When my journey into the sport of triathlon began, my life was not nearly as chaotic as it is today. My routine was pretty straightforward and everything I did from the moment I woke up till the minute I fell asleep revolved around the sport. The triathlon life....train, eat, work, train, eat, sleep.
I was single, living at home with minimal expenses and making a fairly decent wage. Dropping thousands of dollars on gear was a non-issue and the freedom to travel to races nearly every other weekend was exhilarating. The lifestyle became who I was and I thrived on it. I took (and still do) immense pride in my ability to manage time and everything I did had a purpose geared toward the sport.
Fast forward to the present and I’m living a full blown Americana lifestyle. A wife, house, two boys under the age of three, and a dog. Only thing missing is the white picket fence, which my wife and I have agreed to replace with privatized shrubbery. I love my life and I wouldn’t change anything for the world, but as any triathlete in a similar situation can attest to, any disruption from our high mileage, data driven world can seem quite daunting. However, nothing has prepared us more for the disarray that is raising a family than the sport of triathlon. I may have even worn my heart rate monitor once or twice while vacuuming..
Luckily, I have an extremely supportive wife who understands my need to exercise. What comes with that territory is me pulling a little more weight when I return from training, giving her the time she needs for herself for her own sanity. If we know what our schedule will be like the following day, we’ll have a conversation about where in the day I’ll have 45 minutes or a half hour to get in a workout. With two kids under the age of three, this often goes awry and I’m forced to readjust and make the best use of what time I do have available. I’ve lost count on the amount of intervals I’ve done with the jogging stroller. The quality is what matters so make it count! Turn that 20 minutes you have into a high intensity session, like intervals or hill sprints. There’s a ton of research on the benefits of HIIT work, and I’ve personally lowered all of my race times on less training than I was doing without the responsibilities of family life and just spending countless hours on the road with really no intent behind any of it.
As athletes, our often type A personalities make it extremely difficult to remove judgement from other people, especially our competitors which, with apps like Strava, make that nearly impossible. If you have an 80 mile bike ride planned but you’re only able to get in 20 because your wife called and your son flushed his cars down the toilet and there’s three inches of water on the floor (that didn’t actually happen but you get the idea), that’s okay! I’ve been doing this long enough to know that even that 20 mile ride is still beneficial and it’s not going to put a damper on your overall training. Take a step back and look at your training on a weekly and monthly basis, not day to day. Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Comparison is the thief of joy” and nothing holds more truth.
The most important thing to realize is that finding balance is something you’ll never truly find unless you let go of your expectations, forgive yourself, and shift your mindset to focus on the bigger picture. Take inventory on where you’re spending your time but also allow yourself to rest a little more. You will benefit from it and in turn become a much greater athlete. And get your kids involved! My life may be drastically different now, but there is by far no greater joy and satisfaction than watching my son run around the yard shouting “I’m running fast like daddy”.
I was entering my final 6 weeks of training leading up to the Boston Marathon this year when I got the news about it’s cancellation. For the previous 6 months, my life revolved around this race and at that moment everything I did up to that point didn’t matter anymore. Sure I was in quite possibly the best running shape of my life, but what did that even mean if I had nothing to show for it?
Two days after the cancellation I decided to go for a somber, joyless run in attempts to combat the depression. I set out on my usual 8 mile out and back route, oblivious of every street light, mailbox, and stop sign I was so familiar with that I could touch with my eyes closed. I thought intently about what the next step was and at the turn around, I stepped on a huge stick, nearly spraining my ankle and I knew I needed to snap back and focus on what was ahead of me. It was at that moment I recalled a podcast I recently listened to with ultra runner Rickey Gates and his Every Single Street Project. He set out to run every single street in San Francisco and in turn started a booming trend among quarantined runners amidst the pandemic.
With two miles to go on my run, I decided to venture off the route and run down a dead end street that I’ve run by over a hundred times yet I didn’t even know the name of it. The street was only about three-quarters of a mile long but for the first time in a long time, I found myself doing something that I always tell myself to do but struggle with; looking up. I was actually paying attention to the unfamiliar trees, beautiful houses with pristine manicured lawns, and the undulating slope of the road.
