that time he was sharing child-care duties of a one- and three year-old with his wife, who also happens to love running. For the past few years I have found Collins’  training  tips very useful and would recommend it to runners with similar time constraints.

A Solid Base

Collins shares our opinion that marathon-training is hard work while running-for-exercise is fun. He limits focused marathon-training to the four weeks preceding a race, and views his running-for-exercise as preparation for this training. This preparation is, of course, base-building. Without which, a runner would be making himself vulnerable to injury.

Not that base-building should be a bunch of watered-down junk miles . On the contrary. The best and most solid of bases are built by frequently incorporating a few key running workouts. During base-building, Collins incorporates one 30 minute hill session a week and one “longish” run, never longer than 21 km, in addition to a few “normal” exercise runs. In his training tips he doesn’t make mention of pace, hill incline or the duration or distance of a “normal” run, which leaves plenty of scope for adaptation to personal goals and constraints. This is, of course, where the difference between finishing in the top ten (Collins) and or back-of-the-pack (me) comes in.

Focused Training

The Otter African Trail Run is a standard marathon distance race but with a trail factor of 2. This means that the technicality of the course is as such that it will take twice the time to run the Otter than it would to run the same distance on a conventional road running course. The race comprises an altitude gain in excess of 2500 m spread over 11 significant climbs and includes four river crossings. So it’s not your average morning jog!


With a solid base, Collins limits his focused Otter training to these four weeks preceding a race:
Week one (four weeks out from the race), the Buildup Week, will include two “longish” runs, two hill sessions and one “normal” exercise run.
Week two, the Long Distance week, include three “longish” runs, one hill session and one normal exercise run.
Week three, the Hill Week, includes three to four hills session and one “longish” run.
Week four (last week before the race), the Race Prep week, will include one to two hill session and one to two easy exercise sessions.

Suffer Quotient

My race photos are usually devoid of Master and Grand Master runners. Not because they don’t participate in these races. Au contraire. But because they often do very well in these races. Michael Brewis, a 70 year old South African, ran his 5th consecutive Otter in 2017. He finished in 08:52:00, more than three hours to cut-off and beating almost half the field in doing so . His friend, John Brimble who is also 70+, finished the race an hour later and still beat a third of the field. And this phenomenon is not unique.

Just like IQ is a measure of intelligence and EQ of emotional dexterity, distance runners can attest to the Suffer Quotient. The SQ relates to pain tolerance and the historical amount of time spent in the realms of pain and exhaustion. A sort of suffer memory, comparable to muscle memory. The more exposure to it, the easier it gets. Not to say that as we become more experienced, older runners we don’t have to train as hard. Of course not. But the more seasoned runners probably don’t shy away from pain and exhaustion as easily as their younger counterparts. Through time and experience these runners have probably gotten to befriend pain and found ways to to cope with it.

In a Nutshell

As we all have different lifestyles, we run for different reasons and approach our training differently. What works for some may be totally wrong for others. But a few trips around the proverbial block may have hardened you well enough to know what you are capable of or not. To know what will (may?) work and what not. But there is no replacement for a good and solid base. And also none for just keeping it real.


  1. John CollinsTraining Advice For Otter African Trail Run.Online PublicationAug 05, 2011
  2. Michael BrewisPrinted MagazineJan 01, 2018

Continue reading “How to (Un)train for a Marathon When Your Main Title Is “Mom””

Of the year that was 2017 in running

During the last few days of 2017, as we reflected on year gone by, I crunched a few running numbers just for the sake of interest  /being OCD/Virgo/a runnergeek. The stock take was actually sparked when, during a long run in December,  I crossed the 1000 km mark for for the year. A whopping one thousand kilometers! On my feet! That is like running from Namibia’s southernmost border, Vioolsdrift, to Otjiwarongo in the north of the country and having some 60 km in spare change! Continue reading “Of the year that was 2017 in running”

Run (or ride, sing, knit, bake or jump) for Rhino

Currently hard at work organising the Brandberg rhino Run and Ride, as well as the Brandberg FKT Challenge, we are incredibly thankful for the amount of support from sponsors and athletes all over Namibia and beyond. At the initiation of the very first Rhino Run in 2015, a tiny seed was planted that grew into the golden thread that tied us to our beneficiary and the other benefactors, tighter and stronger every year:

Continue reading “Run (or ride, sing, knit, bake or jump) for Rhino”

Women Who Run With the Dawgs

Maybe not as soul-stirring or profound as Clarissa Pincola Estes’ Wolf-running version, but to this running lady it comes preeeetty darn close.

