by Jesica D'Avanza
When it comes to training for long distance triathlons (half iron or full iron distance), there’s something many triathletes don’t talk about. It’s a challenge nearly all of us face, but most people don’t want to admit or discuss openly.
It’s how hard training can be on your personal relationships – specifically, on your marriage/partnership and family.
I realized how widespread this problem is and how deep it’s felt by so many athletes while training for the Beach2Battleship Half Iron Triathlon last fall. My fellow training partners began opening up. One by one, we realized we had more in common than we realized. One question led to a comment, and then another, until the flood gates opened and many of us were talking about the strain competitive swimming, biking and running can have on our relationship with our significant others who don’t share our same passion for endurance sports.
From my own personal experience, training for a long distance triathlon has its sacrifices and consequences. I know my husband has, at times, felt like he was taking a backseat to my training. He struggled with me being gone so much on the weekends for long rides, bricks and runs, only to come home too exhausted to want to do anything enjoyable with him.
Jesica and her husband
No one wants anyone else to know that their relationship isn’t always perfect. No one wants others to know they’ve unintentionally hurt their significant others’ feelings or put their quest for IRONMAN before the emotional needs of the people they love.
So it goes mostly unspoken. But everyone is facing it. You are not alone.
Here are my 4 tips to keep or salvage relationships with the people you love most if you’re training for a long distance triathlon.
Make it a family decision. Consult with your significant other before signing up for a long distance triathlon to make sure it’s a decision everyone in the family can support. You’re going to need him/her emotionally and physically to help you reach your goals and to get through the intense training cycles together. Whether that’s making sure your spouse is ready to help out more with the kids on the weekend, to simply be understanding when you’re tired and irritable or to be willing to forgive you when triathlon seems to be your #1 priority, having the same expectations is key. Likewise, you need to hear from your spouse/partner and/or kids about what they need and expect from YOU to make this a positive experience.
Remember the reason it’s hard for your partner. There are going to be days during intense triathlon training when you feel your loved ones absolutely hate your passion. It’s going to hurt your feelings to think they resent what you’re doing, especially when you’re working so hard. Try to remember that it isn’t triathlon they hate. Try to remember they’re proud of you and think you’re awesome. Know that the reason they sometimes show disdain for what you’re doing is because it’s taking you away from the time you would or could be otherwise spending with them. They would rather spend Saturday afternoon doing something fun with you than having you gone all day for a long brick, only to come home completely wiped out and ready for a nap. Remember that intentions and feelings are typically good. Give the benefit of the doubt and be willing to talk those feeling through. Find ways you can make more time for your partner – like planning a special date night once a month, having one of your rest days fall on the weekend, etc.
Make it worth it. If you’re going to spend time away from your partner and people you love most, do the work to make sure it pays off as much as possible. Although we never really know what will happen on race day, be disciplined with your training. Make your workouts count. Do the work, so that when you cross the finish line, both you and your spouse/partner can say that all the sacrifice was worth it. Train and race in such a way that everyone can be proud of your effort, no matter what the time on the clock says at the end. Give your very best.
Understand it’s not always worth it, and act accordingly. I am constantly amazed when people tell me they’re worried that their training and racing could send their relationship to be destined for divorce. Know when it is time to cut bait. If training for long distance triathlons is going to destroy relationships with the people you love and care about most in the world, it’s probably time to reassess your goals. Could you do shorter distance triathlons or train for a half marathon/marathon instead, which doesn’t take up as much time or require 2 workouts per day? Find other ways to channel your fitness passions without sacrificing the most important part of your life: the person you love. Because at the end of the day, participating in an IRONMAN isn’t going to be worthwhile if no one is waiting for you at the finish line.
Jesica D’Avanza is a communications professional, writer, Team Podium member and the blogger behind runladylike.com. As a runner and triathlete, she’s on a mission to find her extraordinary and inspire others to do the same. On her blog – appropriately named by combining the words “run” and “unladylike” – she shares her uncensored and sometimes unladylike adventures of running and triathlon training. When it comes to fitness, she believes we are all stronger than we think we are and capable of doing more than we believe we can do. Jesica lives in Atlanta and has completed 6 marathons, 7 half marathons and numerous triathlons, including 2 half iron distance races. She will complete her marathon coaching certification this month. In her day job, she serves as vice president of marketing communications for a national charity dedicated to saving and improving the lives of people with muscle disease.