As endurance athletes, we invest a lot in our hobby. Not only financially - on shoes, bikes, subscriptions, health club memberships, coaching, entry fees, physical therapy, and more. But, we also invest a lot of time. Endurance sports imply exercising for a long duration. In addition to the actual workouts, we also do conditioning, stretching, icing, foam rolling and more to prevent injuries or prepare our bodies to increase either speed, distance, or both.
To say the least, endurance sports takes a commitment of time.
How do you balance endurance sports with all of your other life commitments?
Paula and I have found ways throughout our marriage to balance training and racing with our careers and family.
Early in our marriage, Paula and I worked hard to start our careers and start raising a family. During those early years, our exercise was limited and squeezed in when possible. I would wake up before the kids and head out for a quick three mile run most mornings. Being young, healthy, and busy, I didn't feel the need to do conditioning before or after such a short run. My training was limited to less than 30 minutes a day back then. And that was great. I was able to stay fit. I felt good showing up at local 5K races. My endurance fix was met at the time.
Since Paula came to the sport later in life, we were empty nesters when she began heavy training. However, she had a very time consuming job, and traveled some. Sometimes that meant she had to run alone before the sun came up and sometimes that meant that when I couldn't meet a group of guys to run. I didn’t spend a lot of time before and after workouts just "hangin' with the boys."
When she did begin running, at first it was all solo. Eventually, she began to run with a core group who had young children, so they were constantly figuring out ways to maximize the quality of workouts and minimize time away from family. They found that in order to enjoy the hobby of running and not do it at the expense of friends missing time with their children, they would often meet at 4:00 in the AM. The girls could get their workout in, and be home when their kids woke up to get them ready for school. On weekends, they would still run super early, so the rest of the day could be dedicated to family. The early hours worked great for Paula, as well, as she liked to get to work super early before all the chaos of the day began.
As our kids grew up, I was able to add more time to my training. I ventured into triathlon. Even with this new challenge, I still didn't devote a huge amount of time to preparing. My runs were in the mornings, my swims were on my lunch break, and I rode the bike mostly on the weekends.
As I became more established in my career and our kids continued to become more independent, I began training for longer distance races starting with the half marathon and moving to the full marathon. Paula was busy in her career as a principal and had to work a lot of late afternoons and nights. We arranged for our kids to be taken to her office after school. This allowed me to meet with the guys that became known as the Legion Park Group - LPG. We ran for about an hour everyday and on the weekends.
Thankfully our kids loved hanging out at Paula's school. Bethanie, was busy in her on right, as she was a gymnast and spent three to four hours after school at the gym. Jacob (although in elementary school) joined the track and cross country teams at the middle school where she was principal, so he enjoyed being there.
As our kids went through high school and college, I started Ironman training. That's when the time commitment really jumped. But we were at a point in our lives and careers where we could make it work. Paula was super understanding and supportive. I was gone a lot. Paula carried the load for our family during those years.
For my first Ironman, I was mainly interested in finishing and having a solid time. I trained about 12 hours per week. After that first one in 2013, Paula and I set the bar to go to Kona. Again, she was super supportive. For Ironman number two, I trained about 13 hours per week. These are just the hours that are logged in TrainingPeaks. This doesn't include stretching, nutrition prep, bike maintenance, route mapping, or traveling two hours each way to Louisville several Saturdays.
Training consumed much more time than that. At that time, I was self-coached. So, doing the research, creating the training plans, then executing, took so much time. But, we were in agreement and that is what is important.
As coaches, when we have a married athlete express interest in registering for a full distance triathlon, especially if it's the first one, we want to know if the spouse is on board. We may even do a Zoom call that includes the spouse! It's a huge commitment and can create a seed of division if that support isn’t there.
After the second finish in Louisville, we revisited my dream of going to Kona. We discussed how my preparation would be different in 2015 to tackle Ironman Louisville for the third time. We decided to hire a coach. I was investing a lot of time training.
Having a coach took most of the stress out of training planning. Each week I would look at the upcoming volume of training. Paula and I would discuss anything that would require an unusual amount of time. Or maybe she had a commitment one morning or evening and my schedule needed to work around it. My recorded training in TrainingPeaks jumped to about 15 hours per week.
Hiring a coach was a game changer, as I was no longer expending energy creating the workouts. I could relax between sessions. I had time to let my brain think about something else. No matter how much you know about the sport, even coaches benefit from hiring a coach. It's like the old adage, "A lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client." Even though I trained more hours per week, it felt like I was expending less time.
My third finish in Louisville left me off the podium again. Paula was getting tired of my training…understandably so. We decided that 2016 would be my year. If I didn't Kona qualify, I would take a break for a bit. My marriage and family are more important than my endurance goals. We agreed that Ironman Texas in May and Ironman Louisville in October would be my last two attempts to qualify for Hawaii for a while.
The sport changes you. It's important to keep training and competing in perspective. It's important to take a look in the mirror from time to time and make sure those changes are positive. Endurance athletes can become self-absorbed if not careful.
