Welcome to Run With Less, Austin Sheppard.
Running Dad, Austin is a father of 2, a Lip Sync Instagram Legend and creator of the This Dad Can Run community.
Whilst balancing running with the busy world of being a dad, Austin is smashing his goals and becoming fitter & healthier, both in body and mind, for the benefit of his family.
At the start of my running journey, Austin interviewed me to feature on his blog. I now have the pleasure of returning the favour and sharing Austin’s story with you.
Austin, thank you for inspiring me & all the other running dads out there and taking the time for a chat today.
RWL: How did you get into running?
Austin Sheppard: I grew up as a super keen sportsman, I loved all sports and would jump at the chance of being involved in anything from swimming to football and all inbetween. My love for sport also included running and I competed for both the school and the county in cross country, whilst I wasn’t a natural talent I had a competitive streak and would push myself hard. My real love though was for Rugby and as I grew older this took over and I was lucky to have a great playing career. However, as I got older I definitely lost athletic ability and by the time I retired from the game I was a strong but hefty 19st+, a wiley old head that left the running for the younger lads.
My retirement coincided with the birth of our son and very soon my life involved no sport whatsoever. I would work long hours and then come home and help as much as I could with childcare, get very little sleep and repeat. I had no energy and got in a bit of a funk that lasted 4 years. I had sporadic bouts of activity but could never keep anything up for more than a couple of weeks at a time. Even when I signed up to events, I would turn up and rely and determination to get me through before slipping back into bad habits.
Over Christmas 2017 we visited friends of ours and the conversation turned to running, my buddy had signed up to RED January. It got me thinking that perhaps this was the challenge that I had been looking for, something needed to change and this could be the catalyst. I was beginning to worry that my kids would never know me as sportsman and how could I inspire them to be active if I was overweight and inactive? At this time I was over 21st and in poor physical shape but I signed up and was determined that I would run everyday for the month.
January the 1st came around and it started with a horrendous hangover but I knew I had to run so, out I went. I managed a 4k run around the block, it was so hard and felt like I’d completed a marathon (or at least what I imagined that might feel like). It was tough but I kept turning up and in the end I ran 100 miles that month, it was such a buzz and brought a massive sense of achievement.
After that it just felt natural to carry on and here I am still at it.
RWL: That is a great achievement to kick start your interest in running! How did the This Dad Can Run community come about?
AS: When I started to run I was a casual Facebook user and I guess I started to post a bit about my running. It was great as friends and family were very encouraging at first and after a while I started to get messages telling me that I had inspired them to give running a go. However, I might have got a bit zealous and before long my mates were starting to rip into me about clogging their feeds with ‘another bloody running photo’.
So I had a think about other outlets for documenting my running and I quickly came across Instagram. I was about 3 months into my running and being an active Dad was a huge part of what motivated me to start and to continue my running so it seemed natural to try and find a handle that reflected this. I couldn’t quite believe that no one had registered thisdadcanrun so that was me all set.
As I started to share my journey, things snowballed and I became connected with so many other amazing runners that I took inspiration and advice from so it seemed natural to step into a blog. I wanted to share the message that, although it is difficult being an active parent, it is so important to find time to look after yourself, both physically and mentally, not least so that you can be the best parent possible.
RWL: The running community, particularly on Instagram, are super supportive and pretty awesome!
One of the unique features & biggest successes of the This Dad Can Run community, is the regular Lip Sync challenges. For anyone unfamiliar, could you tell us more about it, how it started and your favourite song featured so far?
AS: The lip sync is all about fun, and essentially we pick a song or group of songs and video clips of ourselves singing along. I then edit them into a full version of the song for everyone to watch on IG.
The running community on IG is so cool and I had connected with some really amazing people, many of whom I had met a races and events or shared chats with, a really great friendship group.
