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Training and the Family Dynamic

The most common question I receive is:

“How do you get to a half Ironman or an Ironman, manage all that training with a job and a family?”

The only answer to that question is:  carefully


I have an upcoming article in Triathlete coming out in a few months where I talk in-depth about my experience with Ironman (my first)  and 140.6 training (my second), and how things were different, and how I handled them differently the second time.  I just can’t share it yet (of course), but it is SUCH a common question, I thought I would write an additional post about it.

So how do  you make the family balance work?


Well, there’s the suck line and the sucky rotation schedule – if you don’t know about the suck line, go here to read.

Next, making it all happen is really (really) tough. I found that with my first Ironman, it was a mess because I needed to train long on Saturday and Sunday, which meant that the Expert was stuck with the kids A LOT during the final weeks. During this last 140.6 training, I made my long run happen during the week, and went short on one of the weekend days so he could have that day to workout or do what he needed. That made for a MUCH happier household the second time around.

With a half Ironman, the training is much more “manageable,” though still requiring a chunk of a time commitment.

Below are a few example “schedules” of how I juggled training for a half and a full during some of the peak training weeks.


Note: there are a million ways to make it to a finish line. These are just some examples to give those of you dabbling in the idea some perspective on the time commitment or how you might could juggle your schedule.  I understand that some of you may have done it differently, etc.

Here’s an example week’s schedule during Half Ironman Training:
Sunday:  Recovery Day
Monday:  45 min Swim / 1 hour run
Tuesday: 1-2 Hour Bike / Short brick run
Wednesday: 45 min-1 hour Swim / 45 minute-1 hour run
Thursday: 1 Hour Bike
Friday:  Long Run
Saturday: 45 minute Open Water Swim / Long Ride (2-3 hours) / Short Brick
Time commitment:  12-15 hours a week

Here’s an example week’s schedule during Ironman:
Sunday:  Short Run or Swim, or Recovery Day
Monday: Long Swim /  Run
Tuesday: 1-3 Hour Bike / Brick
Wednesday: Long Swim  / Run
Thursday: 1-3 Hour Bike
Friday:  Long Run
Saturday:  Open Water Swim / Long Ride (4-6 hours) / Brick
Time commitment:  17-24 hours a week
It’s a juggling act for sure, but it can be done!

Remember that yes you “need’ to hit all those key workouts, but during the process it’s extremely important to sometimes skip and listen to the family dynamic (take the day off and snuggle in bed with the kids all day instead of riding, etc.).Those one or two workouts aren’t going to “cost” you the race if you are hitting everything consistently. Consistency is key for the race, but also for the family.


Also, don’t forget to talk with your spouse or significant other during this time. It’s really easy for them to feel left out and ignored while you are busy getting the training done.

You must negotiate a schedule and stick to it, that way everyone in the house knows what to expect.  If you don’t get your butt out of bed and go in the morning (and that’s the agreed schedule), don’t expect your partner to be thrilled when you arrange his or her evening schedule to get in your workout. That’s not fair either.


Most of all, enjoy the process. You only have that first half iron or iron distance ONE time in your life.  Enjoy the journey and learn lessons at every turn.

Now… feel free to share your tips in the comments!

How do YOU make your training, work and family time happen?


  • Sarah Emerich

    January 15, 2015 at 1:43 pm

    The life juggle is difficult, especially throwing a race in there. But as a parent, at least myself, I am a better parent when I can do one little thing for me. That is racing. By racing, I mean entering a race and not be last! My first Ironman 70.3 is scheduled for June. One year ago I made the choice to change me and be a positive influence on my family. I couldn’t run to the corner of the street. Now I have 2 half marathons and a Spartan race under my belt and 2 half marathons, 8 mile vertical race, a sprint tri and a half ironman for 2015. I have definitely opened their eyes to what a person can accomplish. They want to race too. Thanks for being my inspiration so I can be theirs! 🙂

  • Kim

    January 15, 2015 at 2:09 pm

    The balancing act of training and family life is exceptionally difficult. While I don’t have children, I do have an overly demanding job (which would not be conducive to having kids) and an ultramarathoner/ironman spouse who requires a much more demanding training schedule than mine. He trains at his pace while I work, and then works while I train at nights and occasionally trains with me to motivate me. It’s a balancing act, and most days it seems to require eating out and never having clean laundry.

  • Tina

    January 15, 2015 at 2:22 pm

    It is difficult with two young boys (on multiple sports teams). I have a husband who trains for marathons and we both work full-time. I have my own law practice so I have the luxury of (attempting) to make my own schedule though. Training for Ironman CAN be done ~~ as long as you SCHEDULE everything in, don’t beat yourself up if you miss a workout to be a mom & have a super-supportive spouse. SBM’s advice is spot on: Realize that those workouts are important and stick to them but don’t freak out if you skip a few when you feel you need to. It won’t make or break your race.

    Don’t feel guilty that you’re taking time away from the kids. I believe you’re setting an example for them. Quality time can still be had.

  • Kate

    January 15, 2015 at 4:01 pm

    I just have to say – I used your “suck line” angle this year. We just ran out of time for holiday cards, and it wasn’t a priority to us this year. This year, holiday cards fell below the suck line. And we were OK with it, thanks in part to your post! So thanks!

  • Jen

    January 15, 2015 at 5:01 pm

    My hubby, our daughter and I had a Mandatory Family Meeting every Sunday. Start and end with a hug, address some family business, take time to just talk, and plan out the next week’s schedule. This helped our daughter feel like she was part of the journey (she was!) of doing an Ironman. And knowing what to expect week to week made it easier for her too.

  • cheryl

    January 16, 2015 at 8:23 am

    Spousal/family support is so important! My EX tried to sabotage my first Ironman training-he agreed to my doing it and then found all kinds of ways (like having to go into work, or staying really late at work-this was CHOICE) when I had long rides/runs scheduled. My in-laws were never “on board” with me doing races either so they were of no help in watching my daughter. It was hard enough with a teaching schedule and having to be at work by 7:30 and sometimes didn’t get home until 4 or later. Let’s just say I was tired all the time….but I ended up with a couple sub 15 IMs. My next one will not be until I retire-I want all the time in the world to focus on training and recovery time!

  • Colleen

    January 16, 2015 at 1:15 pm

    love this! its different for everyone, but it something i am constantly worried about for this coming summer. like constantly worried about… how will it all fit? i know that it will…. so thanks for the reassurance on that!

  • laura

    January 16, 2015 at 4:06 pm

    I’m only in preseason, but last night’s workout went awol when the elusive dress for the dance could not be located easily. It made it all worthwhile when my 12 year old said, “I’m really sorry you missed your workout tonight. Thanks for shopping for my dress.” Sweet moments like that are few and far between at 12. 🙂

  • Alex Birney

    February 6, 2015 at 12:10 pm

    Your blog touched such a chord!! First time in years (4 actually) I don’t feel like I am a mad thing.
    After 4 years of doing sprint and Olympic distance, I decided that 2015 will be the year of my first half Ironman. While my husband reply to this has been more than supportive, I can’t say the same about friends, family, work colleagues and neighbours. Their reply has been anything between: amused, to being called selfish ( I also have 2 young children and some family members think I should be spending more time with them after working a 45hrs week), a mad thing who is going to die of a heart attack. My kids are very happy and I ame too, while this wasn’t the case when a full time stay at home mum. Just wanted to say thanks for a refreshing view and at least some objectives and practical advices


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