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The quest for the seemingly elusive “balance” between training and family is a journey many athletes eventually find themselves on (if they’re not already there). Finding this balance may be difficult, but for most athletes with families it is the key to achieving both success and longevity in the sport of triathlon.
Training for a triathlon (particularly long-distance) can be incredibly time-consuming. Yes, perhaps it would be easier to put your own health and wellness goals on hold for a few years until the kids are older or throw it all in the “too hard basket”, retire from the sport altogether and embrace your dad bod (or mum bod) with open arms. Balancing training and family life can be extremely difficult. Add work commitments to the mix and it can all swiftly seem like an impossibility (especially if both partners are training for events simultaneously) – too much, too hard. But there are so many physical, mental and emotional benefits to keeping fit and healthy and maintaining your athletic goals and hobbies, for both yourself as an individual and by association, for your family too.
At T:Zero we’re no stranger to this challenge. Many of our coaches are both parents and athletes themselves, faced with the same task of balancing family, training and work commitments on a daily basis. To this end, we’ve put together a list of tried and tested strategies that may just help you to master that elusive balance in your own domain.
Strategy #1 – Engage your family
Bring your whole family along for the ride so that it becomes the “family goal”, not just your personal goal. Besides, everyone in the family will play a role to enable the achievement of this goal. Yes, you are the athlete, but your family has an equally important role in other areas to ensure things keep tracking along. Including your family in your goals and allowing them to take part in helping you achieve them will help to maintain the family/training balance and ensure your family enjoys the journey too.
Some ideas to consider here include:
Strategy #2 – Training Time Management
Mastering your time management when it comes to training sessions is another key strategy that, when perfected, can really ease the pressure.
Think about incorporating lunch hour workouts during the working week, running or riding to/from children’s sporting games on the weekend, or squeezing in an open water swim during a beach trip while your partner supervises the kids, then swap over to allow them the same opportunity.
One particularly oft-practised and effective training time management strategy is to rise earlier and train when your family is sleeping. This way, neither party misses spending time together (or time spent away from family during “operating hours” is considerably less).
If you are having difficulty mentally processing setting a 3am alarm, think about going to bed earlier to ensure your total average hours of sleep are still maintained. Remember, if it’s important enough to you, you can make it happen.
Strategy #3 – Master your preparation
There’s no denying it. You must be organised – on a completely different level.
Early morning swim session? Pack your bag the night before. Early morning bike or run session? Pre-fill and chill your water bottles, charge your Garmin, bike lights, head lamps and phone the night before. Set out your kit. The night before. If packing school or work bags and lunches is on the daily “to-do” list, make sure these are done the night before.
The aim here is to make everything as easy as possible in the morning, primarily for two reasons. First, you have fewer excuses to ditch your session when that early morning alarm goes off. Second, these small steps add up and mean you’ll have more time to actually execute your session. Yes, half a session is better than none but a complete and honest session should always be the goal.
Dual athlete households would also benefit from considered collaboration with their coach or coaches with respect to allocation of training sessions, building in scheduled family time and coordinating the programs to ensure neither athlete has to sacrifice or compromise, as a general rule.
Strategy #4 – No excuses
In the time before you had a family (if you can remember it), you may have regularly succumbed to the temptation to skip assigned sessions and instead play “catch-ups”. Now that family commitments are in the picture, the temptation may very well still be there, but the opportunity will rarely be. Not only this, but it’s extremely unfair to expect others who are relying on you to grant you leniency on a regular basis and/or during allocated family times.
All athletes miss sessions every now and then but realising this is even less of an option now your time is spread thin, is important. If you miss a session, don’t beat yourself up. Move on. But as a general rule, make the commitment to be committed to your sessions and remember … if you [press] snooze, you lose.
Strategy #5 – Be realistic
You’ve just had a baby? Perhaps now isn’t the time to sign up for an Ironman. But the beauty of triathlon and endurance sport is that there are so many avenues to explore.
Now might not be the best time to start focussing on a Kona slot, but it may be the perfect time to compartmentalise and focus on honing your skills in one of your weaker disciplines. Build run strength by participating in some trail runs, or sign up for an open water swimming event and focus on perfecting your technique and feeling more comfortable in the ocean. Training for only one discipline as opposed to three can free up a lot of time! Alternatively, you might consider signing up for some sprint distance races and concentrate on speed work. If you’re in the sport for the long-haul then honing your skills in specific areas will not be a waste of your time or effort. On the contrary, it can make you an even better athlete!
And in the end …
When it all seems too much, remember that your family loves you – and they would much rather witness you love the journey than hate every moment until race day.
Incorporating some of the above strategies into your training preparation and plan of attack will ensure that both you and your family will love the journey – and if you can manage this, then you are 90% on your way to a cracking race.
There is no perfect situation and rarely is it all smooth-sailing, but if you make an effort to keep your family happy and incorporate them into the journey it will almost always result in less conflict.
Above all else, remember that clear communication is paramount and sometimes you may need to be a little more flexible and a little less selfish than you were in your past life as an insular triathlete.
One thing’s for sure, there’s nothing more rewarding than crossing that finish line with your family cheering you on, knowing the result has been a true team effort.
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