New Fatherhood and Training

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  • #9850

    Hello, I am a new father and adapting to my new life. The past decade I have had a lot of time to travel and climb/ski around the world. I have built up a great fitness base and tackled a lot of my dream trips. With a new daughter in the world, I am thinking a lot about how to continue my passion for alpinism while not becoming an absentee father. Curious what strategies/tips/suggestions/ideas other father’s have out there to continue the growth and progress as a climber while balancing the newfound responsibilities of parenthood. Thanks!

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    Anonymous on #9853

    Hi. First, congratulations on becoming a father. For me, having a child is the most exciting and amazing adventure I have ever taken–I know that sounds cliche, but it’s true. Sometimes I simplify it this way: my relationship to my daughter is the most intense and profound relationship I have ever had in my life. That makes it an incredible experience.

    I think your question can be broadly separated into three parts: 1) Identity, 2) Time management, and 3) Risk. There are many more things to talk about, but for me these are the big three.

    So here goes.

    Before my daughter was born, like many prospective parents, I feared that my identity would completely change. Would I be the same person? Would I still be me? Would everything I know be erased? I remember the day after my daughter was born; I woke up early, went for a short trail run, and then drove to the hospital to spend the day with my wife and our new child. As I was running in the forest, I realized…I was the same person! Same thoughts, same identity, same feelings. It’s just that now I had something new to think about. I don’t know if that’s reassuring or frightening to new parents, but I’m sharing it because it was a profound realization. When my daughter arrived, I was still me. Only my life had grown larger.

    Time management
    OK, there’s no way around it, having a child simply requires a higher degree of time management and time flexibility, and overall less time available for things like training, climbing, skiing, and so forth. Basically, to maintain any consistency, you have to me more active about planning, more motivated to do what it takes to get in those hours (or half hours, or fifteen minutes) of exercises, and more flexible about when and how exercise happens. In an odd way, having a child actually increased my ability to exercise regularly, because instead of sticking to old habits (I will only exercise at time X for Y number of hours) I was forced to be much more flexible, grabbing time when and how I could, and accumulating exercise in small quantities. My overall volumes remained roughly the same, but the distribution changed. Long days need to be planned, with support and encouragement from your spouse (and the understanding that you will return the favor and give them time off when needed). The same applies to climbing trips. So it’s not easy, but it works. Anything you can do to be more efficient, such as having a gym or trails or crags close by, or building a home gym or wall, will make your life much easier. One important point: planning recovery time becomes really difficult. You might be tempted to use all available time you have to push hard, but your “down” time will most likely be rather stressful home and baby time, and your sleep will me impacted, and so you will not have as much ability to recover. Be sure to take this into account.

    You mentioned climbing, skiing, and alpinism. Those activities are obviously not without risk. Managing those risks, and incorporating these activities into fatherhood, is obviously a highly personal process. I think it’s fair to say that many or most climbers who become parents scale back their ambitions somewhat, and lower their acceptable risk threshold. That’s probably natural, and it’s probably the right path to follow. I can say that while it might be easy in theory to say, “I’m going to lower my risk threshold,” it can be much harder to do so in practice. When you are on a route eyeing the next pitch, or standing the the top of a slope to ski, there are so many habits and instincts and desires and pressures that it can be difficult to match your decisions to your goals. There might even be particular cognitive biases or “parent pressures” that push parents to take more risks that they might want to: for example, they might want to prove to themselves (or others) that they can still climb hard, or they might feel that they have such limited time and opportunity that they have to make the most out of each trip. Anyway, I think it’s especially important to try to keep your overall goals in mind, and as much as possible allow these goals to guide your decisions. I can also say that your feelings about these things may change over time. When my daughter was born, I was very clear that I wanted to keep climbing–and I did. My daughter is nine years old, and in all these years, I’ve done a great deal of personally rewarding climbing. However, over time, as my relationship with my daughter has deepened, it’s become harder and harder for me to keep going to the mountains, and I’ve been forced to continually interrogate my reasons for climbing, what’s the right path for me to follow, and so on. It’s gotten harder as my daughter has grown older, not easier. I’m still climbing, but it’s a hard process, and I don’t know how it will evolve in the future.

    OK, thanks for your question, I think it’s a really important topic.

    All the best,


    hafjell on #9857

    Tough to compete with Bruno’s detailed response, but I’ll offer two thoughts:

    Reduce risk in appropriate ways and take the family with you.

