The worst aspect of training for triathlons is the sheer amount of time it consumes in the day. It is not an activity that can be approached from a weekend warrior type of mindset. To get better, and to get ‘good’ it takes a lot of time and planning. It affects all aspects of your life. Late request from the boss for a report? Sorry … I have a masters swim class in 30 minutes. Son wants to see a new movie that is “the best movie ever made!”? Well, OK if I get done with my 100 mile bike ride in time. Great documentary on HBO tonight? Can’t afford to stay up until 11 if I have to meet the team for a run at 6 AM.
So, as someone with real life responsibilities, where can triathlon fit into your life without it taking over your life? Can your dreams of finishing an Ironman and being there for your family and being a good employee co-exist?
The simple answer is ‘yes’, but the often result is ‘no’.
I can sit here and write that everyone can do this with planning and effort, but that is blowing sunshine up your collective bums. The harsh truth is that it takes its toll, especially on families and friendships where the love of the sport is not shared. It’s a burden, for couples for sure, but becomes even more so when children are involved. The conventional wisdom is always to find a way to involve the family, get the kids involved, have the spouse play sherpa, but let’s be honest here … there’s nothing fun with being a sherpa. It’s great to see your partner finish a race … no doubt about that … you feel their pride and you know it’s a result of all the effort they have put in … but to get up with them at 4 AM, help them pack, get them to the race, and then sit and wait for up to 17 hours is not a good time, and it’s especially not a good time if you’re hauling young children around.
Yes, I know, you can drop them off and then go back to the hotel until the end, but again … is that fun?
But race day is one day. What about the hours of training during the week? A conventional “just finish” plan can consume as much as 10-15 hours a week. And if you’re trying to be competitive it can get to 20-30 hours a week. This is on top of a 40 hour work week, 8 hours of sleep a night, and chores that need to be done. And let’s all be honest, after working a long 8-10 hour day do you really want to get on a bike and ride for 3 hours as soon as you walk in the door? On a normal day that would mean finally sitting down and decompressing around 9:00 pm. This is assuming you work 8-5 with an hour commute back and forth. 9:00 …
This is fine if you’re single, and even married with no kids, but if you have a spouse and children it is always going to eat into this time, and though they may be understanding at first, they eventually will not be … it will get old … and quickly. Yes they want you healthy (most of the time) and yes they like that you have found something you love to do (most of the time) but resentfulness will set in eventually. It’s human nature. Marriages and friendships have ended over this issue.
But we, as triathlete’s, are clueless about this effect aren’t we. We think we have it all under control.
I think my issue here was due to the fact that for 17 years I was a sedentary couch potato. It was what I did. I went to work, I came home, I grabbed a bad of chips and a soda (usually a 2-liter bottle because I was saving my wife the work of cleaning a glass … and it saved me from having to get my ass up and refill it), I sat in my chair, and watched TV until it was time to go to bed. My son, when he was about 14 used to give me crap about it. I’d get comments like “all you ever do is sit and watch TV”. But at year 17 that changed, and instead of Dad being in the chair, Dad was out riding before the sun went down, or getting a run in, or at the pool swimming. Dad wasn’t home until 8-9:00 at night. But Dad was thinner, and Dad was eating right, and Dad was happier and in a better mood.
“All you ever do is workout Dad. You’re never here!”
You can’t win … and this caused a HUGE rift between us which still continues, as much as I have tried to fix it. It’s not an interest we share … he’s a “gamer” and as much as it pains me to see him heading down the same path I did no amount of effort in talking or leading by example has gotten through to him. Yet. I still have hope. Gamers, by definition, are not an active lot … and it’s hard to watch it.
So how do you meet all of these requirements and still compete on a semi-competitive scale?
I have come to the conclusion it needs to be a time based training plan and not a miles based plan. And I know that not all coaches agree with me on this, but personally I have an easier time planning wise if I know how much time I will be training. It also helps me in that even a bad training day as far as my health can still be productive by putting in the time. I may not have run 5 miles, for example, but I did run for 60 minutes, so it is still a decent day.
As I said many times, I am not a certified coach/trainer/dietitian/yogi/doctor/mediator … all my stuff is based on an n=1 experiment. It works for me. I share it here only to show you what I have found over the past few years with the hope that it helps you in some way, if nothing more than to show you that you’re not alone in your frustrations.
So what amount of time is enough? Again, this is a personal thing. If you’re single and no partner you might have no issue with three hours a day during the week. If so, have at it. I think though that even the single unattached of us want some time to decompress. In thinking about this I really started being honest with myself and decided on this outline:
I can deal with 60-90 minutes during the week. Maximum. This would put me home by 7:30 or so, which is plenty of time to eat, relax, read, pet the dog, get my daily ‘grunt’ from the boy, and get to bed at a decent time. This also means a curtailing of “doubles” unless it is right there, meaning a bike/run works at a gym if the treadmill is next to the bikes, but a run/swim not so much unless you can leap from the pool and start running.
Maximum long workouts are relegated to the weekends, but even then it should be limited to before noon. So that long ride? Get on the road at first light (7-ish) can be completed by noon and still have a decent 4-5 hour ride. Ditto for the run and the swim. This 5-6 hour window can also accommodate bricks. Easy Peasy. You may not get the MILES in, but you will get the TIME in.
I am not, as you can probably tell, a believer that you have to “do the race miles” before a race. I have no backing for that other than the fact I have done 56 mile bikes in a half Ironman without ever riding 56 miles prior to it. There are proponents of this style out there … Google it and you find them … but there are also opponents of it. I think “doing the miles” is more a mental thing than a physical thing. Personally I feel if you can run 16 miles you can run 26. If you can bike 30 you can bike 50. What the miles do is let you know that you can do it. Even with all that I would probably get a few century rides under my belt before my Ironman. I am pretty confident that I can ride 100 miles now, even though my longest ever was 66, but getting that 100 miles ride done is needed for me mentally. Running though? Running hurts, and even though I now understand the WHY behind the pain, it doesn’t change the fact that it hurts, so I would not do the miles before the race. The run will be what it is, as best as I can do.
So, in conclusion, if any coaches or trainers, or athletes reading this disagree please save the hate mail. I’ve had enough of that for one week. If you don’t agree, that’s fine, but do so in a constructive manner. I have discovered through these years where I feel comfortable working and it has gotten me through 5 half iron distances and a number of sprints and Olympics As I said in a previous post, I am Fat and Slow, but I do now what I am talking about sometimes. I have never finished better than 3rd from last in my group, but I am not in this to win … I am in it to complete them as best I can.
And to just “be happy” with myself … which has proven to be harder than any triathlon I have done.