Somebody asked last week how I fit it all in. He mentioned something about work and family and tri-training at the butt-crack of dawn. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t familiar with the issues.
Honestly, I wish I could tell you that there’s some secret formula for it, but really, the secret is this: I work at it. And to be fair, Sally works hard at giving me the time to get out there, too. She knows I’m a better, more balanced person when I have time to blow off some steam and get my mind right on my bike or whatever. But really, it’s just a lot of effort and a lot of effort at being consistent with my training and with my lifestyle.
That said, if I had to list the keys to being a successful husband, working father, and competitive amateur triathlete, I’d probably list it out like this:
I’m lucky to have a background in Swimming. True, I’d be a better triathlete if I was a super-strong runner and a merely average swimmer—rather than being the exact reverse of that—but swimming is by far the hardest discipline to pick up later in life, and I think it really, really helps to head into the water feeling confident of not only surviving but of actually coming out feeling good and with a decent lead on the rest of the field.
Getting up at 5:00 am doesn’t bother me. Early morning swim practices set a pattern in my life that’s never ended. After swimming, it was West Point. After West Point, it was the Army. And after the Army, I worked at a company with a 7am start time. As a Supervisor, I had to be in at 6:30. So now I wake up at 5:00 or maybe 5:30, even on Sundays. At this point, I’m just hard-wired that way. And as long as I’m up, I might as well get dressed and go ride.
My dad was a competitive amateur athlete. I grew up seeing the lifestyle firsthand. Dad taught me to run, lift weights, and basically be a competitive guy. I did my first 5K at age seven and my first 10K before I was ten. Having that in my background helps.
And then my dad drank himself to death. I cannot emphasize enough how much this influenced me and the man I’m trying to be. After Dad left the Marine Corps, he literally didn’t know what to do with himself. So he crawled straight into a bottle. After that, it took ten years and a Hell of a lot of Popov vodka for him to destroy the body that he’d spent a lifetime building. So. My commitment to myself and to my kids is to be the good man that my father was for most of his life but to leave his vices and his failures behind. It’s a challenge, but his example lives on for me, both positive and negative.
I go to bed early. During the week, I’m in bed by 9:00 or 9:30, and on the weekends, it’s 10:00 or so at the very latest. Words to live by from my first swim coach: “Eat right. Get lots of sleep. Go like Hell.”
I commute on my bike whenever I can. This is new, but it’s really helping. In terms of time, biking is the hardest discipline to train. If I can put in 40 or 50 miles on the folding bike during the week, then all I have to do is get out there once on the weekend and do a long ride with some intervals, and I’m good to go. Yeah, there’re always gonna be faster guys out there, but riding a little every day provides at least some much-needed consistency.
Finally, I have a job with regular, manageable hours. That it really helps. I often wonder what’s wrong with me, why I don’t have more professional ambition. I’m a smart guy, decent education. Surely I could make more money, right? But really, right on the face of it, the trade-offs just aren’t worth it. I have a nice house, money enough, a beautiful wife, and great kids that I see every single day. Against that, who gives a shit if I’m a bank vice president or something? I mean, I could have stayed in the Army and all that, and who knows how things would’ve turned out. But my heart wasn’t in it, and that’s no way to go through life. And honestly, I’m not sure that I was all that good at faking it. So, bottom line, I’ve got some free time, and I use it… on triathlon. Or Dungeons and Dragons. Or whatever else strikes my fancy.
So, given all of that, here’s my typical ideal training week:
Commute-ride (active recovery), 11-miles total.
Commute-ride (active recovery), 11-miles. After work: Short run, usually 3.3 miles.
Commute-ride (work the hills), 11-miles. If I didn’t run Tuesday, I’ll run Wednesday.
Commute-ride (aggressive), 11-miles. After work: Short Swim, maybe 2000 yds of speed work.
Commute-ride (aggressive), 11-miles. After work: Sometimes I do an extra run or some yoga here.
Long Run + Long Swim.
Depending on my training emphasis and what I’ve done earlier in the week, I’ll either run long and swim easy or run easy and swim long. A long run lasts about an hour and covers maybe 6 or 7 miles, and it’ll often include an interval workout from Podrunner. A lesser run might go 4 miles or so at a steady, aerobic pace.
Swimming is much the same. If I’ve managed to put in two runs during the week, I’ll go really long in the water on Saturday morning while my kids are in swimming lessons. I might put in 3000 or even 4000+ yards, usually high tempo mid-distance work. After something like that, I might not run at all or do anything else workout related for the rest of the day. On the other hand, if I go long on the run on Saturday morning, I might only put in 2000 yards in the pool, in which case the workout is likely to be 5 x 100 @ 1:35 Warm Up, followed by 15 x 100 @ 1:30 (aerobic pace), and I’ll work on maintaining a steady pace while holding my heart rate at around 160 bpm.
Long Ride or Long Run.
Again, whether I ride or run here will depend on what else happened during the week plus what my training emphasis is and what events are coming up as well as how the weather’s holding up. I’m a lot more likely to run when it’s cold outside or drizzling rain. On the other hand, if it rained during the week, so that I couldn’t ride, and/or I already put in my run miles, I’ll either force myself to ride or, in a pinch, go get in the pool again.
I use a points system to track my training. I give myself a point for each 100 yards in the water, each quarter-mile of running, and each mile that I ride on the bike. At the end of the week, my goal is to have at least 120 points and not more than 110% of whatever the highest point total was that I hit in the last month. Right now, my upper limit is around 150 points in a week. By comparison, if I were only running, that would be just less than 40-miles per week. A heavy but manageable work load.
What that means in practical terms is that if I ride 44 or 55-miles on the folding bike during the week and then put in a 3.3-mile run on Wednesday and a 2000-yard swim on Thursday, I usually find myself carefully counting points during the weekend to get the most out of what’s left. Add in a long swim on Saturday morning—because the Greenwich Point One Mile Swim is one of my “A” races this year, and I already have to be at the pool for kiddo swim lessons—and I usually have the points remaining for either a long run or a long ride but not both.
But that’s one of the reasons I like Triathlon. You can’t be good at everything. Thus, there’s always something to work on.
The other thing I should mention here is that I train on a 4-week cycle. Schedule permitting, I work three weeks hard, one week easy. Those rest weeks are critical for preventing illnesses and injuries. They also offer an opportunity to spend quality time with your family during the heaviest part of your training season.
So that’s it. The secret is this: commute by bike, give up drinking, and get to bed early. But also make sure you marry the right woman because triathlon is not a personal commitment, it’s actually a commitment that your whole family has to make together. But then again, your commitment to your personal fitness is something your kids will emulate later in life.
Remember: what goes around comes around. You can’t just be the kind of man that YOU want to be. You actually have to be the kind of man that you want YOUR KIDS to be when they’re adults. They learn from your example.