This article originally appeared in the August 2014 issue of Triathlete magazine.
Twenty-four hours rarely seems enough in a given day. In fact, if you’re like most triathletes, your M.O. is nearly always “scramble.” But some folks do seem to master the art of time management. We reached out to several triathletes who are managing the balance—professional and age-group athletes, as well as some of the sport’s top coaches—to learn their top tips for time efficiency and how they prioritize the numerous tasks that swamp their schedules.
Multitasking Super Mom
Parenting five children (ages 5, 7, 10, 11 and 13) is a feat in itself, and Rachel Lyons is also a wife, entrepreneur and age-group triathlete.
“My training happens between 8:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. Monday through Friday while my five are in school,” Lyons says, “which is also the time I have to work on my small business [crafting chic baby blankets at Cutie Petutie Originals], shop for our household, do laundry for seven people, fulfill my religious responsibilities, volunteer at school and make dinner for my family. If it’s not done by 3 o’clock, chances are we’re eating cold cereal and quesadillas.” Lyons began endurance training once her youngest started preschool, running in the early mornings. She now swims, bikes and runs 12–20 hours per week, based on where she is in her training. “What makes all of this possible is that my husband, Bill, gets it—because he does it too. We try to help each other achieve our individual athletic goals, while keeping in perspective that our relationship with each other, our kids and our faith in God come first,” says Lyons, who reports being more fit after birthing five children than ever before, with improvements in her speed continuing across all three disciplines, even as she approaches her 40s. Another benefit of her hectic schedule? Lyons sleeps like a rock at night, “except when someone has a bad dream or gets sick, which does happen from time to time with five kiddos!” Here, Lyons shares several of her creative time-crunching tips.
- Some days I bike to school with my kids so I can start my own ride 10 minutes earlier. I might go to elementary school pickup with a mile to go on my run and then run/walk with my kids the last mile home.
- If one of my kids needs to be at their soccer game 45 minutes early, I know I can take that time to squeeze in a quick run before watching the game.
- On the longest Ironman training days, the 6.5 hours I have while the kids are in school is not enough, so I coordinate with Bill so that he can stay home a little later to get the kids off to school and I can start by 6:30 a.m.
As CEO and president of Zerista, a tech industry startup, Eric Olson logs roughly 70 hours of work time each week, with 50 percent of his time spent on the road. But Olson’s commitments don’t stop there. He also manages wife Mary Beth Ellis’ professional triathlon career, and enjoys training and racing himself. This hustling, bustling age-group executive knows a thing or two about tucking training into any available downtime, both at home and on the road. Olson offers these tips for tackling time shortages.
- Be realistic and work with a coach who understands your limitations. One of the biggest problems I’ve seen in busy professionals who train a lot is setting their sights too high. If you’re working 70-plus hours a week, you’re probably not going to hit 20 hours a week, every week, in training. And that’s OK. Also, you need to be flexible; for example, I often have to jump on a plane with 24 hours’ notice. It’s important to be OK with changes in your schedule and to work with a coach who will help you adjust accordingly.
- There are plenty of high-intensity 30-minute workouts that give you just as much benefit as plodding along for an hour.
- There are two resources I often use to find training locations on the road. The U.S. Masters Swimming website, Usms.org, lists a lot of great places to swim. Meetup.com has lots of running groups. Even if you don’t join those groups, finding where they meet will help you navigate new cities and find run-friendly spots.
- Don’t be hard on yourself when you miss a workout. Julie Dibens [a pro triathlete who coached Olson in the past] taught me that if you miss a workout, you’re not allowed to make it up. That’s super helpful because if you’re in the mindset of trying to get every workout in, even when things come up that you can’t control, you’ll end up burning out or feeling like you failed.
- Be clear about your priorities. During times when I’ve trained more seriously, I’ve had to remind myself that my wife and my job are still priorities over the sport. So if I don’t hit my triathlon goals, but I hit my business and family goals, that’s OK. It’s important to not just talk about balance, but to actually articulate your priorities and be realistic about where training falls and what that means for your expectations and outcomes.
Rookie Pro, Full-Time Job
New to the professional triathlon ranks in 2013, Lauren Barnett of Dallas won the 2014 Ironman 70.3 New Orleans, her debut at the distance.
