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Beginner’s Luck: Room For Two?

Compromise and competing interests can be a harsh reality in a two-triathlete household.

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Compromise and competing interests can be a harsh reality in a two-triathlete household.

When you are a triathlete and you are in a relationship with a triathlete, you must compromise often and negotiate as if you are in a hostage situation. The two-triathlete house is also complicated by children, and in some of the craziest ways imaginable: “I am not getting up with the baby right now—I have to wake up for my brick in two hours!” or “You just bought a new bike with the kids’ educational savings fund?”

Yes, a two-triathlete household is tough. Is it tougher than being married to someone who is not into triathlon? I wouldn’t know. But if your spouse or significant other watches the kids for hours and takes on all the responsibilities of the house while you are out on your bike, you are either in love with a saint or headed toward heartbreak.

I would have been just fine doing triathlon alone, without the Expert (my husband, who earned that nickname for the pure and simple fact that he knows everything, about everything—or at least that’s his story). So, when I took up the sport of triathlon, I knew the Expert well enough to know that I had to get him involved, too. So I signed him up for races—without him knowing it. But eventually he trained, we trained together sometimes, and he’s now a multiple half-iron finisher. I didn’t encourage him to get into tri because the Expert would have been unsupportive of my own athletic dreams. Quite the opposite. But who wants to be stuck solo with the kids for hours and hours when the significant other is out chasing his or her dreams? That doesn’t seem like a fair compromise either.

The Expert and I plugged along for a couple of triathlon seasons, training for sprints, Olympics and half-iron-distance races, rotating schedules in the morning and squeezing in those shorter workouts at night. Our Saturday “dates” started early in the morning with a ride and run, followed by lunch. We had a babysitter on the weekly schedule, and that’s how we handled the two-triathlete house for a few blissful years.

The schedule and compromises seemed to work out just fine until we introduced the third “person” into the equation.

What third person? Oh, Ironman.

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I decided that I would tackle Ironman Coeur d’Alene in 2013. The Expert was on board with it. The kiddos thought Mom was training to be the superhero, so they were good with it. But the truth of the matter is that neither he nor I could have imagined the time commitment of training for 140.6 miles.

Quickly, the two-triathlete household seemed to be all about me. Me! My first Ironman! Me! Suddenly, my 3800-meter swims were “far more important” than his 2200-meter swims. I got first dibs on days that were sunshiny, because I had a 15-mile run and he could do 7 miles inside on the treadmill with the kids. It’s the unspoken my-race-is-longer-than-your-race rule. Shameful, but true.

Suddenly, the two-triathlete household felt more like a war zone. He was supportive, but he wanted to have his life back. He wanted to train hard too, but I had so many more miles to log, so he often skipped. Then I was a zombie after 100-mile rides on the weekend, and the kids would just flop and lie down on me, because that’s how we got in our quality time during the final push. The final 10 weeks leading up to my first Ironman were nothing but a rollercoaster ride of insanity.

I made it across the finish line in June of 2013 and had my entire family there to cheer me on. But the truth of the matter was by the time we all heard, “Meredith Atwood, you are an Ironman,” we were all barely hanging on. My marriage was dangling by a thread, my kids asked, “Mommy who?” and my boss constantly stared at my freakishly weird sunglass tan lines.

After that race, when I was wearing my super awesome finisher jacket and trying to scrape together the pieces of my life, I realized that it did not have to end up that way. I realized that it was all my fault, the toll that long-distance training took on my family. And I knew I could do better. I knew our two-triathlete household could work again, even where one of the triathletes (me!) was into the long-distance crazy stuff.

Now, you can imagine the reaction I received from everyone when I asked to sign up for another iron-distance race.

But the funny thing is, I knew it would be different the second time around.

I had long discussions with my new coach about my training schedule, and I put a few things in stone. First, I picked the days that I could train longer, and I blocked off dates and times that I would skip workouts altogether. I was realistic. I was flexible. When I was training in 2013, missed workouts would devastate me, crawl under my skin and fester. Not this time.

Second, I recognized that just because I was training as a long-distance triathlete, my family did not technically care that I was—they cared most about having the wife and mom around, one who wasn’t falling asleep in her soup. So I worked my long runs and rides on set days (marked on the family calendar well in advance), and I trained hard during the weekday mornings so those long rides didn’t take so much out of me. I was around on the weekends more, and I attended family events without wet hair and a visor (sometimes).

Third, I listened and I compromised. The Expert was doing the half distance at the same event, so instead of him having to beg for workout days and squeeze in times, we just picked our days. He had Sunday to go long; I had Saturdays. Then I woke up at the crack of dawn during the week. I didn’t pout when he got the “sunshine” day to run. Sure, my family had some days where I was gone on the bike for hours, but I worked hard to make sure my family came first.

My second 140.6 was a success, and the family was able to leave the finish line almost two hours sooner than they did for my first. The Expert also had a fantastic finish in his fourth half-iron distance. I attribute much of the success of the second race, of course, to being in better endurance shape and lots of creative training tactics to maintain my priorities.

Attitude and mental state is such a major part—if not the biggest part—of our sport. Training and racing with a happy heart and a loving family base is so much easier than fighting your way through the finish line.

Meredith Atwood is a wife, mother, attorney, Ironman, coach and author of Triathlon for the Every Woman. She lives in Atlanta and blogs at Swimbikemom.com.

More “Beginner’s Luck.”

RELATED: For more on surviving a two-triathlete household, check out Susan Lacke’s “Triathlete Love” archives.