My name is Luke Nelson and I am an endurance runner. I thrive on being in the mountains. When I am not running I can be found spending time with my wife and three kids, being an activist for the environment, or sometimes working my day job as a Physician Assistant.
The idea of balance in life is a myth, at least I think so. For nearly a decade I’ve chased balance as I juggle being a professional endurance runner, Physician Assistant, race director, activist, husband, and father. There are a thousand things that request my attention and a hundred that demand it at any given moment. Years ago, through the lens of youthful optimism, I went as far as starting a blog called the Challenge of Balance, as if it were something I had mastered. The more I claimed to have balance the more I realized that I lacked it. The reality was that true perfect balance doesn’t exist, and it isn’t what I actually wanted.
“True perfect balance doesn’t exist.”
With so many things going on, life can quickly turn into managing one dumpster fire after another. Frantically going from one major problem to the next, while everything else is neglected until it bursts into flames. This is no way to live life, yet I think many of us are at that point. As we juggle the demands of work, family, and fitness (at whatever level), there is a constant shifting of focus. Frankly there are times when training for a big event will demand time, and this will take from family or affect work. Then that big project at work comes along and there’s no time to train; and the family greets a weary father right before bed. There are also times when all that matters is the family and work and training suffer. The struggle, even battle, for equilibrium rages on.
While I feel like I still have much to learn about balancing life, I do feel that I have gained some insight and experience that is worth sharing and may help others find a way to manage life a little better.
Make A Schedule
First, make a schedule and stick to it. There are simply far too many things to be done that can easily be forgotten. The schedule needs to be written out and left in a centralized place. Include one for work: complete with meetings, deadlines, trainings etc.. Family events need to be on that schedule too, along with time set aside for family. Last but not least is training. It’s best when planned out with time blocked for it. With all of this information written down and scheduled it’s easier to stay on top of it. It is also incredibly useful to share this schedule with your family and, if appropriate, with work. Having others aware of the demands on your time can create an atmosphere of respect for your time at work and at home.
“Life needs spontaneity, which seems to be opposed to scheduling.”
There will be times when the schedule is thrown out the window and that’s ok. It leads us to my next recommendation: be flexible. Even with best intentions, there are times when something unexpected pops up, and the schedule will be scrapped. Occasionally life needs spontaneity, which seems to be opposed to scheduling. Strict rigidity to the plan leaves no room for impromptu play dates, micro-adventure, or a something urgent at work. A word of caution though, if you find you are always breaking from the schedule the plan needs revisited. Spontaneity should be the spice of life, not the primary ingredient.
“We aren’t perfect, and shouldn’t demand that of ourselves.”
My next piece of advice is to be kind. Be kind to the amazing people you work with, and let them know how amazing they are. Often, we spend more time with the people we work with than with our families and they should be able to feel joy when you are around. I firmly believe kindness and gratitude lead to efficiency at work, so try it out. Remember to be nice to your body. As athletes, we’re constantly pushing our body to stay strong or to get faster. Listen to your body, and be kind when it starts to let you know it needs something. You won’t instantly become unfit if you skip a workout or two because you’re tired or feel the twinges of injury. Finally, be kind to yourself. We are often our own worst enemies placing high demands on ourselves and time. We can be terribly brutal to ourselves if we come up short or aren’t meeting our goals. We aren’t perfect, and shouldn’t demand that of ourselves.
“Take time for yourself.”
Putting this all together can help, but there is one missing piece. Something I have found to be a critical skill in trying to balance life is to take time for yourself. Everything up to this point has been about managing the external factors of life. But we need to take some time that’s focused just on us. Fortunately for me, I can kill two birds with one stone since my “me time” is often done while running. I can slip in my Jaybird Freedoms, crank the tunes, and leave the madness behind.
“I’m committed to seek improvement,”
I’ve structured training that often requires additional focus, but there is international unfocused running time when I can focus on me. This time for self-reflection allows me to check in and see how I am holding up and to honestly review what is demanding more attention so I can swing life back closer to balance. Like my other recommendations, this has a place, but cannot be the norm. If all the focus is spent on self, all else falls apart. I do know that if I get my run time and my me time, I’m more engaged and focused on whatever else is front of me (family or work), and I’m a better human for it. Admittedly, I constantly strive to achieve better balance in life, and there is much to learn, but I’m committed to seek improvement and hope that you can be too.
We also want to hear your stories. Share your motivation for running in a short story and hashtag #whyirunjaybird on Instagram for a chance to win weekly prizes including earbuds and a chance to be featured on our social channels. We’re inspired by every type of runner, so don’t hesitate to share your passion with us. To the parent that wakes up early before sending their kids off to school, the beginner seeking to finish their first 5k, and the marathoner looking to set a new PR, your passion inspires more people than you’ll ever know. Share your stories with us and #runwild. Find more info about the This Is Why I Run series here.
