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The “Dad Bod” Battle – 9 Tips for Fit Outdoorsy Parents

Lets face it, dedicating time to your own health, passion, and well being can be difficult when you have a family to take care of.

The Three Boys!

I’m a 34 year dad to three beautiful young boys. A 2 month old, a 1 year old, and a 5 year old. All three of them have different needs, schedules, and capabilities. I’m also married to an amazing woman and own a house in the suburbs.  Cute dog, big family, white fence… the American dream is real! I love all of them with every fiber of my being. I also work a 9-5 desk job in Mechanical Engineering during the weekdays that can be incredibly demanding mentally. Purely based on the above paragraph life seems pretty great… and it is! However, by design, my default days are jam packed with packing lunches, making schedules, wiping butts, sitting at my desk, sitting in my car, and laying in bed. This is the brutal truth!

Ice Climbing on Mount Willard

On the other hand, I live somewhat of a second life as an active outdoors and fitness junky. Trail running, hiking, ice climbing, rock climbing, mountain biking… the list goes on! These two lifestyles obviously clash pretty hard. Learning how to balance them has been a struggle for me over the years. I’m always learning new ways to compromise and adapt. I want to be the involved, loving dad that my family needs. But without the “me time” required for my fitness and outdoor goals I start to lose my mind!

I’m still learning the balancing act myself, but here are some tips that I’ve learned along the way that can help ease the pains of managing a busy lifestyle. I hope this helps some of you parents out there!

Family First – Include them!

Cash loves coming to the Rock Gym with me!

This is probably the most obvious tip but not always the most practical. Take your family with you! Sounds easy right? Not always. Ice climbing with a newborn isn’t really an option. However, throwing on the baby carrier and taking a gentle stroll on my favorite trail can be a rewarding experience. Sharing my passion with my kids feels great and enriching for them as well. It’s not something I can do regularly but I have enjoyed the time I spend with them on the trails. When my kids get older I can’t wait to include them in some of my bigger trips and have them be stoked to be part of it.

Support System

Family Hike up Black Cap

Have I mentioned that my wife is awesome? She supports me when she can by allowing me to get out of the house for several hours after work, up to several days for a big trip. She understands that my passion for climbing and running in the mountains is important to me and does what she can to help me fulfill my goals. In return I try to help her when she needs it. We have a mutual partnership as parents and spouses. Your support system doesn’t have to be your spouse, it could be a relative, friend, or neighbor you trust.

Social Media can be Toxic

Flipping through instagram and Facebook and seeing millions of people going on rad adventures on a daily basis can be pretty disheartening while you’re stuck at home changing diapers. It’s important to keep in mind that these people may not be living the dream lives you might think. Instead of getting bummed out I try to use social media as a form of motivation to get back out there. Get excited that your community is stoked and trying to share their experiences with you!

Plan way in Advance

Yes, I actually have a google calendar dedicated to mountains.

This is HUGE for me. If I mark something important on the family calendar IT HAPPENS! While I may not be able to live the “fly by the seat of my pants” dirtbag lifestyle I see in climbing movies, I can accept that planning in advance is crucial to the success of a big trip, race, or objective. This also ties into the support system I have. My wife likes having a schedule spelled out so I do my best to keep her informed when something comes up.

Something is Better Than Nothing!

Yes, that’s a baby next to my treadmill.

This may be the most important thing I’ve learned over the years when it comes to fitness and getting outside. I’ll be the first to admit that a big mountain traverse is far more exciting than simply running the local 3 mile trails, going indoor climbing, or jumping on the treadmill. For a while I would just accept defeat if I couldn’t go on an epic adventure that required a 2 hour drive and 8 hour hike. This type of passive aggressive behavior didn’t help me or my family at all. Instead, I decided to take what I can’t get. If I had to cancel an epic trip because my kids were sick, maybe a 3-5 mile run was more reasonable on the local trails. If a 3-5 mile run would take too long after work, maybe 30 minutes on the treadmill is what I needed to do after the kids went to bed. Not every day can be epic, take what you can get and stay fit for the days that count!