When I returned home, I went right to the internet and went on a deep dive into my town. What I didn’t realize was how large it actually was, covering nearly 40 square miles and over 300 streets. I knew this task was going to be a daunting one but it gave me something to focus my attention on during the uncertainty of racing. It took me over a month, nearly 350 miles, and almost 25,000 feet of elevation to complete but it gave my running purpose again. And I also learned that in several parts of my town, letting your dog run loose is common practice...yikes.
My every single street project allowed me to not only discover roads that I previously never knew existed, but it also gave me a new found love for the sport. We can get so caught up in the detail side of training that we forget the reasons why we do it in the first place. It’s our escape from the ordinary, a challenge that we thrive for as humans in this world filled with comfort and ease. If we never experience discomfort or adversity, how will we ever know what we’re truly capable of?
Without any races on the calendar and being forced into isolation, I’ve started to realign my priorities. Swimming, cycling, and running miles on end is only a small part of who I am. I’m a husband and a father and this reduction in higher intensity training has allowed me to become more present at home and tackle other areas of my life that I’m passionate about but otherwise couldn’t find the time to complete because of my training.
I ultimately ended up running the virtual Boston Marathon in early September without any expectations, much lower weekly mileage, and no taper. I ran a 2:47, lowering my personal best by over 6 minutes and I think there is a lot to be said about that. There is no better time than now to shift our focus, be more mindful and present about how we are spending our time, and take on new challenges! Try that new sport you’ve always wanted to try or spend some time on something else you are passionate about. Let your creativity flow! If anything comes out of this time of uncertainty, let it be your new found love for something you might have overlooked!
Link to my run!
Running copious amounts of miles on end in that “gray zone”, not too hard or easy, is a recipe for not reaching our true potential. It’s time to mix things up on the run so we can run faster, stronger, and healthier.
Anyone who has dipped their toes in the running world has probably heard of the tempo run but might be unsure about what it truly is. Tempo runs are a key workout for runners and triathletes of any skill level and allow us to push the pace for faster and longer. These runs are meant to be hard, only being able to speak a couple words at a time. Typically, they are run at around your current 10k pace, or about 20-30 seconds slower than 5k pace and the amount of time at that effort can vary (If you've never run a 5k or 10k, this pace should feel uncomfortable but not unsustainable). For the more advanced athlete, tempo runs can be as long as 45 minutes however, they can also be broken up into shorter segments.
Try it : After a 10-15 minute warmup, run 20 minutes at tempo pace, cool down. You can also substitute mileage for minutes, anywhere from 2-5 miles. If that long effort feels too hard, break it up! Run 2 x 10 minutes or 4 x 5 minutes at tempo pace with 2 min recovery between each. This run is highly adaptable to fit whatever race distance you are training for.
As runners, you have likely encountered a hill at one time or another. And when you approached that hill, you most likely had an internal discussion with yourself that probably included the words “just keep moving”, “get to the top”, or “this sucks”. If there is anything hills can teach us as athletes, it’s adversity. Powering up a hill in a race or on a training run can be demoralizing but that feeling you get at the top makes it all worth it. Hill running can also be an extremely beneficial training tool. Not only do hills build strength in your calves, glutes, and quads, they also improve our running economy (how efficiently we utilize oxygen), increase our speed, and prevent injury. To get the most benefit out of hill running, keep your upper body slightly leaning forward with your head looking up the hill and pump your arms a little more enthusiastically to power your legs up the climb. And don’t get discouraged about your pace because naturally you’re going to be slower running uphill! Just stay focused on your breathing and your form.
Try it: Find a hill in your neighborhood about 100 to 400 meters in length. After a warmup, perform anywhere from 4-8 reps at roughly 80% of your 5k effort. Rest on the downhill.
Once you’ve established a good running base and your season kicks into gear, it’s time to start adding fartlek runs into your weekly training. Fartlek is a Swedish term meaning “speed play” and these runs are a form of high intensity interval training that’ll spike your heart rate, increasing your Vo2 max allowing you to run faster come race day. There’s typically no structure to fartlek runs as you vary your speed throughout, picking targets along the way to ramp up the intensity to.
Try it: On one of your usual 3-6 mile training runs, find a tree or a mailbox in the distance and run hard, faster than 5k pace, till you reach it. Allow yourself a brief recovery and continue this trend throughout the run.
Incorporate these runs into your weekly run training and after a few weeks, you’ll feel stronger and be on your way to faster running. Your competitors might smirk at the reduction in mileage you’re doing but come race day, you’ll be the one with the smile on your face.