With the 2016 focus, my training increased to around 22 hours per week with some weeks as high as 25 hours not including all the setup and preparation.
With all that training and a full time job, I found it necessary to be purposeful during my lunch breaks. My swim sets were too long for a lunch hour, so I would often drive to a deserted parking lot at a nature park close to work and either take a 30 minute nap or a 30 minute walk to work the lactate out of my legs.
I was fortunate to have accumulated a lot of vacation days at work. This allowed me to take several Fridays off to do my long bike rides so I could spend Saturday with the family. Again, this is something Paula and I discussed and agreed to. It may not be possible for everyone to do this…but for us this was a huge step in balancing training with life.
Thankfully, my Ironman Texas finish qualified me to reach my dream. We finished a three year journey in Hawaii in October 2016. What an amazing experience. The big island is unbelievable. And being there to witness and participate in the most exclusive triathlon event in the world was a true blessing from God…an answer to prayer.
Back to the purpose of this podcast -- work life balance. I was fortunate to have a job that allowed me to train before and after work. I was able to use my lunch break for extra recovery. Paula was generous and supportive allowing me to train. I was able to use some vacation days to make more room for family. We were able to find balance in my work and home life.
It was really helpful that Paula had become an endurance athlete also and that our kids were older. Even being on the same page, at times it was hard. But we made it work. And Bethanie and Paula enjoyed a vacation in Hawaii!
Another aspect of work life balance is being available when needed. When I would go on long bike rides out in the country or far away in Louisville, I would always keep my phone with me. That was an assurance for Paula that if something happened, I could call for help. I mostly trained by myself. Having my phone with me made me available to coworkers who had afterhours issues they needed to discuss. Paula was able to give me a call if something came up. But she rarely called because she didn't want to interrupt my training.
I also shared my routes with Paula and told her how long I expected to be gone with a little cushion. I would also check in occasionally if I stopped for a nutrition or bathroom break.
Taking a few steps to make Paula feel comfortable while I was training was important…just a few small steps to be considerate of her concern for me.
After I reached my big goal, Paula decided she wanted to do an Ironman. Our roles shifted. She started doing all the training with me as her coach. Her training became a priority over my own training. I still did things to stay fit. But my focus shifted to helping her and others.
It's a good strategy in general that if you have more than one household member with endurance sports as a hobby to communicate and take turns on who is in an intense training cycle. I transitioned from competitor to Sherpa. I planned the training, Paula executed.
After she crushed Ironman Louisville, she wanted to continue her quest for Boston. Again, my focus was on supporting her to reach her goals. And she eventually BQ'd.
Since then, I've been through some marathon blocks where my training was a focus for our family and then she would go through a marathon block where her training was the focus for our family.
For us, work life balance has been about patience, consistency, communication, flexibility, and serving one another. We were able to find time away from work to do the necessary training. But we also respected each other and made adjustments to keep our marriage healthy.
When our time commitments were greater -- while our kids and jobs required more time -- we had smaller goals and less training. As circumstances changed, we were able to face more challenging goals.
It is so important for friends and family to be included in your decisions. Having their support is huge. Paula was so supportive when my training was the most intense. Without her support and encouragement, I would not have been able to reach my goals.
We see some athletes with small kids at home spending their weekdays at work and their evenings and weekends training. Your kids are more important that your endurance goals. This can definitely be balanced. But, always remember to keep the main thing the main thing and keep the hobby just that - a hobby! If you have a workout and your kid has a basketball game. Reschedule the workout - go to the game!
We've made our own mistakes at times by putting training ahead of family. But we worked through those mistakes and learned what is truly important.
Big goals can wait until later in life while the little blessings of life are running around, asking tons of questions, making messes, and learning new things everyday.
Work life balance isn't just for people who are married with children. Most people who are single have busy lives as well. We all seem to find important ways to contribute to society. Friends may be a priority. Volunteering may be a priority. Whatever the case may be, it is not healthy for anyone to be self absorbed and only focused on their own interests. The bible says to love your neighbor as yourself. It also says that we should care for those in need. We coach several single athletes and in ways, it's more challenging for them because they don't have a spouse to help hold them accountable for balance.
We love what we do as athletes and coaches. But we know there are more important things in life. We sometimes need to miss a workout because of work or because a friend or family member needs us. We sometimes need to train less than we would like because our situation changes and we have to reevaluate our priorities.
In most life circumstances, we can find a way to train even if it is not as much as we would like. Maybe you focus on a sprint triathlon instead of an Ironman for a period of time. Maybe you focus on the 10K instead of an ultramarathon for a season in life.
We have saved some of our biggest goals for later in life because we had more time. Maybe you are at the point in your life where things have settled down and you can train for something big. Or maybe you need to pick challenging goals now that require less commitment and save those consuming goals for the future.
If you are interesting in coaching services, we would love to have you join our team.