5 years ago, training for my second Ironman triathlon sometimes felt like a (structured) blur of increasing fitness, having fun with teammates and easy recovery. I was attending school part time, while working, which created a busy schedule, but for the most part, I could train most of the weekend (+ relax on the couch afterward!) and come home late during weekdays, when training kicked into high gear. Fast forward to present day, where I work full time, while training for another Ironman triathlon and have a wonderful recent family addition (a very-active toddler), who, as many parents understand, demands a significant time + energy each week. (Yes, kids are our best teachers + my love is overflowing for my son, but it can get quite exhausting!) Over the past several months, I’ve developed a training method, which may provide deeper challenges in March, as I inch closer to my race date, but as long as I keep a structure, harmony, communication, adaptability + perspective, it will be all good.
Replace the word “balance” with “harmony”. Balance is overrated. Many of your best joys and wins will come out of times you are out of balance. Going back to school? Crossing the finish line? Whatever your goals are, you can achieve them more heartily by creating harmony in you life, that shifts + moves as you + your family need. Harmony allows different, creative and satisfying combinations of needs fulfilled. Perhaps you take a 4-month period of hard training blocks. But within that period, time spent with family is more focused on quality not sheer quantity of hours. Maybe you cook less and your family prepares more food (or you allow room in budget for outside meal preparation). Instead of watching TV, you walk to the park, adventure to the beach and have food delivered. Think about it - a lot of possibilities.
Involve your family in your training. Your spouse may be as active as you are or maybe a slight couch potato… but chances are they want to be active + feel healthy, so go for a [recovery] hike, cook a healthy meal together or go for a couples massage (haven't done this yet - but sure does sound nice, righhhht?) Children are easy to involve. Natural outdoor environment + joyful running.. Who could ask for more? Plus, it doesn’t cost a thing - except your time! And time spent with family is always worth it.
Be invisible. Ironman training weeks can range anywhere from 8-20 hours per week. (Yes.. we are a bit crazy like that!) Review your schedule; are there early morning blocks or late evening time slots you can train? Before your family wakes or after your family is asleep? I heavily value sleep, so when I need to make early training sessions happen, I go to bed early the night before (even if it means missing catching up on TV shows). Or vice versa, if I do late night sessions, I allow myself to sleep in a bit the next day.
Gym + Childcare = Gold Mine. Most gyms offer on-site childcare for 2 hours/day. Use this to your advantage. Sometimes I structure this time as 1 hour Pilates Reformer + 1 hour Spin Class - you can shower at home! Or sometimes I swim, recover in sauna, enjoy a coffee and review next week's' training schedule. Plus, a perk of a gym is usually they have kid's activities, so often after I pick up my son, we climb on the jungle gym or play ball on the lawn.
Embrace your community. If you need to squeeze in key training sessions during the week that may be daunting (hello 5-hour ride followed up with 1-hour run), rope in your friends and teammates, who may work weekends and have flexible weekday schedules. One of my dear friends helped me grind through a bike + run, when I needed it. Trust me - ask around, embrace your triathlon community; they are always there for you.
Trust in your training. As I wrap up this article, it’s my first (semi) uninterrupted night of sleep in one week (which feels like say…forever!). My toddler is going through a crib->bed transition plus has a cough/cold that keeps us all awake at night. I missed a few training sessions and as Ironman trainees know, we go on panic-mode as soon as we miss a day, and then.. Oops, a double-day. Well…. Sllowwww down, take a deep breath + think of what's’ in your cookie jar. I had 3 solid training days last week/weekend, where I scooped up 9 hours of training, so there! It’s perfectly fine to rest more than the typical single rest day most of us take. 2 or 3 rest days probably helps us, not hurts us.
Hopefully, some of these tips + strategies will help you harmonize family life + training life. They don’t have to be completely separate. You can’t ignore your passion for sport and you don’t have too. Communicate, harmonize + include your family because it will make the finish line so much sweeter.