Culture

Beginner’s Luck: Don’t Become a Triathlon Monster

Meredith Atwood shares two key ways to keep yourself in check.

It’s easy to lose perspective and turn into a triathlon monster. Meredith Atwood shares two key ways to keep yourself in check. 

Short-distance racing has shown to be quite beneficial, productive and fun for families, relationships, and health. I have never seen a marriage end by recreational short-course racing or sprint triathlons on the weekends. I have, however, seen many a relationship go down over long-course racing. Of course, many experts and others will say, “if that brings down the relationship, it was headed for disaster anyway.” I’m sure there’s some truth to that. But I also know, as someone who took her family through four long-course races, that we (the triathletes) can grow to be something special to live with during these seasons.

Now, please know I am not trying to discourage anyone from tackling the big races. The big races are amazing, wonderful, empowering, and so many other positive adjectives. In truth, I regret not a single finish line of my four iron-distance and seven half-iron distance races. Standing now on the other side of those many finish lines, I know how easily it can be to turn into a little triathlon monster.

The build into an iron-distance or half-iron distance triathlete is not sudden—it’s a slow and steady progression of more and more training and time. So the transition is gradual; the monster sometimes grows within us and creeps in before we even know it. Our family may not see it either, but suddenly one day, there she is.

[Scary.]

In this two-part series, I will lay out some hard-truths (and helps!) for you to survive long-course training when you have a family and people to keep alive, safe, and happy. My hope is that this will help us recognize and quiet our little triathlon monsters for a better experience for us and our families during training for long course races.

1. Your Goals are Not Their Goals

Even the most supportive spouses, significant others, and families in the world are not as excited as you are about the race. This is your special goal and your special motivation. While they may support you to your goals and love you, it’s important to remember that they may not always feel the same way. The husband may not have the same excitement, thrill, and emotions about a finish line. The girlfriend might feel like you’re insane. The kids definitely will not be as excited when you shave 0.003 seconds off your 100 swim time.

If you have a supportive crew, then that’s wonderful. Just remember that these races are your personal goals—and don’t give them a hard time for not supporting you with the emotions and validations you might be seeking. That’s why you have your tri community and friends, and your groups online. Post your swim successes there, and talk about other things (sometimes at least) with your fam.

I found that having a two-sentence summary of my training for the day was really helpful. I was able to keep the long-winded training drama and stories to a minimum, but give my family the high-level summary to keep them engaged with my process and progress. Another way to do this is from the movie, Story of Us, where Michelle Pfeiffer and Bruce Willis’ character implement “high low” at dinner time. They share the best part of the day (high) and their worst part (low) over dinner. Our family implemented this a few years ago, and it was a great time for me to share my training as part of my “high” or “low”—without making them bored out of their minds. When they saw my excitement of my “high” being a super fast swim set, then it was shared excitement—because preparing someone for your “high” gives them a cue about the reaction you are seeking. It’s an easy hack, really.

2. Your Time is Not More Important

I think this is the most insidious and sneaky one of all. We certainly don’t mean for this one to creep in, but somewhere along the training path, it’s easy to say, “But I have a 100 mile ride. YOU deal with the kids!” Because, heck, yes your 100 mile ride is super important for the race; it’s paramount to hit most of the big workouts for a long-course race.

In situations where life gets in the way of training, we find that suddenly, we can’t fathom what race day will be like without those workouts. We might want to ask our family or others to sacrifice their time, work day or more so we can squeeze it in.

And again, if you have a super support system, maybe it’s not an issue.

Just remember that your time is not more important, and it might be better to reframe the workouts to make life at home better.

I get it, and I have been there. In these moments of life interventions, I encourage athletes to get super creative with their time and focus. When a kiddo lands the flu and the spouse is travelling and there’s no way to get those crazy outdoor workouts complete, then the first step is to breathe.

The next step is to use a stacking technique for the long workout. Spread the 100 mile ride, for example, over two or three workouts. Do 30 miles in the morning on the trainer before the sun is up, 30 miles after lunch while the kids are napping or playing, and then the remaining after the kids are in bed. Or 65 miles on Saturday, and 35 miles on Sunday with a long run on the treadmill. It may not be perfect, but it’s something.

Remember there are many, many ways to be creative with your workouts.

Don’t let the “key workout” crazy creep in and let you think that you are failing. And remember not to let your workouts spill into the valuable time of the other family members too much or too often—as it really does become a recipe for resentment over the long haul.

Meredith Atwood (@SwimBikeMom) is a recovering attorney, motivational speaker and author of Triathlon for the Every Woman. You can download a free copy of the book here. She is the host of the podcast, The Same 24 Hours, a show which interviews interesting people who make the best of the 24 hours in each day. Meredith lives in Atlanta with her husband and two children, and writes about all things at MeredithAtwood.com

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