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Brendan Curtin Thursday, 31 July 2014 07:56 TWEET COMMENTS 0

The Singletrack

Two go-it-alone parents balance raising kids and time on the trail

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Derek Cook and his daughter after a local race. Photo courtesy of Derek Cook

Trail running is like raising children. It gobbles up time. It demands attention, money, energy and passion. But it’s a rewarding investment. Or so I’ve been told. I’m 23 and kid-less, and a couple of part time jobs are the only things standing between me and spending whole days in the mountains. I am—by comparison to many people—living the high life. So how do the trail-running parents manage?

Dave Mackey, 2011 North American Ultra Runner of the Year and father of two blond sparkplugs, may have said it best in his May interview with Trail Runner. When asked how he maintains balance between running and family life, he answered, succinctly, “I owe it all to my wife. Hands down.”

Lucky are the ones who have a spouse to keep them on their feet, a second chinaware set upon which they can heap the excess from their own metaphorically overflowing plates. But how about all those single-parent trail runners out there? How do they do it? I spoke to two to find out, and one thing is clear: Dave Mackey should buy his wife some flowers.

Derek Cook, father of three (two boys, ages 13 and 7, and a girl, age 9), lives in Marion, Illinois. The 41-year-old has been running for two years, a lifestyle change sparked by his divorce.

Immediately following the split from his wife, Cook stopped eating and lost over 40 pounds. “I think a lot of people stop eating when they go through an emotional occurrence in their lives,” says Cook. But then he started to get in shape. He did pushups. He picked up a copy of Men’s Health. He entered a Spartan Race. He started to run.

Richelle Hall, a 30-year-old warehouse employee from Council Bluffs, Iowa, has two daughters, ages 7 and 9. She has been a single parent for six-and-a-half years and, like Cook, got into running as her marriage was breaking apart. “I needed to lose weight. My relationship was going south, and I needed to get out of the house,” says Hall. “[Running] is my therapy. It’s my time.”

Always an active person, Hall says running is natural for her. “When I was a kid I was pretty playful, climbing trees and riding bikes.” She made the jump from road running to trail running two-and-a-half years ago for reasons both physical and psychological. “I’m pretty anti-pavement—it hurts,” she says. “The mentality I had [while road running] was focused on times and maintaining times. All that stress lifted with trail running.”

This transition to trail running also provided a tool for parenting. “The peace that I find from nature I’m able to bring back home,” says Hall. “That makes a great home atmosphere.”

Running makes these parents great role models for their kids. “My parents didn’t do this. They didn’t run. They didn’t workout. And they had loads of health issues. I love that [my kids] are watching me,” says Cook, who wasn’t an athlete when he was younger. He was a skateboarder in high school, and is thankful his daughter has taken to running at such a young age. “I just want her to be doing it from the get go. It’s such a wonderful skill to pass on to kids,” he says.

Hall too is pleased with the impact her pursuit of running has had on her kids. “I’ve been maintaining an active lifestyle long enough that my kids see it as normal,” she says. “I’m presenting a positive example for them.”



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