The most common concerns for busy people when embarking on training for a triathlon, especially the longer ones like IRONMAN 70.3 or a full IRONMAN, are: Where do I find the time for this training? And how do I balance it all: work, family, and — dare I say it — fun?
Everyone likes to speak of balance:
- You need balance.
- We need balance in our lives.
- You can have it all! You just have to balance everything.
After almost six years of triathlon training (which includes five years of long distance 70.3 and IRONMAN training) I can speak with a pretty profound certainty: there is no such thing as balance. As a working wife and mom with three kids and several other business and ventures, I can attest the concept of “balance” falls right in line with “having it all” — one cannot have it all, because something always has to give. It’s up to you where the “give” gives, and how you define the “all” in your life.
Balance is equally as tenuous. Life is tricky, messy, dirty and nuts. The pure and simple fact is: one cannot squarely balance it all, all the time. And once you throw triathlon into the mix, the idea of balance becomes a series of movements that can be amazingly beautiful, but in no way resembles the traditional idea of balance.
I have come to know the triathlon lifestyle as:
And then doing it all over again.
Note that I am saying “balancing,” and not “balance.”
This is the phase in the schedule or the day-to-day where you think you have it all worked out. You are up with the sun, the kids’ lunches are made, you are wearing your workout clothes, your work clothes are packed, and you are headed to the gym.
You arrive at the gym (on time) and ready to conquer your long swim before work. You have dinner planned, and your (healthy) lunch is packed.
That’s when you realize:
- You forgot your swimsuit
- Your clean underwear for after the workout is nowhere to be found
- Your “check engine” light is now blinking on the car.
As such, and without skipping a beat, you:
- Swim in your sports bra and shorts
- Go commando to work, and giggle about it
- Ignore the car for the time being, making note to self to do that Wednesday.
There’s no way to perfect that day: it’s off to a crazy start, and you are along for the ride. There’s no true balance — but you are balancing (and it’s only Monday).
By Friday, your well-intentioned workouts have been halfway done, crammed in early in the morning, or phoned-in, exhausted, after the kids go to bed (if at all). The car has exploded because you forgot about the “check engine” light, and so you have been Uber-ing around town, to work, and pick up the kids. Dinner has been scraps thrown on the table. And laundry? Everyone is getting dressed in the living room from the pile on the couch. The kids are riding on your back while you vacuum, and you’re asking the three-year-old to help balance the checkbook, because his brain is clearly less fried than yours.
The To-Do list is stacking up big-time and at a rapid rate, and you really see no way in heaven or hell that anything (let alone everything is going to be done).
This is the teetering phase. The large stack of things to do is teetering in the distance, and you know it’s on the way down. Hold on kids, we’re going down! Wheeeee!
All you can do is laugh. And you do laugh, because you just finished your run, and instead of freaking out, you are filled with family-loving and self-happy endorphins that somehow tell you that the IRONMAN motto “Anything is possible” really is something good. I can do life. I can do swim, bike and run. I got this, you exclaim, as you teeter, right on the edge, gleefully.
By Sunday, everything has fallen down and you are feeling like Humpty Dumpty — how am I ever going to put all this stuff together again? What was I thinking trying to cram triathlon into my already busy and crazy life?
But then you scrape yourself off the floor. You snuggle with the kids. You do some laundry. You get a little bit ahead. Then you realize you may have a few minutes for that swim, after all.
What a dismal account of training and family, you might say. But honestly, all of the folks I know who have embarked on the 70.3 or IRONMAN journey speak of the chaos, the exhaustion, and the crazy that comes with it. At the same time, the joys, celebration, fun and sense of accomplishment somehow keeps everyone going.
So, while you can’t balance it all and you may not be able to “have it all,” there is certainly a sense of carpe diem: seizing each day, and pulling every last bit of work, joy and “marrow” out of it. To take on family, work, self, competition and more is a weird hybrid of balancing, teetering, falling and repeating.
The balancing, teetering and falling is inevitable. You will have days during training where you can’t conceive of how you will do the workouts and life, let alone how you will finish a race. The key is to have a sense of humor, take each day and workout one at a time, adjust as necessary and required, and don’t give up. Remember what is important in your life and in your eyes. Your family is important, your job is important, but your personal happiness and goals are also important.
Learn to prioritize on the fly, but do not give yourself excuses. For example:
- The kids’ needs today trump the early workout (Oh, but I have late evening!)
- Grocery shopping trumps laundry (We must eat, but I can turn my socks inside out!)
- Running trumps bath (I can totally get by on dry shampoo, but this half marathon ain’t training for itself!).
The goal is to remain positive, stay focused on the goal, and figure out how to also stay upright and take care of your responsibilities. When you do fall (and you will), then just get back up and figure out how to keep going. Little by little, you can chisel away at the workouts. Take each moment as it comes and figure out how to do your best job of balancing and teetering, and forget the rest. You got this.
Meredith Atwood is a wife, mom, attorney, triathlon coach and IRONMAN living in Atlanta, Georgia. She is the author of Triathlon for the Every Woman, and can be found everywhere on social media as “Swim Bike Mom” and at SwimBikeMom.com.