Pick a Niche – Don’t Stretch too Thin

The Gear Pile!

This one can be hard to swallow but its all part of making compromises. I’d love to say that I have enough time to run, climb, hike, ski, and mountain bike all in the same day… and be good at all of them equally. Unfortunately this isn’t the truth. I tend to focus on one sport and stick with it for a while to maximize how much time I can dedicate to it. In the summer I’ll switch primarily to trail running, in the winter I shift into ice climbing mode. However, I’m hoping to climb more rock this year… fingers crossed! The reality is that there’s not enough hours in the day for everything.

No Excuses – It doesn’t come easy

My second time running the epic 30 mile Pemi Loop!

It’s easy to be too tired, or too burnt out after work to jump on the treadmill or throw on the headlamp to run at night. It’s easy to stay inside when its raining or just too damn cold! But when opportunity presents itself grab it and run with it… literally. Harden up, the worst part is lacing up your shoes, it gets easier once you’re committed and on the trail. I try to use any free time I can within reason.

Be Happy

Family Hike!

This goes directly against the last tip but I’ll say it anyways. Be happy, do what you can and accept you did your best. Sometimes when I get so wrapped up in training I forget why I’m doing this in the first place. For fun right? If I end up stressed out over how little I’ve been able accomplished it goes against the whole point.

Healthy Parents = Healthy Family

Trail Running in Red Rock Canyon, Nevada

On occasion I find myself feeling selfish or guilty for dedicating so much time to things I want to do. The reality is, I think I’m a better person and a better father thanks to my hobbies. What better example to set for my family than to show them that being healthy and active is important?

How do you do it?

In the comments below share how you juggle the daily grind with your passion for the outdoors. I’d love to hear from you, and possibly learn something new!


  • David Halpin

    May 9, 2018 at 12:38 pm

    So many “truths” in this Dave. Don’t forget that carrying a moving 2-year old in a backpack up a 4000 footer is great training! I remember at one point my kid gear pile was bigger than mine. Not sure I want to back to those days, but you make a good case for remembering it fondly.

    • Dave Dillon

      May 9, 2018 at 5:46 pm

      Thanks for reading David! I haven’t attempted to hike a 4000 footer with my babies yet only some shorter peaks. This year I’m hoping to change that and make some good memories in the process.

  • Jeff Sinon

    May 9, 2018 at 1:17 am

    So many good tips!
    Planning ahead is by far the biggest key for me to getting out. Though it’s never been an issue, I don’t like to spring too many last minute trips, especially if it involves an overnight, on my wife and daughter. Combining activities also works well. My wife, while not being an outdoors person, is extremely supportive of my attempts at taking my landscape photography to a more professional level. So I generally plan my hiking and photography as part of the same outing. The downside to this is that I spend the majority of my hiking time hiking alone, because there aren’t too many people willing to hike in the dark with me so I can be where I want to be for sunrise, or hiking back out in the dark after sunset. I work hard at striking a balance between time in the outdoors and time with my family, which usually results in fewer, but longer days out when I do get out.

    • Dave Dillon

      May 9, 2018 at 5:45 pm

      I know the feeling of solo hiking/running all to well Jeff! It’s hard to align schedules when you’re a dad and everything is so blocked out. I also find that most of my outtings are a “last minute thing” and it’s hard to find a partner who’s willing to drop everything on short notice to join you. At the same time, going solo can be a nice change of pace after the chaos of having 3 boys in the house!

  • Northeast Alpine Start

    May 9, 2018 at 1:13 am

    10/10 post Dave! You are a classic example that pursuing our sometimes selfish appearing hobbies can be done with balancing family life and from my vantage I think you are killing it! Thanks for sharing these tips, especially regarding having a support system in place and keeping the family involved where ever possible. Hope we can tie into the rope together this summer!


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