See, we’ve been running for longer than we have been raising and loving pups. And in the past 10 years or so we have tried and tried and kept loving and trying to stay patient, but running with our four-legged chidlers, with leashes or without, just never was any real fun. The Jack Russel really, REALLY wanted to run, oh yes. As soon as he saw any indication that we were even LOOKING at our running shoes, he approved with his high-pitched, incessant barking, quivering with excitement.

For the first 500 m of our seaside runs, Jack had to be on a leash, which we would take off once we hit the beach. If we survived the 500 m being dragged by what felt like a rabid kudu, an extended mandatory walk break would follow (for the human). Jack, of course would then celebrate his newfound freedom by flying off miles out ahead, scaring every biological being on the beach, from non-suspecting bird life to poor peaceful fishermen. So in the wake of this embarrassment the human would start running again sooner than the dragged-legs could recover.

Unlike other normal runners (or runners with normal dogs?), our beach running had to take place ON the beach. On the deep, sandy and bouldery section, and not on the compact walkway a few yards in. All this just to try and keep Jack from picking a fight with every other dog. Tiny woolly ones, rottweilers or boerboels were his favourites. Attacks on the woolly ones would usually entail an ears-down-tail-tucked-in run down of his victim, followed by a dusty brawl, while the hysterical owner (usually female), lashed out at us for not keeping our vicious dog on a leash. Luckily there was never any (serious) blood shedding (that we are aware of).

Attempted attacks on the larger canines would usually entail a nervous, flat-eared Jack going in for the kill without any pleasantries, straight for his opponent’s throat, his irate prey just lifting his head away to avoid scarring. Often times WE ended up being the hysterical party, trying to call off our silly pup, not looking forward to what may have followed if the big dawg lost his or her temper.

Or Jack would just run. And keep on running without looking back. And we would get the all too familiar phone call from a kind stranger or the SPCA to come fetch our dog. That happened all too often. We met many new people like that.

Dear sweet Jack. Innocence personified.

On the complete opposite side is our big yellow Lab. Umfaan turned 10 this year, but he is every bit as cute and clumsy as he was at 6 weeks when we got him. Loving, caring and very attached to his humans. He always wants to be within 5 cm of us, or closer, if possible. So much so that, when he runs with us he will either step on our heels when he is following, or stop dead in his tracks when he is leading, turn sideways to check if we are coming, causing his human to stumble or jackknife over him. He just doesn’t have personal space, and we love that about him. But not during a run.

And then there was Denali. The first puppy we had since the boys were born. Shortly after he came to stay with us I noticed that this pup was really very sensitive and bright. He could play a decent game of fetch before he was 3 months old, actually dropping the ball for his human to throw again (Umfaan would keep it, Jack would eat it. No comparison, we love our fur-boys equally, but eish, have we bought balls the last 10 years!)

Denali (8 weeks) napping on Umfaan.
The boys and their pups.

About two months ago, when Denali was 6 months old, I started to take him on short runs with me. At first he was a little skeptical, not really sure what the point of the running without a ball or a short-term reward was. But we kept at it, running with him for short distances about once a week. Sometimes he needed a lot of encouragement. He would stop dead in his tracks while I ran out ahead. I would call him, praising him, to which he would respond very enthusiastically. So much so that he would come sprinting, leaping up on my unsuspecting calves (and later, as he grew taller, my lower back) in mid stride, sending his shocked human forward in a lunge or a crouch.

Well, after two months I can happily report that the 8 month old pup is a running dawg now. He gets it, and he loves it! This week he ran with me three times (only 5 or 6 k’s at a time) and he also did some hill repeats with the hubs. He was an absolute star.

He is still very young, so obviously we don’t want to exert him too much too fast, but for now we both really love our shortish runs together. His quiet, happy and oh-so-grateful companionship is such a tonic. For the first part, as we run out, he usually follows me, staying in my tracks, a step or two behind me. On the return trip he usually leads, right in front of me. Sometimes I try to run next to him, but he just scoots over to my side again. He wants to lead. And he doesn’t take too kindly to walk breaks. He has his own steady pace and you better keep up, my Lady!


This morning as I headed out I called Denali and he didn’t seem to be in the mood for running, just watching me leave over the hill. After about 5 minutes or so I heard footsteps behind me, skrikking me in a tizz, only to turn around to his friendly, panting black face (he is so black that my camera can’t focus on his face if his tongue isn’t hanging out!) He ran after me for about a kilometer or so, all on his own. I couldn’t be more proud.

So after all these years of trying and trying and hoping and giving up, we are finally Running With The Dawgs. And we absolutely love it!