Jen Annett’s 7 Tips for Balancing Family and Triathlon
Ed. Note—a week after Sarah Piampiano shared her tips for successfully navigating pregnancy and endurance training, Wattie Ink. pro Jen Annett joins us from Penticton, B.C. to help you navigate the always challenging world of managing your sport and maintaining your relationships.
Most people think that professional triathletes have a fairly cushy life of eating, sleeping, and training. The reality, though, is that our life situations sit closer to yours than you might think. I have a family with a busy eight year-old and a husband who works his butt off over long hours, because (let’s face it) being a pro in the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t making me the breadwinner! So between making meals, getting ready for school, getting to and from school, four days a week of after school activities, appointments, grocery shopping and housework (we triathletes sure produce A LOT of stinky laundry—I’ve got my eight year-old beat in that regard), I need to fit in training, recovery, and family time. Even if you read no further, my golden rule is that after 5:30pm is family time. We call it the no-train-zone at our house. If you are going to keep reading, why should you listen to me? Here we go: A) I have been racing Ironmans for 13 years and have stayed married for 14 years, so that should explain itself, B) our family strives as a team to make everything work from day to day, and C) I believe that both work and life need to be FUN... a belief that requires even more hard work! So really, I am just like you: an ambitious athlete who has to juggle family concerns. Here are my guidelines to achieve those ambitions while helping my family not only survive, but thrive.
Use a shared (and physical!) calendar
One on the wall that the whole family can read and see. This will help you be able to plan out how to fit your training schedule in around everything else that’s not quite as flexible time-wise. It also allows everyone else in the household to see what’s going on every day with other members of the family.
Use your time wisely
I will fit in a workout while my son is at the pool or at Parkour rather than trying to squish it all in during school hours. Those little 30-75 minute slots are great for short sessions, and it de-pressurizes the school hours. May athletes spend a lot of time getting ready for and debriefing from sessions—just get out there and bang out your run! Comfortable workout gear helps, of course, but that’s what Wattie is for...
Invest in good indoor equipment
If you can afford it, a smart trainer paired to Zwift as well as a foot-pod for running will make indoor training more enjoyable and will help push your fitness levels. Don’t forget a fan! Usually we look at indoor training as a winter thing when it's too cold and dark to get outside. It is just as useful, however, for facilitating training in and around family. My son isn’t old enough to be left at home, so I can get a ride or run done before he has to go to school. A good trainer and treadmill were also a great help during Christmas break, spring break and summer holidays. Sure, I would much rather be outside, but I’ve learned to embrace the benefits and flexibility of indoor training as well, which brings us to...
Sacrifices will be necessary
You can’t always expect your family to bend around your training schedule. Balance and teamwork is not a one way street. Ironman has earned a “selfish” reputation because quite often we let training overtake everything in our life. I have been and always will be a firm believer that family is first. I don’t want to miss out on my son's milestones because I was so wrapped up in training, and I also want my marriage to stay healthy! While sleep is important, sometimes you may have to sacrifice an hour here or there to get a session in. I have done many 10-20km runs before 6am, when hubby leaves for work. This might mean an early bedtime, but believe me—I’m ok going to sleep at the same time as my kid!
Be creative and flexible
When we go on family trips or camping, I’ll often head out a couple hours before the rest of the family on my bike and they will pick me up along the way. This way I can get a long ride in without disrupting our family time. The same tactic works for running. I’ll head out an hour-and-a-half before the family and get picked up on the way to the ski hill. Prior to getting a road/gravel bike, I’ve also brought my trainer with me and sat outside our trailer in a campground so I can get a ride done (and yes: I have had many strange looks when camping in a busy campground ). I will also get my family to ride their bikes along with me when I run, which makes for great family time AND they can carry all my hydration.
Ask for help
This one is really hard for me! Your friends and family are there to help you just as much as you are there for them. This all boils down to your family and/or personal network working together as a team to make everything work and to keep everyone as happy as possible.
Quality vs. Quantity
Let’s face it. If you have a family, kids, and a full time job, your schedule is MUCH different than an athlete that can just eat, sleep, and train! The first two years that I raced pro was when my son was one to two years old. I was also working full time and not driving because of restrictions after having trouble with seizures. I still managed to come in third and under 10 hours twice here at Challenge Penticton. This was on a 13-15 hour training week. I had to take the quality vs quantity approach, or else likely face burnout. I would do four days of hard workouts: cycling or swimming before work and then running on my lunch break. Weekends would be a standard Saturday long ride and Sunday long run, both done at an easier pace just to get the time in. Monday would be a rest day other than work. My performance did improve when I quit my full time job, hired a coach, and trained full time, but it was a completely different situation. The message here? Your goals need to be realistic to your life situation. If you are working 40 hours a week and want to spend time with your family, a 30 hour a week training schedule is not realistic and will likely burn you out. So look at your situation individually, don’t compare yourself to others, and find a coach who will work with you based on your individual needs and situation.
To wrap this all up and dumb it down: first and foremost, set your priorities straight, treat your situation as individual, be organized and use your time wisely, learn to make sacrifices, be flexible and creative, and use those loved ones around you to work as a team together.