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Ironman vs Family Man: Maintaining Balance in Training, Racing & Life

Alright... here's the thing. The question I undoubtedly get asked the most when people find out that I race the Ironman triathlon distance is "How do you have the time to do THAT?!!" Training to excel and to race top in my age group, while parenting, husbanding (not a real word, I know), volunteering at school, farming, and working... ?!? Well, it's not easy, but it is certainly doable. Here's some insight into how I/we (Nicole's ironwife insight will be in italics) attempt to maintain balance in this crazy lifestyle.

First of all, our family has little in the way of "screen time." It's not that we're completely shut off from the outside world, but we don't put a priority on spending hours in front of the TV, phone, or computer. Some of the latest research suggests children aged 8-18 spend an average of 8 hours/day in front of a screen. WHOA! Adults are even worse, up to 11 hours/day. WHAT?! That's a lot of wasted time that can be used for physical activity, educating yourself on a new topic, resting, getting your body worked on... or anything productive! I use that time to swim, bike & run, or plan. Everyone's "margin" time is in short supply. Use it wisely and don't waste it.

Next, learn to embrace the morning. I know most people won't say they love to wake up early before anybody else in the house to train, but when you have a wife & 4 kids it's the only time I can guarantee will be my own. (This wasn't always when Craig trained. When our kids were younger and as we had more, the hardest thing about him racing endurance sport was the sheer amount of time that he had to train and that I needed physical and practical help with the kids. We had to figure out some give and take ways to make it work. That's when the consistent 5 AM morning training sessions began. He started waking early to train so that he'd be done by 7, to help get the kids' breakfast. Long weekend rides/runs would also be scheduled during naptimes. Knowing that he was sensitive to my and the family's needs and was willing to be flexible made a world of difference. Happy wife, happy life right?) Habits can be formed in 21 days. So commit to waking up by 5am (or 4:30 for those longer training sessions) for 3 weeks straight and see for yourself! It's hardest at the beginning. Plus, it feels great & provides you with energy all day to have a workout completed before your work day.

PLAN, PLAN, PLAN. This means sitting down with the family to figure out a schedule that works well for everybody. (Each Sunday night, we sit down together with the family calendar and his weekly training plan. I know beforehand when he's training, what the schedule is and we rearrange a bit if we need to). Hire a coach to be involved in the process to make your training time more efficient & productive. (I know a great one :) ) And if it's a family vs training conflict, choose family. ('Cause the medals and PB times won't cuddle them at night and take care of them when they'r sick... am I right? But spouses, to be honest... they can't ALWAYS choose family first. For the most part, yes, that's how it goes, but sometimes they just can't. The fact is Craig DOES have to put in actual hours, does have to bike on an actual road sometimes, and is going to miss things. Knowing that he tries his best to work with the family schedule and maximize family times, makes the other times okay. We have to be flexible too.) We do endurance sport for the love of it, the challenge, to be a good example, to lead a healthy lifestyle, to win, yes, but... it can't be a family divider. We need family to be on our team, not the other way around. In addition to schedule planning, make your training nutrition ahead of schedule, have gear prepared early, get necessary equipment well before the race (don't wait until race week!!).

Involve family in training. At least twice a week I run pushing a jogging stroller with my 2 youngest boys. My oldest boy Luke, who is 10, is willing to bike up to 32km with me while I run on the weekends. We've even done it where I can swim lengths in one pool & then jump over to the warm pool to play with the kiddos for 30' before we head home. I will bike to my parents place for Easter. They can meet me on the road half way to give me food, drinks & encouragement, then I meet up with them afterwards. It doesn't have to be all isolation & neglect, they like being a part of my sporting life too! (Endurance sport really is part of our family. The kids will "play" triathlon, announcing each other coming into T1, giving race times, biking down the driveway and running around the garage. It's great. I'll never forget when our youngest son Jasper, saw the "Mdot" logo on a sign, and immediately said, "look Mom, Team Schmitt!". It has definitely become synonymous with family).

Lastly, the endurance world is obsessed with volume & training hours. It's a badge of honor and pride to put in more time than the next person. But what if we have it all wrong? What if the focus was on strength & muscular endurance instead purely volume? So no, I'm not a freak who spends every waking hour training (despite what most people think). Instead, I work really hard when I do train. No wasted swim strokes, pedal churns or running strides. No wasted sessions. They all matter. So I put my mental focus fully into each session, each one having a specific purpose to make me stronger, which ultimately leads to more success.

To summarize:

1) limit screen time

2) embrace the (very early) morning

3) plan, plan, plan: schedule, food, bike maintenance, sleep, hire a coach

4) involve family in your training

5) choose smart training over long training

Know that there is no one formula to "master" this balance. It's tricky and each family will be different. We still struggle sometimes, (For real... we've had a few "discussions" about the sport and there have been days, when I've stood in my LAST ditch, filled his LAST water bottle, driven out for a road-side rescue due to a double flat during naptime and had to get the neighbor to watch the kids for the LAST time, coped with and calmed down, the ramped up, stressed out, over-focused, pre-race athlete for the LAST time... iron-spouses, you know what I mean, right?) but we know that at the end of the day, we're on the same team. We both want success in the sport, and harmony in our home. That drives the rest. And because of this, we ALL get to share in the victories.

To balance... Cheers.


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