What I was ruminating on this morning is the shop-worn question of "Is running an inherently selfish pursuit?" Think about it - you take time out of your day, away from family and friends (usually) . . . to pursue something that makes you and you alone happy.
Think about what you could get accomplished in that 1 1/2 hours spent driving to, working out at, and driving home from, the gym. Think of the hours, days and weeks, spent pounding the pavement with little more than nothing to show for it.
Think of all the things that you put on hold - that you push to the side - that you kick to the next calendar day just so that you can get your scheduled work-out in . . . .
... But the paradox is, I cannot be wholly "present" unless I break away to work, pay bills, run errands and yes, run. Exercise is one of those things that we all just need. You need to move your muscles and bones and feel the wind in your face. In a strange sort of way, not exercising is a disservice to my family. Whatever my failings are now, I believe they would all be worse without a little sweat-session every other day. I owe it to my family to take care of myself.
I started running four years ago this month. I had done some biking previously, but never worked out on any regular schedule. I would get out on the bike a few times to prepare for events like the STP, but exercise was not a way of life. Running came even less naturally to me than biking, so to prepare for a 5 K, 10 K, etc. I had to get off my butt and out on the road on a more regular basis.
I started running four weeks before my first 5 K. My first entry in my running log was on 2/13/05 and reads: "First Run! The fantasy of a marathon begins here. Two short runs with a walk in between. 32 degrees, about a half a mile". I had a great time running my first event, the St. Paddy's Day Dash, and I definitely wanted to continue running.
I'd like to say that I continued training three days a week from then on, but the habit did not take right away. I ran only sporadically the next few months, then didn't run at all over the summer (though I did bike a bit). I started up again in September to prepare for a couple of events and this time I ran pretty regularly for most of the next year. I still have moments where I step away for a while, but some form of exercise has become a more regular part of my life.
Like most people who work out regularly, I have thought about the time away from my family. It can be a pretty selfish pursuit. My point of view is similar to what Matt expressed - I am generally a better person because I do get out and run or bike regularly. I feel better physically and mentally having gone out there. I think it is important to break away for periods to do something "selfish" to decompress and clear your head. Doing it through exercise is doubly beneficial because the additional fitness increases endorphins, metabolism and self-image and this all carries over to other parts of your life.
However...I can do a better job of it. One of several plans for this year is to change the time I work out on the weekends. I am not a morning person so I would typically go out on my long run or bike ride in the early afternoon. This is kind of a day-killer when I'm doing a higher mileage run, and that doesn't leave much room for family plans. So the plan going forward is to get out on the road in the early morning while my wife is catching up on some much deserved sleep. Ideally I will be back by the time she is rolling out of bed and we will have the rest of the day free to do something (or absolutely nothing) together.
Another lesson I'd like to take away from this is that just because you don't successfully change your habits the first time (i.e. working out regularly) doesn't mean you're doomed to fail in the future. If at first you don't succeed...