Her success is hardly the result of an all-encompassing approach to the sport, however; Barnett also works a 40-hour week as the director of marketing for Innovation360, an outpatient clinic providing addiction and mental health treatment. She trains 16–22 hours a week under coach Matt Smith of Mile High Multisport, and otherwise multitasks with a fervor. Barnett describes a typical evening at home with husband Brandon, also a triathlete: “We’ve just finished our second training session after work and we’re rushing home to prep for dinner and the next day. The oven’s preheating as I’m changing over laundry; the water’s boiling as I’m packing my outfit for work the next day; I’m unloading the dishwasher while making dinner salads; the salmon’s about to burn but I’m still trying to get one more thing done!” Barnett embraces the flurry of activity, however, sharing these examples of how she best manages her time.
- Brandon and I try to get in a session before work and another session after work, plus a lot on the weekends. I’m not big on lunchtime workouts because it takes me more time to shower and get ready all over again.
- I’ve met some of my best friends through this sport, and training together becomes my social time.
- It’s helped to get into a rhythm with different groups. Every morning at 6 a.m., for instance, there’s a Masters group I can jump in with, or a group that meets at 6 p.m. for Tuesday-night track. Having those groups to plug in with helps with accountability and planning my training schedule.
- I keep my gym bag packed with a second set of everything: blow-dryer, makeup bag, shampoo and conditioner, straightener, hair brush, razor, face moisturizer, etc. That way it stays ready to go and I just have to pick out an outfit for work the night before.
- Typically three to four hours of my training are dedicated to strengthening and stretching in yoga. But if anything needs to be cut that’s the first to go; I keep the core swim, bike and run, and I’m a firm believer in recovery as the fourth discipline. I don’t have much junk training in my schedule as it is, so above all else I listen to my body to know what I can get away with cutting out. Right now I’m building back my run strength and speed after a bike-wreck injury, so I’m prioritizing running above everything else.
Ph.D. Ironman Champ
Elliot Holtham, whose Ph.D. in geophysics serves him well in his full-time job in Vancouver at Computational Geosciences Inc., recently earned another impressive title: Ironman champion. Holtham, a professional triathlete since 2011, won Ironman Australia in May, clocking 8:35:18 in only his fourth go at the distance (once prior to turning pro and thrice since). “My schedule certainly keeps me busy, but so far racing and working has managed to work all right!” Holtham says. He typically works a 40-hour week, though during especially busy times or when traveling to conferences, his hours increase. He chooses races that fall during slower times at the office, and strategically prioritizes his training time and focus. “Last year I averaged about 15–16 training hours a week,” says Holtham. “During the winter and rest weeks I train less, and during the summer and key periods I’ll train a bit more. Also, over the last year or so, I’ve shifted more focus from biking to running, which I think has a better return to training time invested [Holtham ran 2:53:28 in Australia]. Going forward I’ll continue to run and swim more and keep the riding similar.” Holtham shares a few straightforward strategies for fitting in the quality training that propelled him to the top of the podium—and no, he doesn’t rise before dawn like you might think!
- I’m not a morning person at all. I really need my sleep, so I usually do my workouts after work, and try to get my longer workouts in on the weekend or during vacations or training camps.
- I have a fiancée but no kids. Luckily she is training for her first Ironman, so we do a lot of our training together. I also have a bunch of great teammates whom I hang out with during group workouts for social time.
- I will almost always cut a workout before I cut my sleep. Generally I try to keep key interval sessions in if at all possible, even if I need to shorten the warm-up and cool-down, or modify the workout slightly. You can get a surprisingly hard, quality workout in a short amount of time if you are focused and have a plan. If needed, I’ll cut my recovery workouts short.
- One of the best investments you can make is hiring a coach who understands you and your schedule [Holtham works with Bjoern Ossenbrink of Team Ossenbrink]. This removes any stress about what you should be doing and lets you focus your available time and energy on the workout itself.
Coaches’ Time-Saving Cues
Michael and Amanda Lovato
The Lovatos, who are learning firsthand lessons in time management with the addition of baby Valentine to their family, make a number of suggestions for maximizing efficiency, especially during the busy work-week when time is at a premium for most age-groupers.
- For some of our athletes, we move the long run from the weekend to Wednesday. Getting up earlier to log the long miles before work or family commitments gets you charged up for the day and also frees up the weekend for back-to-back bike rides, something that delivers a big bang for your buck. Riding long-ish on Saturday and Sunday can really boost fitness, and it allows a weekly ride to be dropped.
- Always pack the night before: your water bottles, nutrition, workout clothes, recovery drink, change of clothes and even a portable breakfast or lunch. Having everything prepped in advance eliminates the frazzled morning rush to get started.
- Keep your bike on the trainer! Making things easy makes things happen, so eliminate the hassle (and the excuse) by keeping your bike set up. If you only have 45 minutes to ride, the ability to jump on and go is very appealing.
