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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.
Having competed in the sport of triathlon for well over a decade now, I like to think of myself as a relatively seasoned triathlete. Despite this, I regularly suffer from the most debilitating race day nerves, induced, I’m certain, by my tendency to over-analyse almost every aspect of my life.
According to the experts, pre-race anxiety is a completely normal occurrence and, if managed correctly, can help you race faster by getting that adrenaline flowing. But there’s a fine line between pre-race butterflies and being hunched over in transition, heaving with your head between your legs (aka me, Noosa Triathlon circa 2012, 2013, 2015 et. al.). Yes, controlled nerves can be good, but the kind that completely sap all energy from your body? Not so much.
The following tips for tackling race day nerves have been tried, tested and suggested by some of the best in the business.
If you find yourself suffering from unhealthy pre-race nerves, try putting some of these tips into practice – they might just be your ticket to a more relaxed race day.
1. Be honest with yourself and trust in the training
Nothing makes me more nervous than greeting the start line knowing I have not put 100% into my training. Conversely, nothing makes me calmer than greeting the start line knowing I’ve prepared to the best of my ability.
Remember those days you ran in the rain, swam in the dark and opted out of a very enticing sleep-in? Now is their time to shine!
Trust in the training you’ve done, set realistic race expectations and be confident that your T:Zero Multisport coach has prepared you as best they can. Having trust in your coach and knowing within yourself you’ve given it everything can go a long way to calming that nervous beast within.
Know your plan, be unwaveringly confident in your preparation and stick to it.
Visualise yourself going through the motions – from race morning preparations all the way through transition set-up, swim start, bike, run and my personal favourite - the finishing chute!
Not just handy to employ on race day itself, visualisation is great to practice regularly in training before race day rolls around. Every training session is an opportunity to visualise - race morning, race start, transitions and crossing that finish line.
When race day dawns, having that familiarity and focus will make it feel (almost) like just another training day.
3. Get organised
Depending on the location and type of race, arriving a day or so beforehand for smaller, local events or more if we’re talking long-distance, provides a good opportunity to settle in and familiarise yourself with the local area, race HQ and the course itself.
If you can, take the opportunity to do some race course reconnaissance – ride (part of) or drive the bike course, jog part of the run course and do some easy swim course laps in the day(s) leading up to your race. Alternatively, if you live close by, make sure you train part (or all) of the course regularly.
Familarise yourself with the race day schedule, transition opening/closing times and any specific race requirements to alleviate unnecessary stress, so you can save that energy for the race itself!
Also, think about booking your accommodation early - perhaps close to the start line (but not too close) and take into consideration the location of any support requirements you might need such as bike mechanics and masseuses etc.
4. Meditate … or just breathe!
For a sure-fire way to destress, there’s nothing better than a solid meditation session. But if the thought of finding your zen in a sea of nervous pre-race chatter seems impossible, employing a simple breathing technique might just do the trick.
Try “3,4,5”. Breathe in for 3 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, breathe out for 5 seconds and repeat (I know you just did it, but do it again for good measure).
This little technique has been instrumental in calming my nerves and lowering my heart rate during periods of peak anxiety, and best of all it’s so easy to remember. If this one doesn’t float your boat, there are plenty of other breathing techniques around. Find the one that suits you best and … breathe.
5. Listen to Music
Listening to music can provide a wonderful and easy distraction to stop you getting too worked up by what’s going on around you – particularly during transition set up.
Music can help to relax you and headphones provide a great buffer to drown out the nervous chatter of other athletes and act as a deterrent for unnecessary interruptions.
Keep your music light and fun. I like to listen to the same music I’ve trained with over the months leading up to race day, making sure a couple of key favourites that really lift me up are on high rotation.
6. Use Mantras
Effective mantras address what you want to feel as opposed to the adversity you are trying to overcome. When you feel as though doubts and distractions are getting the better of you, a mantra can help to keep you calm and focussed on the task at hand.
Numerous studies have shown that positive self-talk leads to overall increased performance and an increase in athlete self-confidence. Mantras are great at directing your mind away from negative thoughts and towards more positive ones that can help you transcend the pain or anxiety you are (inevitably) experiencing.
Choose a mantra that’s short, positive, instructive, and full of action words. For example, “Strong, Light, Smooth” was my mantra for Ironman marathons.
Test your mantra during training to find one that works for you.
7. Pre-Race Rituals
Developing a pre-race ritual is a great way to help you bring a sense of normalcy, familiarity and comfort to race morning. As with visualisation (refer Tip #2), the best time to create and polish your pre-race ritual is during training.
Your ritual can be anything from eating the same meal the day before and on race morning, (the classic) flat lay of race gear on your bed before packing it up or the order in which you go through the motions on race morning - body marking, transition set up, stretching and so on. Your ritual can be whatever you want, as long as you find it effective, calming and meaningful.
8. Remember your ‘Why’
When all else fails? Make sure to remember your ‘Why’. As cliché as it sounds, at the end of the day, we love this sport and we do this sport because it’s FUN.
Training, racing, logistics and irrational fears aside – what’s the one thing that lights the fire within, for you?
Take some time to stop and reflect on your journey, your progress and your ‘Why’.
As always, there’s rarely a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution and what works for one athlete may be completely useless to another. So please, take the above suggestions with a grain of salt.
Try testing some of these techniques during training and on your ‘B’ and ‘C’ races to find what works for you. Come race day, you’ll be sufficiently equipped to transform those pre-race nerves into excitement and measured anticipation.
What are your own tips and tricks for dealing with pre-race nerves? Let us know in the comments below!
An amazing collection of training and racing advice from the T:Zero Multisport coaches- with the occasional guest blogger! Read this blog to help you live your potential!