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Columnist Susan Lacke addresses common issues unique to triathlete relationships.
I write this “Triathlete Love” column because I never had anyone teach me how to coexist with another triathlete, much less one who steals my Lady Bic to shave his legs before a race. I was blindsided by how different it is to share a life and love with someone who also reeks of eau de chlorine. A relationship with a triathlete brings its own set of unique experiences—sometimes, these endear you to your swim-bike-run sweetheart; other times, they make you want to hold him underwater until the thrashing stops.
Based on the comments on the column each month and e-mails I get from readers, I’m not alone in feeling this way. People have questions and are looking for answers. Three recent relationship dilemmas from “Triathlete Love” readers:
“My husband usually tells me he’s going to be back from a ride at a certain time, but his estimates are never accurate. When he comes home later than he said he would, I get anxious and upset. He tells me I’m overreacting. Which one of us is right?”
If this were a normal relationship where neither partner owned a bike, I’d probably side with your husband. But I know exactly how you’re feeling—your spouse is in a bike lane with little more than a helmet and neon spandex between him and texting drivers with steel death machines blazing past at 60 miles per hour. For every minute he’s late, the volume knob on your overactive imagination turns a little more to the right: What if he’s stranded in the middle of nowhere? What if a car hit him? What if he’s dead? How long should I wait before I cash in his life insurance policy to buy a new wetsuit?
The problem is not that your husband gives you an inaccurate assessment of his time—triathletes are second only to fishermen when it comes to exaggeration of their abilities. The problem is that your husband isn’t considerate of your genuine concerns. Try to suggest a compromise—if he agrees to pull over to shoot you a quick text message halfway through his ride, you’ll agree not to be upset if he’s a little bit late. If all else fails, download a safety app (like this one from Road ID) on his phone, which can be activated at the beginning of a ride to allow you to track him with GPS (and call him out when you see he regularly stops at the donut shop partway through his ride. The very least he could do is bring you home a maple frosted.)
“I love racing, but get bored watching other people race. Do I have to go to my girlfriend’s half Ironman if I’m not doing the race, too?”
If you ask people for an exciting way to spend a weekend, most of them aren’t going to describe a day where they sit on a curb waiting for a three-second glimpse of a girlfriend on a bike. Yet many IronSherpas do it anyway, because that three-second glimpse is exactly what the girlfriend needs. Your girlfriend’s race day ain’t about you, buddy— it’s about her.
Sometimes, loving someone means doing things that are important to that person, like going to the opera, eating Ethiopian food or pretending Vin Diesel can act. You may not enjoy it, but you do it anyway.
Do you have to go to your girlfriend’s race? No. But if you’re begrudging a few hours of supporting her because you have to, maybe it’s time to re-evaluate the relationship or your attitude, because one of those is a problem.
“I love my wife, but she’s making dumb mistakes when it comes to triathlon training. She could be better and faster if she did things my way, but when I give her advice, she gets mad at me.”
Let’s try that again: I think you meant to say “I love my wife.” Full stop. Outlaw the word “but,” especially when it follows the words “I love you.”
It very well could be that your wife is making dumb mistakes, and perhaps she could be better or faster if she followed your advice. But did she ask you for advice? Is your way truly the only way to go? Do you own the high horse you’re sitting on right now, or is it just a rental?
I know you’re just trying to help your wife. It’s likely you made a few of the same dumb mistakes she’s making, suffered plenty as a result, and want to save her from suffering, too. That’s admirable. But while you perceive your advice as helpful, your wife may be taking it as criticism. When you say she could be better or faster, she hears you think she’s not good enough.
It can be hard to hold your tongue when you see your wife taking a different training strategy than what you would use. However, unless she’s jumping into the gym pool naked or riding against traffic like a bike salmon, let it go. When (and if) she’s ready for your advice, she’ll ask you. Let her make that decision. Return to “I love my wife.” Full stop.
Coda: We didn’t wake up at 4 a.m. or don a race bib, but last weekend was a very good one for Team Triathlete Love. After four years, 12 Ironmans and countless plates of post-ride enchiladas, Neil and I eloped in Las Vegas. We’ll be spending our honeymoon in true Triathlete Love fashion at Ironman Cozumel.