Balance – triathletes need it to safely ride a bike, swim without feeling like we have an anchor tied to our ankles and run without doing the hula. Essentially, we need it to go fast and not get hurt. But we often forget about the other kind of balance, which is just as important as physical balance…. Balancing “real” life with “triath-a-life."
Given the audience, there’s a good chance you responded to that last sentence with something along the lines of, “But triathlon is real life.” Case in point. Sure, you have a great job that you enjoy and a family that loves you, but you’re constantly trying to cram training into 1hr blocks throughout your day that get cut down to 54 minutes because you’re running late, or training at ungodly hours. That’s ok. We all do it. But if you’re often frustrated, anxious or angry when you can’t fit your workout in, there’s a problem.
Why is it a problem for your life to revolve around training? If we want to be high performance athletes – which is exactly what every single triathlete on earth is – that’s what it takes, right? Firstly, the added stress levels of juggling 1,000 things every day, as well as your frustration when you miss your lunchtime swim because a meeting ran long or Johnny got hurt at school, causes the stress hormone cortisol to skyrocket. Research has shown that high levels of cortisol wreaks havoc on your body, leading to issues like heart problems, weight gain, and an impaired immune system, all of which negatively impact your recovery and readiness to train. In short, if training has taken over your life, you’re actually preventing yourself from reaching your full potential, despite your best efforts.
A second reason balance is critical to athletes is for creating emotional resilience during times of reduced training or training interruptions. Often times, when an athlete finishes their “A” race for the season, there’s a period of depression that goes along with not having something on the horizon or a definitive reason to train every day. Questions like “What am I doing with my life?!?” and, “What do I do now?!” in the weeks following a big race are incredibly common and usually lead to registering for another race, even if you told your partner you were taking a break from your best friend with two wheels.
Similarly, when an athlete does get sidelined, especially for a serious injury that can’t really be worked around, there can be a profound sense of grief and loss. Without having created balance with other aspects of life, there can be a feeling of having lost “everything,” even though the athlete knows that’s not logically true. They still have their family, friends, work and ability to contribute to society, but the grief that comes with being sidelined can be crippling and could have been minimized by creating balance in all aspects of their life.
Here are some ways that you can work to achieve balance in your life to remain healthy physically and mentally.
1. Set aside specific time for your family and for yourself each week and protect that time. (Don’t move a missed workout there or allow yourself to catch up on work.)
2. Work with your coach to know when your peak weeks of training are during your annual training plan and plan other commitments around them, so as to not create stress by having to miss important workouts. A good coach will work with you to understand times where training may be difficult (i.e. finals, a big project at work, or travel) and do their best to work your program around them.
3. Block out time each week to do something outside of work that has nothing to do with training like going for a hike, seeing a movie, or going to a ball game.
4. Reframe your thinking about training. Turn “Shoot, now I’m going to miss that key workout for this week. Maybe, if I rush and cut out the warmup and cool down, I can just get the main set in.” Try to catch yourself with, “No…. I know it’s not a good idea and liable to lead to injury. I’ll talk to Coach and see if we can shift it to another day.”
As Triathletes, we love our sport. We wouldn’t subject ourselves to its grueling nature if we didn’t. But it’s really critical to our performance and to our overall well-being that we make sure to create balance between “real life” and “triath-a-life”. Work towards the goal of balance and you’ll almost certainly see gains in fitness and in happiness.