Family, Running & Fitness

5 Steps to Family, Sport and Life Balance

John Newman
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“Where’s Dad?”

“Really?  Where do you think he is?”

“Swimming, biking or running?”

“Yup.  He will be home soon.”

My kids initiated this conversation with my wife almost every morning this past year.  By design, I would typically be walking through the door within a few minutes of these exchanges, not from a quick run around the neighborhood, but from a 3-4 hour brick session.  And, all this was taking place at 7:30 am.

I take my role and responsibilities as a husband, father and provider very seriously.  Likewise, I am also very passionate about health, fitness and triathlon.  Most would suggest that family and endurance sports cannot peaceably coexist, and involvement in one would naturally take away from the other.  There are only 24 hours in a day and the ability to reclaim lost time is still undiscovered.  True, but what if I increased my utilization of those hours?  Or better yet, increased my efficiency within those better utilized hours?  Once I was honest with myself and admitted that I wasted a TON of time over the years on things that were not high on my priority list, the ability to balance family , sport and life became a reality.

My desire to “do it all” while making it appear that each task has my undivided attention is still a work in progress.  However, once I made the commitment, a few small changes in my life catalyzed the process and has put me on the right path to achieving a once seemingly insurmountable goal.

My participation in triathlon and endurance activities/events started with cycling, about 10 years ago, prior to becoming a father.  At that time, I had the luxury of being able to jump on my bike for any number of hours with little or no repercussions.  My wife had yoga and spin classes, coffee with friends and other “me time” activities to fill a Saturday morning while I was out training.  With few other commitments or responsibilities, we had plenty of hours left in the day to be husband and wife.  It worked, and rarely effected our relationship.  In fact, there was so much room for error, we wound up wasting countless hours each day, but it didn’t matter back then.

Then came the kid(s).  While Tara was pregnant, we made a pact to not let the little guy affect our hobbies and lifestyle.  We could use jogging strollers, bike trailers and the gym had a daycare center.  It was going to be easy!  OK, we were a bit naive.  When reality set in, we had to adapt and overcome. Balancing both of our training schedules (particularly mine), two demanding full-time jobs, two active kids and a slew of other commitments, activities and responsibilities has not been easy.  But, we’ve gotten much better at it in the recent past.

Here are five things that I (we) do to help ease the stress and make it all possible in our house.

Train In The Mornings

I have always been an early-riser, going to the gym before work since college.  In those early years, I also stayed up fairly late, somehow able to function on a few hours sleep.  Chalk it up to youth or stupidity, but I just cannot do that any more.  These days, I am in bed at 9:00 pm, read for about 30 minutes and then pass out (usually dropping the Kindle on my face).  I wake up at 4:00 am and begin my day with triathlon training.

Since the kids are asleep until at least 7:00 am, I have about 3 hours to get in a swim, bike, run or combination of any two, before they wake up.  My thinking is that I am not taking any time away from them to train.  When I first greet them, my training is done and we can start our “get ready for school and work” routine.

Since I typically train 6-7 days per week, I also follow the same schedule on the weekends.  I do, however, have the opportunity to go a little longer and get back home by 8 or 9.  My wife handles the kids for an hour or two and then we swap roles.  By 11:00, we have all of our training done, leaving the rest of the day to give our undivided attention to the kids.

Plan and Share Your Training Schedule

I have found that one of the most effective methods to improving my performance in endurance sports was to plan my training sessions as far in advance as possible.  This eliminated the “What should I do today?” self-discussion I had almost every morning.  This year, I began using a training coach who writes out my weekly plan every Sunday afternoon.  The training schedule works around my constraints, optimizes the time I have and allows me to focus on getting the most out of each session.

Even if I didn’t have a coach, I would carry over this valuable tool, writing out my own plan a week in advance.  The second part of this equation is to communicate the plan to my wife and family.  We discuss the week’s schedule then overlay it with Tara’s training and the kid’s activities.  We make some adjustments and off we go.  Tara and I are also Evernote junkies, so we routinely post training schedules and commitments in a shared notebook.  This has helped us tremendously in organizing and managing all of our activities without dropping the ball.

Find and Eliminate Wasted Time

To me, “wasted” time would be any time spent not focusing on my highest priorities.  I was honest with myself and identified that the time spent with social media, Words With Friends, lame TV shows, and excessive travel times (we live on Long Island, well-known for our traffic) was just plain wasted.  I cleaned up my social media feeds, deleted game apps from my phone, removed 75% of the series recordings from my DVR and adjusted my travel requirements by using much more often than before.  I was amazed at how much time this freed up.  I now have the time to train, blog, read, interact with my wife and kids and take care of other higher priority items.  A 20 hour training week now fits nicely into my schedule.

Organize Your Gear

I purchased a transition bag earlier in the year.  This allowed me to organize my gear for all three activities in one portable little medium-sized package.  I know where everything is and it is always fully packed for whatever tomorrow’s schedule requires.  After a bike ride, I prep it for the next one, shoes clipped into pedals, water bottles refilled and stored in the fridge and nutrition items replenished in the Bento box.  After a swim, I air-dry my suit and then repack it in the bag with a clean towel.

I know it may seem trivial, but having your gear organized and ready can save hours per week.  It also helps when plans unexpectedly change.  A few times, I have gone to the gym at 5 AM to find that the pool is closed for one reason or another.  Instead of losing an hour workout, and since I have all of my gear with me, I am able to quickly gear up for a run on the treadmill.  Having this ability has added another valuable tool to my training toolbox.

Involve The Family

There is no better way to get support for your activities than to get “buy-in” from your family.  If they can become passionate about your endeavors by being involved themselves, it become mutually beneficial.  When I have an easy recovery ride or run scheduled, I ask my wife to join me.  I enrolled my son in a triathlon camp that he just loved.  My daughter cannot get enough of those “fun runs” that take place before adult running races.  We also try to have the family attend as many races as possible (for both my wife and me).  To this day, I get more pumped up to spectate my wife’s and kid’s races than I do when I race.  We have made all of our training and racing a team activity by involving everyone.  From all of this, “buy-in” is achieved.

We live a very busy life, as do most.  But, by being sensitive to the needs and desires of others, as well as being a little selfless in a very selfish hobby, balance can be achieved.  We still need to tweak a few things, but for now it’s working well.  Last month, I officially started my training for Ironman Lake Placid next July.  Over the next 250 days or so, I will be tested physically and mentally, but I am also aware of the toll it will take on my family.  However, I think we have a good plan to make this journey a successful one for the entire family.