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5 Steps to a Harmonious Tri-Family Life Balance

Experts in the art of holding-it-together reveal their top five secrets to doing just that.

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The lives of triathletes and astronauts seem closely related: You suit up, kiss your family goodbye then head out into the unknown. You eat weird food out of special packaging. Tensions run high. Parts break. Things explode. Your family anxiously awaits your return. But we’ll let you in on a little secret: Triathlon training doesn’t have to be as tension-filled as space travel. Below, experts in the art of holding-it-together reveal their top five secrets to doing just that so your fitness and family can flourish.

1. Get out the calendar

Matt Dixon, head coach at Purplepatch Fitness and author of an upcoming book on time-crunched training, has his athletes sit down with their partner and family to first figure out what makes sense for them together—instead of just cramming in triathlon and making everyone else resentful.

“I am in favor of planning, and integrating the partner into the process,” says Dixon. That means laying out the schedule together, deciding on races and then figuring out what three or four weekends in the lead-up will be the big training weekends, so that everyone’s on the same page.

2. Pick races together

Lauren Fleshman, a former professional runner, also finds it works best when she and husband, triathlete Jesse Thomas, make race decisions together. “Making race selection a conversation rather than an executive order shows respect and consideration,” she says. Even if she’s not an expert in the pro triathlon points system or course selection, talking about the race calendar gives her a chance to be invested in his training, to voice opinions about her own career and athletic goals, and to reconcile any potential conflicts with their son’s schedule.

3. Plan quality time together

Fleshman and Thomas also deliberately plan quality time into the calendar after big races. “Having those dates on the calendar makes it feel so much easier to rally behind your partner’s athletic goals during the particularly demanding times,” Fleshman says.

Pro triathlete husband and wife Tim O’Donnell and Mirinda Carfrae both have big training loads too, but they also make sure to plan quality time together—both of the triathlon and non-triathlon variety. Although they both do most of their training without the other, joint easy rides or runs are a chance to enjoy the scenery and fresh air together.

“Find opportunities, no matter how big or small, to put your relationship first,” says O’Donnell. That can be a simple date night or a late-morning breakfast.

4. But have your own time too

O’Donnell and Carfrae don’t do most of their workouts together because when it’s an important session, they know they need to concentrate and minimize distractions. It’s better for their training and better for their relationship in the long run.

They also have made a point of each having different teams and different coaches. “This gives us the chance to have our own sounding boards away from each other, so we aren’t always thinking triathlon together,” says O’Donnell.

5. Talk, but don’t make it all about triathlon

When you’re spending time together, you don’t want to always be talking triathlon or have everything be about triathlon. “You become incredibly boring, and create resentment, if all conversation revolves around your power or heart rate,” Dixon says.

Remember to talk about things the other person is interested in too. And know that if they get frustrated with the big impact your training is having on their life, it doesn’t mean they’re not supportive.

“It’s important that it be OK for the person not doing it to express their frustration sometimes,” says Fleshman. “The ability to speak freely about how you’re feeling and be heard goes a long way.”