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How to Keep (or Salvage) Relationships While Training for Triathlons

February 12, 2014

When it comes to being an endurance athlete and training for long distance triathlons (half IRONMAN or IRONMAN), 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 it openly.

It’s how hard training can be on your personal relationships. Specifically, on your marriage/partnership and family. It’s about a feeling of constant guilt that you carry around – trying to do it all but never quite being good enough.

I realized how widespread this problem is and how deep it’s felt by so many athletes training for IRONMAN last fall. As I trained for the Beach2Battleship Half Iron Triathlon alongside many friends training for a full IRONMAN, we began to open up. One small 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.

Photo source: triathlonhumor.com
Photo source: triathlonhumor.com

I’ve heard story after story from friends and people I know who feel constant guilt, have thought their marriage was near divorce, have experienced bitterness … and the list continues. From my own personal experience, training for a long distance triathlon has its sacrifices and consequences. I know Mr. rUnladylike has felt like he was taking a backseat to my training, and at times, felt my priorities were very out of whack. 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. So then you try to do it all, and someone always comes up short.

But 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.

With Valentine’s Day this week, I thought it was the perfect time to talk about how to keep or salvage relationships with the people you love most if you’re training for a long distance triathlon. Here are my 4 tips to help return the butterflies and rainbows back into your triathlon-affected relationships.

Make it a family decision. To have a healthy relationship with your significant other and your family, you should always consult with them before signing up for a  long distance triathlon to make sure it’s a decision everyone can support. You’re going to need them 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 is going to hurt your feelings to think that they resent what you’re doing, especially when you are working so hard. Try to remember that it isn’t triathlon they hate. Try to remember they are proud of you and think you are awesome. Know that the reason they sometimes show disdain for what you are doing is because it is 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 is probably time to reassess your goals. And as hard as it may be emotionally, it may be time to decide that this is something you should walk away from. Instead, 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 IRONMAN races isn’t going to be worthwhile if no one is waiting for you at the finish line.

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Have you ever struggled with balancing training and racing with your personal relationships? Do you have any tips or advice for dealing with this challenge?

Comments

Matt
Reply

Great article, and definitely a topic that should be more openly discussed. Thanks!

Jennifer
Reply

I participated in my first Half Ironman last year at Lake Stevens, Washington and I was relieved to hear others share their struggles balancing family life with triathlon training. It is a topic rarely discussed, and you’re right- no one wants people to know that it’s always not so sunny behind closed doors. Having said that, tour was a great article opening the door for discussions to lessen some of the stress endurance athletes and their family so often feel.

Kimberly @ Healthy Strides
Reply

Great post. Training can be a very selfish endeavor, and it’s easy to let it all be about this big event. I really try to be mindful about how much time I’m taking away and scheduling things to minimize impact. Even if it means a 5 a.m. run on Sunday or doing part of a long run solo before meeting the group. I think it’s important, too, to schedule and embrace an off season so there’s a chance to decompress and reconnect.

Cori @ olivetorun
Reply

I love this- obviously I am a newbie but Ben and I actually sat down and had some serious conversations before I decided I was going to start getting into triathlons. Part of why I finally said yes to it was because I could finally say no during marathon training. What I mean is, when I found myself feeling like I needed/wanted a day off or Ben wanted me to sleep in with him I was able to finally say okay to myself and to him… and not feel guilty about it. That is when I knew I could enter into training for something even bigger.

Great post Jes!

Nicole
Reply

Great post! I was lucky enough to train for my first marathon, half ironman and full ironman with my husband (then boyfriend). I don’t think I will ever do one again unless we do it together because it was such a bonding time for us and also made training fun.

So another recommendation if have for your list is to plan your long course triathlon when your significant other also has a bit time commitment – either training for a different race (or the same!), a busy time at work or getting an Masters degree.

No matter what – training for a long course triathlon will put a strain on a relationship at times so it’s so important for everyone to be on board like you said!