    1. Since my daughter’s birth, I’ve learned about the different components of risk in mountain travel and this has helped me dial down risk while keeping, for lack of a better term, the stoke high. I learned that while I used to spend a fair amount of time in areas of high exposure (skiing above large cliffs, e.g.), I no longer felt the need to. So, in my ski mountaineering or free riding, I have dramatically reduced the exposure but I have continued to ski steep terrain. This might not apply to alpinism, or be very palatable if it does. For me, the transformation in understanding and goal setting happened while listening to a conversation about the difference between steep skiing in Chamonix and Verbier. In the simplest terms, Chamonix was the town people went to test their ability to handle exposure in you-fall-you-die terrain, and Verbier was were you went to ski super steep couloirs with mellower run-outs and much less skiing about cliffs. The light went on. I can still ski steep stuff, I just have to avoid the exposure. A bystander might say, yeah, but what about the avalanche danger? I’m working on that one. I did back off of something in March and it burned for the next few hours, until I saw my daughter. Since then I’ve come to understand backing off as a learned skill. Who knows?
    2. While you probably won’t be taking your toddler and wife to Baffin Island, you could certainly take them to the Alps. Expeditions or multi-day loops are much trickier with a family. But the Alps allow for lots and lots of single day efforts that are as burly as you want. And at the end of the day you’ll come back to food and architecture that will be a big step up over resort towns in the US. Costs are much more reasonable once you absorb the flights (those will be pricier). Day care in US resort towns can great, but in my experience in alpine Austria, Switzerland and north-eastern Italy, the ski schools and kindercare are dialed. They are also used to handling children from many different countries and languages.
    Good luck and congrats.

    Steve House on #9875

    Great question and as a long-time alpinist and relatively-new-father (My boy is 27 months as I write this) I can empathize. But let me back up.

    In 2010 I had a bad accident while climbing a ‘warm-up’ route (for me at that time) in the Canadian Rockies. I fell 25 meter and barely escaped with my life. While waiting for the heli to save my bacon I had a couple of hours to reflect on my life…and those two hours change my life probably more than any other 2 hours…

    I’m not saying you should go pitch yourself off a cliff. But what I am suggesting is that what you’re talking about boils down to a question of priorities. And it is feasible that you could sit down with a pad and pen–or a good friend if you’re more the talker than a writer–and a promise to yourself to ‘tell the whole truth’ and name your priorities. Write ’em down; list ’em out in black and white.

    Then, once you’ve done that, imagine that you are breathing your dying breath. At that moment. Right then. What would you be proud of? What would you wish you had done more of? Less of? If that was your last day would you have actually lived your priorities. Again, write it all down. And again, no lying/fibbing/squirming/fudging. Be bold and be clear. This is your life we’re talking about. Put it in black and white. Paper and pen.

    Then, once you’ve done that. Write out your “new” priorities if you were to have a second chance at life. I think for most of us–and certainly for me–those two lists would not have been the same had I been able to be totally honest with myself.

    We’re talking about a process of aligning your goals with your values. Here is something I wrote about that for new year’s 2018:

    Know Thyself

    Going back to your original question. I find that for me, and I’ve had some great discussions with Bruno about this as well so I know I’m not alone here, that this ‘higher-level’ decision solves a lot of the lower-level dilemmas. I can simply look at my values and that gives me the answer. The trick is having a really really good idea of what my values are and understanding deeply, that these values will cast the decisions I make on a daily, hourly, momentary, level.

    A big part of my realization in 2010 was that I was happy with what I’d done with climbing. I’d not accomplished everything, but I had accomplished a lot. And that if i had died that day–March 25, 2010–a day I consider to be more important than my birthday, what I would have regretted not having a family, not raising a good kid, not having able to establish/maintain a good and rewarding marital relationship, not doing something positive for my community. I don’t climb nearly as much as I used to. I completely stopped soloing. I reduced the risk I take in many ways. I still climb. But I spend more time climbing on my garage wall than I do my local mountains because that way I can be there to play in the yard with my son when he wakes up from his nap. And that’s something I definitely don’t want to die without experiencing.

    One more thing: I really enjoyed Ray Dalio’s “Principles” book. If you don’t want to dive into a 500-page book, here is a clever video series that is much shorter:

    Good luck on your journey.

    Anonymous on #9888

    What Steve said. The first thing is to figure out your priorities. I suspect that if you’re asking these kinds of questions, then you’re already on the right track.

    I think you can always continue to participate in climbing and skiing at a recreational level. Seriously training is a different story. From a practical standpoint, these are things that come to mind if you continue to train:

    Support – Does your spouse understand and support the pursuit?

    I’ve never witnessed this first-hand. I know a lot of non-professional climbers and skiers that are very serious about their athletic pursuits. I only know one whose spouse seems 100% on-board. The rest are seen as crazy and/or ridiculous. I think the main obstacle is that it’s hard for a recreationally-minded person to understand why someone would want to make a greater commitment.

    Time – How flexible is your schedule?

    Training is way easier when you can structure your time around your family obligations. It minimizes the impact on your spouse and kids. I’m lucky to have a flexible schedule, so almost all of my training is done when my kids are either at school or asleep.

    Immunity – How exposed is your child to “the germ pool”?