Keep in touch with Luke!
Lately, I’ve been discovering the joys of road biking around my home of Salt Lake City, UT. I’ve never been a serious road biker and it’s a whole new world to me that I didn’t fully understand until immersing myself in the sport. Now, I’m hooked and I want to encourage everyone to try it out! Before I got my own bike, I demoed one from a bike shop to get a sense of it. May was national bike month, but I think every month of the summer can be a good month to ride.
Here are my top ten reasons to get on a road bike:
- The access. There are roads everywhere. You don’t need to drive to the gym or to the trailhead to get your workout on. You can go right out your front door.
- Running, swimming and biking offer the most bang for your buck for cardio. If you’re short on time but need to get a workout in, road biking is a great option.
- Being able to eat dessert (or whatever you want). Because you can burn so many calories, you can enjoy that cookie or ice cream for dessert. Plus, food tastes better after a workout.
- Low Impact Burn. Compared to running, biking is super gentle to joints, muscles and bones. It’s a valuable training tool for anyone who has had injuries, especially knee, ankle or foot.
- When you’re riding a bike, you can’t type or check your email. The mind doesn’t wander far from the 30 yards ahead of you. This is especially true for the descent and for beginners. You have to focus on the road and all the hazards it presents. This type of forced mindfulness practice is good for the brain.
- Exercising outdoors adds challenges like wind and weather that help push you past mental and physical barriers. Getting outside of your comfort zone is the key to progression.
- Joy/Freedom. It’s hard not to smile when you’re cruising on a road bike. It evokes a childlike sense of wonder and freedom.
- Camraderie/community. Even when I’m riding solo, I feel like I’m part of an exclusive gang. Road bikers are so friendly to one another. It also opens you up to a huge community of people who chose to make fitness a priority and spend their time outdoors. If you want more of this community vibe, it’s really easy to sign up for a group ride, non-competitive or competitive event! In my home city, there are tons of races every weekend for every level of athlete.
- Cross-training. As a professional ski mountaineer, doing long amounts of cardio is the key to being successful on summit day. Most other athletes will find that biking is a great way to develop muscles and endurance when they can’t do the sport they are training for.
- Spandex doesn’t lie. It’s easy to ignore a few extra pounds in street wear, but spandex will call you out on any extra weight.
Have fun and be safe out there!
To squat or not to squat is the question often asked among those that exercise and are seeking to improve their physical fitness and performance.I’ve heard all the arguments for squats and against squats, and there is some truth to both sides.
Here are a few of the myths and facts of the squat:
- “Squats are the best overall lower body exercise.” That is mostly true; squats are great for developing the entire lower body, if safely and appropriately executed. Squats have a pretty big learning curve.
- “Squats are bad for your knees.” This can be true, if you are squatting with incorrect form and squatting over your knees too much.
- “Squats are bad for your back.” Again, this can be true if you are using bad form, or too much weight.
Done correctly squats are one of the best exercises to strengthen the core, as well as the ligament and tendon structures of the knee joint.
Steps for a basic squat set up:
- With the barbell resting on a stand, slide under the bar and place in on the traps, just above the rear delts. Grasp the bar firmly with the hands at a comfortable width with the elbows back.
- Inhale deeply (this intrathoracic pressure helps keep the torso from collapsing forward), lightly arch the back by rotating the pelvis forward, contract the abdominal core, look straight ahead, and remove the barbell from the rack.
- Step back one or two steps and stop with both feet parallel to each other (or with toes pointing slightly outward). Your feet should be about shoulder width apart. Bend forward from the hips, and avoid rounding the back in order to prevent injury.
- When the thighs are horizontal to the floor, straighten the legs and lift the torso to return to the initial start position.
- Exhale at the end of the movement.
Keep in mind this is a very simple explanation of how to do a squat. Each person will squat differently based on their body type, femur length and hip width.
Should you add squats to your workout program? Yes!! Not only are squats great for developing lower body strength and power, but they are also great for developing the cardiovascular system.
Lastly, let’s address how low you should be squatting. Everybody including my dogs and my buddies’ 2 year old kid has an opinion on this. The best answer is as low as you can safely go with maintaining proper form. Obviously using lighter weight you should be able to go lower. There is nothing anatomically wrong with squatting all the way to the bottom (ass to grass as it is called).
In conclusion, eat your vegetables, drink your protein and do your squats!