Laura @losingrace
Reply

Great post for sure. I struggled in the past with my ex because he didn’t share my love and passion (he actually thought running was a joke), and in the end we didn’t work (not just because of that). But My fiance and I, well we make it work the best we can. He has done an Ironman, he has done multiple marathons and other events… he knows what it takes but its still hard. Last year was a big year for me, 3 marathons and my first half ironman… it was even harder as he was injured and had 3 knee surgeries. It definitely put strain on our relationship because I was training and he wasn’t. We worked through it but definitely need to compromise and communicate for sure.

Ben J
Reply

Great post. My wife sometimes got annoyed with me just while I was training for my marathon the past 4-plus months, so the thought of asking her to put up with distance triathlon training is a difficult one for me. But I’m sure I’ll get the itch to do one at some point. I’ll have to keep these ideas in mind when I do decide I want to go for it.

Sarah @RunFarGirl
Reply

I can tell when my running and racing is wearing on my hubby. He is incredibly supportive but those long runs for marathon training and races every saturday start to take a toll. I try to get everything done before the kids wake up. Which means early runs, even on Saturdays. It also means no runs Sunday morning. That’s my morning to sleep in relax and snuggle with the family. And sometimes it’s not the actual training that irks my hubby…its the blogging and tweeting and IG-ing about it;-)

Lee@triinspiredlife
Reply

I am so fortunate to get tons of support from my husband. We don’t have kids, but he supports me 110%. I just started training for my first IM, and he has completed two, so understands the time and dedication. Even though he is not racing, he plans to do lots of the training with me…especially the long rides outside. I remember when I trained for my first half IM and he ran multiple long runs with me, because he did not want me running alone at dusk (and he was not in long running shape at that time). I could not ask for greater support and I feel so very fortunate!!

Angie
Reply

Great post and wonderful ideas. I think it is so important to make sure your significant other is on board with your long distance endurance training. I am training for my first HIM, and I intentionally scheduled my rest day on Sunday when the entire family is free. This makes it harder to get in my training on the other busier weekdays, but it forces me to devote one day to my three little kids when they are home. I think it is also important to realize that at times, family commitments will take priority and your training schedule must take a back seat. I remember your posts from your last HIM where you realized family times often are more important, like the celebration of your father’s birthday. If we put those special times first, and don’t get so stressed out about missing training, then it all is easier. You still rocked your half iron-man!

Leslie @ Triathlete Treats
Reply

Great post! This will be the first time that my boyfriend(at the time) was training with me. We are doing the same event Ironman in July. We are doing some work outs together and some on our own(or with different partners) which I think will be great! I think that it will be a good balance and anything it is only going to be 6 months! :)

Terry
Reply

I did Ironman Florida in 2000, before my wife and I had kids, and it was a strain on just the two of us at times. We now have 2 daughters and with my unpredictable work schedule cannot even imagine training for another one. I am now training for a 50 mile ultra marathon, which will be a test of how much training I can squeeze into my life. Balance is hard to find at times.

Stacey
Reply

Such a great lil’ write-up :-) My husband has typically joined me for many 3 mile loops, but we’ve only trained for marathons separately now (5 years apart)! I’d love to “influence” him to join me in the longer miles again, but I know it has to be his own excitement. I love hearing your thoughts as a triathlete, which is even more of a mental and physical dedication!

Kristen @ Glitter and Dust
Reply

Thank you for sharing these thoughts and opening up about a topic that is often pushed aside. I have witnessed a couple relationships crumble due to the time and investment it takes to train for endurance events. If two people are not on the same page, or even in the same chapter, then it can be very hard on a relationship. Communication and honesty is the key. For me, I try to do my training when my husband is at work or when he is able to train with me. Also, I try to be mindful of the sacrifices he makes for my interests and happiness, and return the support when there is something he wants to take time to do. As long as there is balance, I believe a relationship can withstand most things.

rUnladylike
Reply

These are such great insights, Kristen. Thank you so much for sharing. xo

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