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Age groupers and pros share how to train and race alongside their partners.
When people find out my husband and I are both triathletes, they often remark on how fun it must be—after all, what’s not to love about training and racing together?
When this happens, I always have to elbow Neil in the side to keep him from responding with anything other than “Yes! Yes, you are right; it is so much fun!”
Because here’s the truth: we’re both 50 Shades of Insufferable while training. I’m grumpy when I get hungry (and I’m hungry 99 percent of the time), and Neil can be callous about our vastly differing speeds on the bike and run. Training with my husband is a lot of things, but “fun” is not the first word that comes to mind.
As it turns out, we’re not the only ones who feel this way. When we talk with other two-triathlete couples, the sentiment is the same: Training with your partner is the worst. And, at the same time, it’s also the best. For every grumpy exchange, there’s a perfect pep talk from the one you love. For every time you get dropped during a workout, there’s motivation to be faster. For every middle finger at mile 75, there’s a finish line kiss.
The key to Triathlete Love success, then, is to find out how to manage the sucky parts of training together. Today, real-life triathlete couples from both the pro and age group ranks share their top tips for training and racing together.
Get On The Same Page
Erin Klegstad, Age Group Triathlete
What’s helped us navigate 15-plus hour weeks of training: having the same coach and a lot of communication. Our coach structures our weeks similarly—for example, our long rides are the same day, so we often head out together, meet midway through for water and Mexican Coke, and then cool down together.
As for communication, we talk a lot about triathlon—some might say too much—and in general about our schedules for the week. Starting on Sunday, we run through what’s ahead that week for workouts, any work-related events, social gatherings, dinner ideas, etc. Every morning, we check in about what’s on tap for the day to make sure we know what’s up and, most importantly, what’s for dinner (obviously). It’s worked really well through three 140.6 training cycles and, while Nick’s not racing one this season, he’s right there beside me cheering me on to my next finish line in October.
Have A “Meet Here” Clause
Beth Gerdes, Professional Triathlete
Since Luke and I train professionally, we need to make sure to separate training from our relationship wants/needs. When we go on a bike ride together, we both have our own objectives that we need to achieve, so I am never disappointed when he goes ahead to complete an interval and we get separated.
I have found that it’s important to come up with a plan before the ride that includes an “if we separate, we will meet ‘here'” clause. With open communication about logistics and our training goals, training together becomes very easy for us. As a result, we almost always head out the door together which is motivating for both of us and definitely a bonus of having a triathlete as a significant other.
Share The Load
Kristian Fessel, Age Group Triathlete
When we both started training for Ironman, we had to become very time savvy. We had to split training times so that one of us was at home with the kids while the other one trained. We have a spreadsheet on the fridge which lists every training session and the times these session takes place. We also have on this schedule who takes the kids to school on which days. The key is to be organized and know who is doing what and when.
We are like passing ships on most mornings, but the system works. It is all about give and take and sharing what time we have available.
Two Keys: Snacks And Naps
Brian Lueb, Age Group Triathlete
Snacks are key. Long ride days in the summer in Texas, where we lived, can be brutal: 100-plus degree temps even when you start early, and then a strong wind by about noon. One thing I learned quickly was blood sugar drops and mood changes for both of us. If one of us would get cranky, I’d say “Time to eat!” or ‘Want to stop for a snickers and a Coke?’ This ended up being a normal plan at a certain point in our training. Heidi is always much better at remembering to fuel on a ride, but sometimes it just doesn’t matter in the summer in Texas.
Also naps and not eating while the other person naps is crucial. She would pass out after a long training session and I would be unable to. I’d sit on the couch and space out, starving, knowing that when she would wake up we would eat. Sometimes this made me a total ass to be around, but I smartened up and just had a stronger protein shake to tide me over.
Don’t Play The One-Up Game
Jodie Swallow, Professional Triathlete
James and I are in the heavy mileage preparing for Ironman South Africa at the moment. It is the norm for one or both of us to be sprawled across the floor after training. There is never anything in the cupboards because we don’t have the energy to shop, and we had to re-employ a maid as neither of us had any energy for cleaning. We still seem to get on though, and often laugh at ourselves when people reference that we “are living the dream.”
It is absolute key not to compare fatigue levels or training levels to each other during this period. James has testosterone to protect, I have a bigger capacity to back up sessions, but we are both putting in 100% percent and nothing is to be gained by competing against each other in the tiredness stakes.
I read an article for new parents the other day—that often they can get into a cycle of comparing how much or how little sleep they have had, who is working the hardest, who has it worst. It is not dissimilar to Ironman training. We are a team. We are out to help each other, not to make life harder and so we contribute to the relationship when we can and tolerate when one another can’t.
You Do You
Heather Wurtele, Professional Triathlete
An important lesson to learn—especially if you are both highly competitive and driven—is when to train together and when to be okay with going your separate ways without any bitterness or animosity. I love riding with Trevor and if I’m feeling great, and I get just enough draft, I can hang on his wheel. But other times, I’m killing myself to stay in contact and it’s not fair to ask him to slow down so I just have to say, “Ciao!”
It’s better for both of us, if I’m like “Have a great ride!” and wave him off happily, rather than grumbling stuff like: It’s an easy session, you’re riding too f-ing hard! Why do you always have to try to drop me? Why did I even bother waiting for you get ready when you just ditch me anyway?
These types of whiny, negative thoughts and comments reflect one’s own state of fatigue and generally have nothing to do with any negative intentions from your partner. It’s important to learn when to let go of expectations and just do your own thing. It often ends up being a better session where you can push yourself on own terms and let go of the burden of comparison. Which brings up another point: being organized and independent so that one person doesn’t have to worry about taking care of the other. If you part ways mid ride, you both have all the stuff you need to fix flat tires such.
Remember What Matters
Annette McCall, Age Group Triathlete
Realize that someone will be better or worse at one of the sports. You just have to be fine with that and let the competition go; it will lead to too many frustrating days and tears. He will still say, “Why did you bring me on this ridiculous trail run?” and I will say things like, “Why can’t you wait for me at the top of the hill?” Training is too mentally and physically tough to get worked up about that stuff.
Our race at Ironman Florida 2014 was a perfect example. Darren is stronger on the swim and bike. Well, he sailed by me on the bike around mile 50, as was expected. But as the stronger runner, I caught him on mile 16 of the run. He was hurting and said something like, “Do you think we can finish together?” I could have been an ass and kept going, but I got him through the last 10 miles and we crossed the line hand in hand.
That’s what it is about anyway. We may bicker about what routes to do or the fact that he doesn’t wait for me at signal lights, but we still are there to support each other. And I’m so glad we have this finish-line picture.
Talk From The Heart
Rebekah Keat, Professional Triathlete
Siri knows what strikes a chord and motivates her athletes. Each and every athlete is different, and she knows what works for one might not work for another. That is what makes her a great coach! But we have learned over time that certain things Siri may say as a coach work well with her athletes, but not so well when its your wife you are talking to.
I remember Siri yelling out to me at one of our first races together to “kick it in” during the last 5K of an Ironman. I was so angry, I gave her a rude hand gesture. That phrase simply didn’t work for me!
Now when Siri sees me during the race I get “I’m so in love with you, I’m so proud of you!” Being my partner, she is the number one most important thing in my life, a distant second to her being my coach. That motivates me.
If you are wondering what to yell at your partner when they are racing, you might need to think about what would makes them smile, not something the coach may yell for motivation. My advice would be talk from the heart—love will always win.