As a professional runner of 12 years, you could say I’m just as much an expert at injuries as I am at racing around the world. Injuries are part of the deal. And I’ve learned that while they are the absolute worst for taking you out of the activities you love most, they are also opportunities. Yep, opportunities. Sometimes you really have to squint to see the silver lining, but it’s there. And since I’m 5 months into my recovery from achilles surgery with NO running (gasp), I don’t have to squint anymore to appreciate what those opportunities are. I’ve lived them. So next time you find yourself sidelined from your favorite sport, here are three tips for how to not only survive, but thrive through injury.
- Find the chink in your armor:
When I get an injury, my first reaction is usually full of expletives. But my second reaction is to surrender and look for the root cause. An injury doesn’t just happen. There is a reason, a weakness somewhere that prompted it. A sore achilles isn’t about the achilles. For example, it could be the result of poor glute and hip mobility or mechanics, and if you don’t take care of it, it will manifest in some other way as soon as your achilles calms down. An injury is always an opportunity to fine tune the machine so you can come back even stronger. Have a PT help you with the detective work and make a plan for you.
- Listen to podcasts
One of the things I miss most when I’m unable to run is having time to listen and deeply dive into music, uninterrupted. I have a 2 year old, and own my own business with my husband, so without running, I don’t get a lot of time to really listen to music. There’s something about being out in nature that feels like you are making your very own music video to whatever music you are listening to, bringing it all to life in a way being in the gym never can. Cross training on the elliptical just isn’t the same. So when I’m injured, I listen to podcasts instead. A good podcast gets my mind completely absorbed the way music in nature does, and the time flies by. Not only that but I learn new things. Podcasts literally get me out the door to do the cross training cardio that I would otherwise dread, because it is the only time I get to listen to them.
- Take it out of the lab
Sports can be this great laboratory for being your best self, pushing your limits, setting goals, and refining your body, mind, and spirit for the task at hand. It builds confidence, and perspective. But the point of the laboratory is to take what you learn about yourself and apply it to the outside world. Injury is a good time to put that into practice. Be that kickass climber in the office, or for your family. Attack a problem in your community or your household with the same intellectual curiosity you apply to improving the bike leg of your triathlon. That’s the ultimate test of your athleticism: it’s exchange rate in your every day life.
So while injuries will always suck, (let’s be honest), trust me when I say that these tips will make all the difference.
Yours in Sport,
Photo by Adam Clark
- Don’t listen to your parents when they tell you to go to graduate school and become a lawyer, doctor or businessperson. Don’t listen to anyone. They don’t understand your dream. Only you know what’s possible for you.
- Live within your means. Move to a place where you can do that and ski regularly. There aren’t too many ski towns like that left, but they are out there. Don’t acquire debt. Then ski a lot. Find other pros or aspiring pros to ski with. Contact local videographers and photographers to shoot.
- Figure out your personal brand and start building it. Keep your social media pages and websites updated with information that shows who you are. Research your ski idols and figure out how they built their careers. Contact potential sponsors that align with the personal brand you’ve developed.
- Plan to spend some time each week on the computer. Being in charge of a ski career is similar to running a small business. Prepare to learn how to do your own accounting, marketing, advertising, sales, negotiations and production.
- Set realistic goals for yourself. Start working on them. Figure out what your sponsors goals are, and figure out how you can contribute to their goals. Being able to throw a double cork or skiing the gnarliest line doesn’t mean you should get sponsored. Figure out the value you can bring to the companies you want to work for.
- Keep a job with a flexible schedule that allows you to ski during the day until you can make enough skiing to quit your job. Live with your parents (even though you disagree about your career choices doesn’t mean you can’t be agreeable to live around) or couch surf with friends. If you travel, keep it cheap. Offer to make dinner for the hosts whose couches you will be crashing on. Do dishes, keep it tidy. Leave any “base camp” you visit cleaner and better than you found it.
- When you’re not skiing, and you’re trying to make ends meet, Hustle. Pick up odd jobs. Organize and run yard sales for your friends and families to make some extra skrilla. You’d be amazed at how much you can make for piles of stuff people want to get rid of. Get a food sponsor. You gotta eat.
- When you do get that call from the photographer, it’s time to get some shots in the bag. Be professional. Show up on time, with your gear organized. Don’t be hungover. Don’t talk too much, listen to the direction from the photographer. Now you are going to realize that being a pro skier isn’t exactly what you think it is. Powder days are spent moving at snail paces with film crews. Shooting is about finding quality snow and terrain, not how many laps you can get in.
- Develop a thick skin for rejection and public criticism. You will hear a lot of nos, from sponsors, from photographers, from other athletes. Keep doing what you love and persisting. Have fun and be safe. Make sure you have health insurance and consider disability insurance.