Sleep – the most difficult part of ultrarunning

Buzz, buzz, buzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz … My alarm wakes me this morning.  It’s 2:40am.  Just 20 minutes after my daughter woke me to say her comforter fell off the bed and needed to be replaced.

I didn’t have it in me.  I rolled over, grabbed the covers, and faded back into sleep.  Bed won.  What should’ve been a 12 mile run, was left to what should’ve been.

When I finally awoke, it hit me like a ton of bricks.  Sleep is the hardest thing for me with respect to my ultrarunning.  It’s not the running.  It’s not the darkness.  It’s not the rain, the snow, the heat, the fog.  It’s the sleep.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m a very good sleeper, but what I realized is, with respect to sleep, there’s such a fine – fine, like a razor blade fine line between my ultrarunning success and total failure.  Too much sleep, and I don’t have the time to properly train.  Too little, and I run myself into exhaustion – which is probably true for most folks, but the line between the two feels incredibly thin sometimes.

Flash back to this morning …IMG_3492.PNG

I made the right call.  I’d slept less than four hours.  I can’t expect to make it through a couple hours of running, a day’s worth of work, hanging with the family and then get up at 2:20am the next day to run again.  It just wouldn’t work.

I’ve been trying to pull more of my running into the work week to spend more time with my family on the weekend.  I don’t sacrifice much time with my kids because I’m usually running very early while they’re sleeping, but consequently I lose time in the evenings with my wife because I’m trying to go to bed early.

It’s really quite selfish.  It reminds me of how selfish ultrarunning is, but it is … what it is.  So I’ve been trying to pull at least one of the weekends long runs forward.  To give us more time together at least one of the weekend nights.

It’s not working.

For the year, I average 6 hours 35 minutes of sleep a night.  3 hours 8 minutes of deep sleep, and I get up, on average at 5:48am (yes I track all of that).  Those aren’t really terrible numbers.  But those are just averages … easing the hills and valleys into more of a pleasing number.  Of course, on days I run, the sleep is much less, the mornings much earlier – and I ride the sleep trough into the next wave of rest.

I felt like I handled the sleep during the early part of the year much better than I’m handling it now.  Looking at the data, I was doing both of my long runs on the weekend.  But as I mentioned before – I don’t get to spend as much time with my wife that way.

So … what to do??

Ultimately I feel like I’m in a much better place when I’m getting my training in and feeling successful as a runner.  And by successful – for me, that just means showing up for a race, properly trained, and completing it.  When I’m not feeling successful with my running, that has other negative impacts – I get grumpy for one, and my fuse is a bit shorter.

Fortunately for me, the training cycle for my next race is about to peak next week.  But there will be others soon enough.

I think I’m going to go back to running both long runs on the weekend, drop the mid-week runs to twice per week (and lengthen them a bit), schedule deliberate off-days and take the opportunity to spend more quality time those evenings with the family.

When my wife, and I do get the chance to snag a sitter, and sneak away on a weekend date night, well … I’ll just make sure I schedule the shorter of the two long runs the next morning.

Sleep.  Who thought it’d be so hard?

How do you balance workout time with family time?

What’s the hardest part of your training?


5 thoughts on “Sleep – the most difficult part of ultrarunning

  1. ultrascott

    Finding the time is easily the hardest part of the ‘ultra lifestyle’. Young kids + busy job + other life stuff…there is just not a lot of time, especially for the long runs. I like to run at night during the week, even if it means giving up Friday night do do the long run. Then I can enjoy my weekend with family without feeling like I didn’t get a long run in. Still, I’m a low volume trainer and I depend on frequent races to stay in shape.


    1. darkskyrunner Post author

      Great point on the frequent racing – that’s something I’ve wondered. If I cave more, ideally I don’t have to keep rebuilding my base. And if I race more – perhaps I don’t need as many back to back long runs as I’m already used to the distance w/racing.


  2. Mark

    Sleep won me over this morning. I overcame by getting in a run over the lunch hour.
    Balancing time is indeed difficult for the ultra runner. Like you I run in the mornings. Not as early as you though! My long runs are early Sat and Sun mornings. I hit the gym Mon and Fri mornings. I do those pretty religiously. Tues-Thurs is my difficult mornings. I try to do speed work Tues and hills Thurs with an easy on Wed. It seems like I’ll get 1 or 2 of those midweek.
    I Often judge my wife’s tiredness at night and follow here lead to bed. I stress myself out after 10:00 gauging when to go to bed. If I was in bed by 10:30 my chances of running in the morning are better. That is the fine line for me. Sometimes I determine more value to finish that movie with my wife and go to bed at 11:00. ….. I then stress out over whether I can get a run in over work lunch hour.
    It is ironic how running reduces my stress but trying to fit in the run makes me stressed.



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