    This will vary by age and your lifestyle. When your kids start to regularly mix with other kids their age, you’ll be first in line to be exposed to the bugs in your community. Endurance training is hard on the immune system, so you’re likely going to get sick more often than most.

    My oldest son was at a day home between the ages of three and five. He had a runny nose for most of the two years. I stayed home with my youngest son, so he didn’t go through the germ parade until he went to kindergarten. He’s in grade two now, and the worst of it just now seems to be over.

    What works for me

    The strategy that has served me best with all of the above is to think very, very long-term. (I’m talking multiple years…) That way, you can still progress, but at a more gradual rate. You can reduce the short-term load on yourself, which reduces the load on your family, makes it easier to schedule, and is less of an impact on your immune system.

    I hope that helps. Good luck!

    nickferenc on #9898

    Hi Dave,
    As a father of three young boys, I have some thoughts. (Congrats btw). Of note, I am a novice climber and only “found” climbing in my early 30s as my first son was about to come into the world – no doubt you are a WAY better climber than myself. So we may have different vantages on the subject. In no specific order:

    1) If you are worried about risk (or your spouse has concerns), hire a certified guide. As Steve could no doubt attest, working with an IFMGA guide is a truly rewarding experience. Not only are they true professionals and excellent teachers, but they are bad-a$$ mofos in their own right. So most likely if you can dream it, they can help you. And I know many of them would be happy to let you grab the sharp end and work in partnership. Alleviates the potential anxiety of “I haven’t placed gear in months” or “Man, hope I remember some rock rescue stuff I learned a few years back” or “I wonder if this slope is OK to ski”. Also, I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know guides as people and hearing their stories. (Beyond Steve, of course), I highly recommend Jed Porter, IFMGA guide and Silas Rossi, IFMGA guide. And there are 100+ others out there.

    2) Fitness and training – First, treat your health and well-being as non-negotiable. Whether training for climbing or just staying fit and active, I think it is important to take care of yourself and take care of each other. Of course, you can’t be at the rock gym and then leave your wife to handle bed time. But you have to find a way – lunch breaks at work, early mornings, late night after baby is asleep. I find early mornings and lunch break during work is best if you can get into the habit. Afternoons, evenings, and nights have not been successful times for me to workout – I’m exhausted and don’t want to sacrifice time with my wife after putting my boys to bed. Simply put – don’t let your health slip away from you. Also, running / hikes / etc is a great way to engage your spouse as opposed to the next cool show on Netflix.

    3) Let your wife know how important climbing is to you. And ask her what hobbies / activity / interest she values as an individual. Work together to plan time for you both to individually do those things you are most passionate about. My wife is an artist and loves to go up to Maine for a painting workshop and I take care of the kids for 3-4 days. In July and August, she lets me take a trip out West for a few days to get into the bigger hills. We both try and coordinate grandparents or other help to ease the burden while the other spouse is gone. The best thing is both us come back from our respective things re-charged, missing family, and with a renewed sense of joy around each other and children. Wins and wins and wins all around.

    4) Lastly, perhaps the most important thing you can do as a parent is to set a good example by how you act, how you treat people, what you say, etc. I think it is awesome to have your kids watch you train and work hard, strive for climbing goals, and make progress in something you love. Let them know about your aspirations and see the value of hard work in real time.

    Good luck and again, congrats on becoming a parent.


    Anonymous on #9935

    I’m glad this thread is getting some mileage. I think it’s a really important topic.

    –I hear you about the ease/efficiency of a European-style resorts, with dialed child care, ski school, and so on. It can be a good way to be in the mountains with you family. But, I have to say, in my case, when I go to Chamonix, or other places, it’s really hard to have my family around. I need that three hour drive from my home to Cham to disconnect, and I need to have my head focused on climbing. For me, when I try to combine being with my family and climbing, it’s just really stressful. I guess I’m talking about compartmentalization. I need to compartmentalize my family life and my climbing life. Perhaps that’s a shortcoming of mine. Or maybe my values and not yet totally in line with my goals, or I still struggle with the risks of climbing and what that means as a father. Or maybe that’s just the way that I’m built. But I like to get away for a few days to climb, and then go away with my family to be in the mountain and ski and so on–not both at the same time. I have gone rock climbing with my wife and young daughter at crags, and that’s wonderful, but it’s different than going to do some alpine route, and then coming back home. And even at the crag, it’s still sometimes hard for me to belay my daughter, watch her climb and explore the rock. She loves it, but it’s hard thinking of her exposed to those risks, or learning a way of life that will expose her to those risks in the future. That’s parenthood, I guess. I thought I’d mention it because it might be something prospective parents want to think about: How are you built? Do you think you could combine a family vacation and challenging climbing? Do you need to compartmentalize? And so on.

