Chris Illuminati explains the five ways that regular exercise, specifically running, has made him a better, more fulfilled parent.
Running is my religion. The wearing out of sneaker soles is good for my soul.
My pastor is the permanent roommate, my wife, a long ago convert, she tried unsuccessfully for years to shepherd me into the flock of pavement pounders.
“It’s not my thing,” I’d say, shuffling to the free weight area of the gym while she clocked mile after mile on the treadmill.
Unfortunately, I don’t get to my church as often as I’d like anymore, but the moment my sneakers touch the asphalt for a run, a calm takes over my body.
Exercise leads to a better body and a better state of mind—two essential weapons in the daily fight called parenting. Running, and exercise in general, is crucial for every parent’s well-being.
Here’s how exercise, specifically running, made me a better dad.
1. It taught me patience
I used to laugh at runners. I would chuckle at the gym hamsters pounding the treadmill for hours. I found running in place for long periods of time absolutely hilarious.
My first ten years spent in a gym involved lifting ridiculous amounts of weight. Weight training is all about strength and stupidity—are you strong enough to lift tons of weight and dumb enough to try again?
Much the opposite of weight lifting, running is about patience and stamina. Stamina is built over time. You’re not going to run an 8-minute mile on your first attempt, and if you do, you’ll probably vomit crossing the finish line. (Out of courtesy to other runners, please find a secluded spot to upchuck your McGriddle. No one wants to see or hear you.)
I thought running to be so ridiculous because it seemed so damn easy. I was wrong. My average pace now is around 8:30 per mile, but that didn’t happen overnight and it doesn’t happen every time. There are good and bad runs. Running isn’t easy. Not if you want to get anything out of it. It took at least a year or more of training to see an improvement.
Both parenting and running take patience and it’s not all going to happen overnight.
2. It taught me to think again
One of my favorite podcasts (especially when running) is WTF with Marc Maron. One episode in particular—I can’t remember which, there are over five hundred—Maron and his guest discussed technology and its effect on kids.
Maron doesn’t have children but he expressed his concern about phones, games, and handheld devices killing kid’s creativity. A specific example he used was how parents toss an iPad or DVD player in the backseat of a car on long distance trips. He explained that the backseat of a car, specifically on long trips with his parents to god remembers where, were the times he did the bulk of his thinking and reflecting. He let his mind wander. He was left with nothing but his thoughts.
Tough decisions are made after internal debate and that decision is made after taking the time to weigh all of the options.
As a parent, it often feels like every decision must be made in the moment—not just now, RIGHT NOW—and because most decisions ultimately affects another person. A very young and impatient person.
I’ve learned to take time with decisions. In my younger days, and this could have been the ADHD operating, I’d make big decisions in a matter of seconds and stick to that decision even if it wasn’t in my best interest or was just a flat-out dumb idea.
Now, most of my major life decisions are made during a run. I weigh the pros and cons, debate the pluses and minuses, project what could go wrong and right and analyze each possible outcome because I’ve got nothing else to think about for at least a house. There’s little to distract my thoughts or pull my attention away during a run. Except the occasional unleashed dog or speeding car.
Consider this my personal playlist for all of you. It’s like I’m making you a mix tape. Here are some of my favorite songs to run to right now. I’ll probably hate them in a month.
Am I Wrong—Nico & Vinz
Love Runs Out – One Republic
Drunk on a Plane – Dierks Bentley
All About the Bass – Meghan Trainor
Girls Chase Boys – Ingrid Michaelson
Jungle – X Ambassadors and Jamie N Commons
Come With Me Now – KONGOS
Word Crimes – “Weird Al” Yankovic
Summer – Calvin Harris
Cool Kids — Echosmith
Song 5 (Even Know) – Owen Mack and the Immaculates
3. It sets an example
Every Sunday morning, unless other obligations take precedent, I go for a long run. After cooking up pancakes for the Permanent Roommate and the spawn and cleaning up the massive mess I’ve made of the kitchen, I toss on the running gear and run for at least an hour.
Every week, without fail, while I’m lacing up my sneakers, the kid will shuffle over and ask, “Dad, where are you going?” Every week I explain I’m going for a run and that I’ll be back soon.
Recently, he’s asked to tag along. I explain it’s too far but some day he can ride alongside on his bike. He said he’d like that.
Kids follow example. I’m hoping my weekend runs inspire him to want to run or at least realize the importance of exercise. It could turn into an activity we do together, long after he’s grown too old to hang out with his old man.
4. The all-important “me” time
Here’s some homework—during this week, mark down on a piece of paper the number of hours spent on personal pursuits. Activities like coaching kid’s sports or helping your daughter with a craft project don’t count, no matter how enjoyable those activities. If you didn’t have a kid, you wouldn’t be sweating your ass off on a soccer field or weaving more friendship bands than a sweatshop worker. Only count activities that are 100% for your own satisfaction, gain, or enjoyment.
The average number is probably five hours a week or one hour a day, if you’re lucky. There are 168 hours in a week. You spent five (probably less) participating in personal activity.
Before running, writing was my personal activity. It was my guilty pleasure. I spend even less time doing things for myself because my hobby is also a part-time job. My personal writing time is now devoted to freelance writing because everything (EVERYTHING) costs money. My personal escape became a job.
No one pays me to run (though, if anyone would like to pay me to run, that would be amazing) and dedicating even a half hour every day increases time to myself—time to think, listen to podcasts, zone out, get out of the house, and just feel good. Every parent needs “me” time especially when the rest of the days are spent listening to the “me, me, me!” of little kids.
5. Running on empty
Not to sound cliché but here it comes—Parenting is like a long distance run. It takes stamina, mental concentration, focus, a strong stomach, comfortable shorts, and plenty of water because a mouth full of liquid keeps you from screaming your face off.
You’re not going to be great at either on day one. One day you think you’ve got it all figured out and the next day you’ll want to vomit in a bush from exhaustion.
My advice is this—even it’s not running, find your release in the form of physical exercise. Lifting, cross fit, Jazzercise, Soul Cycling, or just a billion jumping jacks until you pass out.
I’m going for a run. Anyone want to come? I can’t promise you’ll like it but I can promise all of the above for at least an hour.
Originally appeared on AMessageWithaBottle.com; Images courtesy of the author