Christmas 2018 was fast approaching and I was thinking of ideas to try and bring people together for a good old festive laugh. A school I had taught at used to do a ‘lip sync’ video of the teachers as a treat for the last assembly of the winter term, so I thought let’s give it a go and recreate it using instarunners. I settled on Wham and then started looking for people to record clips, after a bit of nudging we put together a really great ‘Last Christmas’ video and the response was sensational. I had so many people contact me to say how much they loved watching and taking part. After that it didn’t feel appropriate to stop so we just kept it going. Now I get so many people volunteering to be involved and people suggesting songs to feature, it’s so great. Perhaps most satisfying, have been the messages from people who say they would never normally put themselves out there to perform but that they enjoyed it so much and it has given them a confidence boost.
As for favourite’s, that a bit like picking a favourite child but probably the Lady Gaga mash up, SHUSH don’t tell the others!
RWL: How do you keep your running simple?
AS: I really love the ‘run with less’ philosophy as I think we sometimes let stuff get in the way with our enjoyment, I know I have been guilty of that in the past. For example the stress of a run not recording on strava properly or the battery dying on my headphones. In summer 2018 I was lucky to spend 6 weeks in South Africa and made the decision not to record my runs on my watch (a Tom Tom at that time) and with no music. To be honest I loved it, as I had no stress about pace and felt fully present to enjoy the experience and what an experience it was. The trails over Table mountain really don’t require banging rock music to enhance the run.
Since that trip I must confess I do use a Garmin as the running data is very useful and I do run with music, but not exclusively or obsessively. I like to run without headphones in events and wouldn’t even at parkrun. I also don’t use the Garmin every run, especially if I am taking on some easy miles I would leave it at home, I don’t need Strava to tell me I have done a run.
There are lots of other ways that I would love running to embrace in general, like giving a t-shirt and medal at every event, if we are going to be sustainable in the long run we really need to think about our impact.
RWL: What motivates you to run?
AS: I am motivated to be a really great role model to my kids; “no-one was ever motivated to be active by someone sat on the couch”. I want my kids to know and see me as active.
RWL: Great answer!
You’re a father of 2 and a regular at junior parkrun with your kids. It is great to see the positive influence running is having on your family.
Do you have any recommendations or advice for other running dads?
AS: My biggest piece of advice to Dads is to not feel guilty about making time for activity. Many parents feel guilty about spending time on themselves and their own well being and will favour of time with the kids or even work (as a provider). However, it’s a false economy as time spent on yourself pays you back again again. You’ll have more energy, be in a better frame of mind and providing that all important role model.
RWL: What is your proudest achievement?
AS: As a runner, my proudest achievement would have to be the London marathon. It was my second marathon, 7 weeks after the Barcelona marathon which hadn’t gone to plan at all. I had a short turn around between events and used all the experience that I had gained in Spain to execute a run that I was very proud of. I finished in 4 hours and 14 minutes, ran the whole way and loved every minute of the carnival atmosphere, hopefully it’s the springboard to many more.
RWL: Favourite parkrun course?
AS: I have been lucky enough to do some really great parkrun tourism, including 3 events in South Africa but I genuinely think my local one at Nonsuch is the best. I know everyone thinks there’s is the best but set in a park that got its name from a Henry VIII quote: “there is nonsuch place more beautiful than this”, how could anywhere beat that?
RWL: Current parkrun PB?
AS: My current PB was set at Nonsuch and is 21:57, my legs and lungs were on fire. Was so pleased to dip under 22 though, worth the struggle.
RWL: Favourite event distance?
AS: I do love a 10k actually, though I didn’t perform as well as I like this summer. I am hoping to target a good performance in November at the Fulham city run.
RWL: Favourite running event?
AS: I massively enjoyed the equinox 24 hour event last September, as it is a team event. Whilst there is something great about the solo nature of running I do love being part of a team and the camaraderie that comes with it. I plan to do a few of these team events in 2020.
RWL: Miles or KM?