    –I second your suggestion about guides. Maybe once every year or two I will go out with a guide, usually to try something out that I’m not sure that I can do, or to learn a new skill or a new kind of climbing. And then I try to do similar climbs, if I feel comfortable, with partners, to “complete the learning cycle.” It’s not easy to find a great guide and teacher, but if you do you can learn so much and grow as a climber. Yes, it’s expensive, but I always compare it to the cost of a new pair of climbing boots (or ice axes or ropes or whatever). If I can afford the gear, I can afford the guide. And I think the answer to the question, “What will help your climbing more, a new pair of fancy mountain boots or day with a guide?” is obvious. Also, when I go ski touring with my wife, in any kind of consequential terrain, and even in not so consequential terrain, we almost always go with a guide. Ski touring, and managing the danger of avalanches, is one area of the mountains where I don’t have that much experience or confidence. When I’m with my wife, the stakes are so high that going with a guide just seems like the right thing to do. It’s no guarantee, but I think it really is safer to have a professional along, and it makes the whole experience much better for me. Anyway, as you said, it’s something to consider for new parents.

    Anonymous on #9940

    For me, when I try to combine being with my family and [training/climbing/skiing], it’s just really stressful.


    hafjell on #10039

    Hmmm, seems an earlier response didn’t post. In short, I am having difficulty recovering from strength training due to picking up and carrying my 40 pound 21-month-old and his heavier four-year-old sister. Anyone have tips on managing this? I suspect the answer is time.

    Anonymous on #10053

    @hafjell: Regardless of the reason, if you’re not recovering, then the training load was too high. If kid-wrangling is the constraint, then I would reduce the strength loads or plan more recovery days between sessions.

    I have similar kid-related constraints, so I:

    * Plan my key workouts for midweek and weekends for back-to-back easy days;

    * Reduce my training loads if:
    > anyone in the house starts to repeatedly sneeze, cough or sniffle;
    > household stress increases; and/or
    > work stress increases; and lastly

    * Plan for one complete rest day per week where I can get caught up and organized for everything non-training-related.

    I realize those are not directly relevant for your strength session recovery questions. I listed them as an example of the life constraints that I have to deal with, and what forces me to dial back my plans when my constraints get tighter.

    You may want to consider something similar if you’re not feeling recovered due to life constraints. With families, we’ll never be able to follow an idealized training plan, and those family commitments make the sacrifice well worth it. We can however keep moving the ball forward, albeit at a lower rate.

    I hope that helps.

    hafjell on #10060

    Scott, thank you. Very helpful. It’s difficult for me to allow myself to skip or dial back a session. Your advice reminds me of Dr. Leo Marvin in What About Bob? giving Bob permission to take a vacation from his problems.

    alexxcollins on #10112

    Congratulations! I enjoyed reading this thread as I have a four week old girl and a two year old boy.

    For me the main things are risk, rest and prioritising competitive activity to things I can realistically train for. Apart from that the best realisation I had as a dad was the meaning of compromise. I thought it would mean less time in the mountains but it actually means splitting time between two hugely rewarding and enjoyable pursuits: ones own objectives and spending time with your family.

    I’ve always loved the process of skiing and climbing and been very ambitious with my objectives as well as pushing my limits. That includes training.

    I live in London and can fit running into my commute, so am doing a lot of that and racing on roads. It is a release for my competitive side and whilst I used to race in the mountains I now just do that for fun because I can’t get away as much for specific training. I can still do big routes for fun though.

    We’re lucky as we spend a lot of time in chamonix. I bought skimo skis when we had our son and even if I spend the day with him I can still race up the mountain and back in an hour before or after the lifts open and I love doing that.

    I had a bad fall whilst skiing a month before my son was born. I had plenty of time to think about whether I would meet him as I was bouncing down snow and over rock bands. Miraculously I was uninjured but it certainly made me think about what acceptable risk is. I still want to do big days in the mountains but there’s loads of things I love doing in life as well as the mental challenge of putting in turns on exposed terrain. So I’ve just stopped doing that – there’s plenty of other stuff to do. So I’d definitely echo what others said about risk.

    I also completely agree about rest. As I’m getting older and maybe wiser, I find it easier to admit that unlike Killian, I have a conventional job and a family and I’ll maximise my own fitness by being realistic about how much rest I need.

    nickferenc on #10210

    Great stuff on this thread. I’ll add one more – it’s been helpful for me to pare down the number of activities/interests in my life. Being a good husband/father is priority #1. Whatever is left over goes to: maintaining a positive attitude, growing in my professional life, working to stay physically/mentally healthy, and skiing/climbing. I used to spend time ocean fishing and playing golf in the summers – and ten other hobbies/interests – all amazing stuff that I generally enjoyed (and miss). I just came to the realization that I had to choose and couldn’t do everything.

    Anonymous on #10550

    Congrats brother…. Get those massages to ease the stress ahahaah.

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