Tags: triathlon

How to balance training and life

February 9, 2017

Triathlete Michael Nystrom gives some actionable tips on how to balance training and life.

You’ve registered for an IRONMAN or marathon, collected the necessary gear and are ready to start your six-month journey to the finish line. While training is simple in theory – hitting weekly mileage goals with prescribed workouts – actually finding time to complete said workouts can be tougher than expected.Working smarter, not harder is the name of the game, and here are some simple tips on how to hit your next PR and still have time for work, family and more.

The totem pole of life

As cheesy as the analogy is, it’s important to figure out your priorities when figuring out where to parcel out your time. Obviously work and family should (hopefully) top your list, but is training more important than your Thursday night HOA meeting or your Sunday morning coed softball league?

If your only goal is to finish the race, you can likely afford to occasionally partake in other activities. If not, you’ll have to make the decision on what to cut out. Jot down your daily responsibilities and obligations and rank them in order from most to least essential.

Use a calendar for balance

You’ll probably have your training plan in place months ahead of time, so physically visualizing your next steps from 30,000 feet goes a long way when planning other family or non-training activities. Include birthdays, anniversaries, doctor appointments – anything that may conflict with training.

If you do see a possible conflict, have your coach rearrange your schedule so you don’t miss your long ride or your nephew’s college graduation. Don’t forget to schedule date nights and get-togethers with friends, too.

Don’t forget to schedule date nights and get-togethers with friends, too.

When scheduling, consider the consequences of your actions – skipping a workout for a late night on the town will not only cause you to miss one workout, but you’ll likely miss tomorrow’s workout as well. Also, traveling for work or family activities can sap more time and energy than expected.

Keep an open dialogue

The famous IRONMAN spectator sign says it all: “If you’re still married you didn’t train hard enough.”

While a testament to the time commitment required to complete 140.6 miles, you can certainly train for an IRONMAN and have a healthy and happy relationship. It’s important to keep an open dialogue between both parties, and don’t be afraid to voice your concerns.

The famous IRONMAN spectator sign says it all: “If you’re still married you didn’t train hard enough.”

You may be working hard in the pool or on your bike, but your significant other will be picking up the slack around the house and with the kids. Remember, they didn’t sign up for the race, you did. If they’re feeling overwhelmed and you need to skip a spin session to help, that’s life. Work together to figure out who can do what, when.

Be accountable

Hiring a coach is the easiest way to keep yourself accountable, but not everyone can afford a coach or has access to one. Log every workout, be able to explain and justify the goal for each workout, and have a reason for missing a workout. Consistency is key when training for a long-distance endurance event, and incremental gains are made over long periods of time – not overnight.

It’s important to visualize your end goal and direct that focus to every workout and every training effort. By staying concise and efficient, you’ll reach your desired fitness level in less time.

Volume vs. intensity

This could be an entire standalone article, but there are two main approaches to training – volume-based and intensity-based.

Training by volume requires more time, and more mileage is completed at a lower effort level. Training by intensity requires less time and mileage, but it’s completed at a significantly harder effort. There are advantages and disadvantages of each, but high-intensity training can potentially yield your desired result in less time.

Consult with your coach if this approach aligns with your goals, but high-intensity training can free up a few hours each week when compared to a more volume-based approach.

Know your limitations

Endurance athletes play down mental fatigue all too often. If you feel like you’re spread too thin and find yourself overwhelmed and unmotivated, it’s time to take a step back and seriously reconsider what’s on your plate. Waking up early to train before work may not be your forte, or maybe it’s time to temporarily pause a different commitment to free up more time.

Additionally, listen to your body and adjust your training plan before you’re injured from overtraining. It’s better to show up on race day healthy and undertrained rather than injured, burnt out and overtrained. If you just aren’t feeling it one day, take a day off and spend a much-appreciated day with the family.

Join the fun

Who says training and family activities are mutually exclusive? If you have young kids, push them in a jogging stroller to get a serious run workout. Spend a day at the lake and practice open water swimming while your family plays on the beach. Head to the track and let your kids play Frisbee on the turf while you log your laps. You may not be at your usual pool or trail, but you’ll still get a quality workout in while spending time outside with your family.

Step back during the offseason to balance training and life

If you’re undertaking a marathon or an IRONMAN, you probably have a couple smaller warmup races planned before your big day. This is a smart approach on all accounts, but it can dramatically lengthen your triathlon season and therefore sap more of your time.

When you no longer have a race in the foreseeable future, truly take a step back and significantly lessen your training load. Rekindle relationships, spend time with people who have been set aside, plan fun getaways or resume old hobbies. Not only will this break give your body and mind time to recover, but the people who care the most about you will have you more present in their life.

For a free, personalized and adaptive marathon plan, check out the Polar Running Program available in Polar Flow.

In the spotlight

Michael Nystrom

Michael Nystrom

Writer Michael Nystrom is a 2x IRONMAN and has done countless sprint- and Olympic-distance triathlons.