- If you live close enough to work, try running home one evening and leaving your car at work. This ensures you get the training done that evening, and it forces you to get up early and run (or ride) back to work the next day.
- Always keep running shoes, socks and workout clothes in the car. You never know when a window of time will free up, and getting in for a quick gym session or run can be an effective use of that time.
As a coach I try to match the training to each individual’s schedule so they don’t have to think about cutting back,” says English, coach to top triathletes including Heather Jackson and Hunter Kemper. “Communication is essential, so if something comes up that may change a session I always ask my athletes to text me and I’ll make an adjustment on the fly. I really believe in the basics and the details—even if you are time-crunched you should never speed up a session and execute it poorly. You still need to warm up properly, cool down well, stretch and get in recovery modalities like massage every week or two. You can be efficient with your sessions and you can be efficient with your time, but do not cut corners.”
“Combo sessions are an effective strategy—not only are they triathlon-specific but they also make good use of a short block of time. For example, the classic bike-run combo: If you have a bike trainer and a treadmill (or just head outside) you can accomplish a lot in 75–90 minutes. The same goes for a swim-bike or swim-bike-run session. You can get a nice ‘training triathlon’ completed in two to three hours on a Saturday morning and have plenty of time for everything else in your life!”
Byrn, a former pro triathlete, father of three, and renowned coach and author, shares key advice for keeping on top of a busy schedule:
- Routine is a big one. Follow the same routine every week and book your training into your work planner.
- Key workouts are always done first thing in the morning; second workouts are the secondary ones.
- Try training camps—two to four days where you strip out all the distractions and train big. Normal life is about a moderate plan that enables the athlete to keep life in order. Then, overload for a couple days
- Make an effort to get that extra hour of sleep at night and nap on the weekends. Sleep may seem like a time suck, but the benefits to your training (and mood) will be huge and immediate. Sleep deprivation
actually slows you down.
- Let some things slide. During peak training, be OK with letting some non-athletic commitments shift to the back burner.
Remember that training is a dynamic entity that needs to be considered in the scope of life stress and commitments,” says Dixon, founder of Purplepatch Fitness. “It is a mistake to stubbornly try to fit every piece of training in, simply as it is written on a plan. For most athletes, we set up the training week around ‘key’ sessions, which are the bedrock of training. These ‘do not miss’ sessions are the training priority; all other sessions are supporting sessions that are there for skills, general endurance, recovery from key sessions or as a bridge to upcoming key sessions. By defining the key and supporting sessions, athletes can then make smart decisions, and filter or scale sessions, if life gets very busy.”
Coach Dixon’s Case Study: Sami Inkinen
Dixon coaches many athletes who carry demanding life, work and family commitments while looking to get faster. One case study is Sami Inkinen, an Ironman 70.3 age-group world champion who went sub-nine hours in Hawaii on a training regimen that never exceeded 12 hours per week. “This success came down to massive efficiency, specificity, focus and consistency of load, with a supporting cast of proper nutrition and recovery,” Dixon says. “Despite being founder and COO of Trulia, Sami made a complete commitment to the training process beyond swim, bike, and run. We decided 10–12 hours, consistently, was better than pushing for 14–18 hours, not compromising sleep (eight-plus hours nightly), recovery and proper nutrition. The outcome? Great energy, fitness and the capacity to compete at the highest amateur level. We went into it saying, ‘More time wouldn’t be overtraining; it would be under-recovering. Let’s commit to recovery; then the performance will be there.’ It was.”
Reader Time-Saving Tips
“I get the kids dressed, fed, and ready to go for the day. My husband then gets fun playtime for a bit while I leave and run to our destination. We then meet up and it doesn’t really seem like I was gone for an hour-plus.” — Jennifer Calabro Schultz
“Never pass up an opportunity to work out, thinking you can squeeze it in later. Never works.” — Nathan Zimmer
“Buy a head flashlight and run early morning or late at night, run or cycle to work and buy a turbo trainer or rollers. There are 24 hours in a day—you only need one or two.” — Paul Gosney
“I do my swim workout while my kids do swim practice. I was just sitting there staring at my phone for an hour three times a week until one day it dawned onmethatI was wasting valuable training time.” — Jennifer Crotinger
“Housework warm-up: Work that vacuum!” — Maria Powell
“I gave my wife my entire 70.3 training schedule before it even started so we could coordinate my workouts with our three kids’ activities. Our daily routine is planned out well in advance so everyone is on the same page.” — Patrick Dwye