AS: It depends on the event really. This year has been all about marathons, so I have set everything up in miles as the programmes are all geared that way. But I would probably opt for KM if I were targeting a 10k for example.
RWL: Do you listen to music/audiobooks/podcasts/no headphones when you run?
AS: I have started using the eastnine running app, a coaching tool that talks you through your runs and I find it’s brilliant for interval sessions as it stops the reliance on staring down at the watch all session. The app syncs nicely with spotify so I get to listen to some upbeat tunes to add some intensity to the intervals. That said I never use music at events, even if they allow it, I like to soak up the atmosphere and be as present as possible.
RWL: What is your next running challenge?
AS: The Berlin marathon. My gold target will be 4 hours, we’ll see, I am going to give it everything.
RWL: Are you familiar with minimalism or simple living?
AS: My wife loves the Marie Kondo show and we have spent some time going through our stuff, keeping only the things that brings joy. It certainly helps keep things ordered.
RWL: Minimalism is about living an intentional life according to your own values. Could you share more about your values and how you live intentionally?
AS: Values are an important part of life for me, particularly as an educationalist. It’s important that we recognise that hard work and kindness are ultimately rewarded the most authentically.
I have actually spent quite some time on a policy called ‘less is more’ this year that focuses on quality of outcomes and looks at reducing the impact of excessive workload on both staff and students. It has focussed on striping away some of the less valuable things that we do in favour of the things that add the most value.
RWL: What do you think about finisher T-shirt and medals? Keep all or curate the best ones?
AS: I think sustainability ought to be the global biggest issue that world leaders should be tackling. The single use, throw away culture that we have developed is of massive concern and we are suffocating the planet.
As individuals we ought to be doing everything we can to tackle this, whether that is using a bag for life or a refillable bottle we should do what we can, when we can.
That’s not to say that I don’t understand the value of a medal or a t-shirt. As runners we have grafted to achieve our goals and mementos are an important reminder of this. I do specifically get a bit wound up by low quality race t-shirts, if they don’t fit or are awful, they will likely never get worn. I would like to see more events make people opt into buying the t-shirts as an extra to try and reduce the volume of unnecessary tops. How about events use the saved money to improve photography?
RWL: Great suggestion, more quality event photography would help add value & capture the experience without the unnecessary physical momento.
How do you make time and space in your life for the important things that matter most to you?
AS: I think it’s important to get things planned thoroughly, especially if you are juggling lots of things. We have a calendar and whatever is on there takes priority, which leads to missing runs occasionally and the dreaded FOMO. I find it’s really important to look for quick wins, for me one of these is a run or cycle commute. Rather paying money to be uncomfortably close to sweaty commuters I can run or cycle home, buying time for more quality time with the family, win win.
RWL: The run commute is a great way to be time efficient and helps fit your training in.
Do you have a meditation practice?
AS: Not strictly speaking, though I have done some yoga recently and do love the chance to find some headspace. Running is my main form of mediation, I find that if I am stressed a good long run helps straighten the mind and puts me back in the right frame to tackle things.
RWL: What one book has had the most influence or impact on your life?
AS: From a running point of view I loved, ‘Running with the Kenyans’ by Adharanand Finn. It’s a great read, full of interesting reflections and inspiration for runners, those guys really are getting the run with less philosophy spot on, simple diets, kit and training plans.
RWL: You can add one word onto the end of the phrase ‘Run With Less’. What would you choose?
It’s when we have preconceived ideas about how we should perform, look and feel that we start to put undue stress on ourselves and steal the joy of running. It’s difficult to have a bad run, when you just run.
RWL: Where can people find you online?
AS: Mainly at IG: instagram.com/thisdadcanrun
Though I have a blog too: thisdadcanrun.com
RWL: Thank you Austin for sharing your story. Well done for everything that you bring to the running community, it is greatly appreciated by all.
Good luck for Berlin Marathon, I’m sure you will achieve that sub4 goal.