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Why Triathletes Rival Toddlers on a Scale of One to Selfish

As I rounded the corner to almost-taper this weekend, I thought about interesting things that happen during this pre-race twilight zone.

Triathlon race season is a crazy time for the athlete and the family of the triathlete.  Our significant others and family have undoubtedly been making sacrifices for us to make it to the start line. Sometimes these sacrifices are major and easy to see, hear, touch and feel. Other times, a triathlete may not think any sacrifices are being made at all… but often times, that’s not really the case.

End result of a taper leading up to the race?  The triathlete’s spouse or family can very much feel as tired and as drained as the athlete–plus other more poignant emotions like neglected, unappreciated and used.

The push and pull and balancing of ALL THE THINGS can seem an impossible mission for the triathlete, sure. I get that.

But there can also be a really hard, cold truth about triathletes:

We can be an exceptionally selfish breed. Like toddler selfish. Me! Me! Mine! Mine!

(Not all of us. But I think there is a tendency.)

And sometimes, by this point in the season or leading up to an “A”, a triathlete may have let a lot of things fall below the “Suck Line,” intentionally or unintentionally– and that may also include the family.

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In two weeks, I will make my third race visit to Ironman 70.3 Augusta, which is my “A” race for this year.

So I have been thinking on these things.

I have been in triathlon for six years now, with three of those years being iron distance seasons–and as a result, I have learned a ton about taking care of your family and your “sherpas”.

And like most things in life, I have learned these things the hard way.

I have taken care of my family well (last year, leading up to Lake Placid and Louisville)… and I have totally botched it, leading up to Coeur d’Alene, where the Expert and I nearly called our marriage quits.

As I wrote in my August column for Triathlete Magazine (I’ll post the link once it goes up online),  I have a massive regret about many things leading up to my first Ironman.  And one event in particular.  I wrote:

“Right now, I would trade in all my finishes—every last one of them—to go back and fix that moment.  And of course, I can’t.  But I can remember with every workout and every day, that triathlon is not my everything.  It’s a lot and it is a big part of me, but it is not me.

Triathlon is not who I am:  I am a wife, a mom, a daughter, a granddaughter, a friend—first—before a triathlete, and long before an Ironman.”

Here’s the thing, my fellow triathletes, your next big race is NOT actually ALL about you.

Sure, the race is a celebration of YOU, sure.  It’s a celebration of YOUR hard work, and YOUR accomplishments.

But as I have written a million times, triathlon should be the lens through which you can see and appreciate the good things, the blessings and the triumphs in your life.  Or perhaps the things that need to change.  Triathlon should not be the beer goggles that makes everything all nutty.

So yes, the race is technically YOUR day.

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However, until you have sherpa’d a race for someone you love–well, you truly have no idea how hard that family works just to chase you all over a course, sitting there for hours in between with nothing to do, and wearing their adorable Team You matching t-shirts.  It’s hard work to care for a triathlete on race day.

“But I am the one who is suffering out there!”

Yes, but they are too.

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Don’t forget WHO was there for you during the training and all the days leading up to the race. (Or, perhaps you are in a situation where you are dealing with someone who wasn’t there–but that’s another story for another day). Don’t forget who will be there when you are injured for a long span of time, and you can’t train at all or race.  Don’t forget who has also donated money to your race cause (if you share finances at all, this has happened–even if something as small as a gel).  Don’t forget how many times they have likely swallowed disappointment from a broken promise or two from you (more on this below).

Our families are not perfect.  Not saying that.  Some of them can be total buttheads. I get that too.

But for the most part, when we are going through the process of triathlon-ing, we are the ones who are changing–and going through big changes on a molecular and emotional level.

We are doing all these new and exciting things… and sometimes, the (original) loves of our lives are lost in the flurry.

At some point, if your family starts to feel left out or neglected, or maybe they are sick of your entitled tri attitude–well, they are going to REVOLT.

And trust me, the timing of the revolt usually does not line up with your recovery week.  The timing of the revolt couldn’t be worse. The revolt is often days before the race.  Or on race morning.  Or, lawd forbid—during the race, on the run course.

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As a triathlete, ask yourself these questions:

Have I said “thank you” lately?

This goes a long way.  Even if you feel like you are stretching to say it.  Say it anyway.

Thank you for putting up with me, my moods, all the sticky water bottles, the time away, the sweaty smelling-everything…
Thank you for putting up with me setting my alarm and banging around so early in the mornings, which undoubtedly disturbs your sleep.
Thank you for picking up the kids. Just thank you for loving me.

Or whatever. Think of some way to say thank you. Because if you are living in the same house and you are training, there is something to thank that significant other for. They have done something to help.

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(And if they’ve truly done nothing, like ever?

Well, you should probably kind of think of moving out.)

Have I broken a promise recently?

Even if it’s something “small” or mundane.

Have you promised, “No, problem. Sure, I’ll pick up your dry cleaning today” or “Definitely, I’ll be at your soccer game”–and then (for whatever reason, but a triathlon-related one)–you missed it, or mucked it up?

And I don’t mean deliberate promise shattering, but maybe something where you just couldn’t deliver on something you promised because of training? And I also mean something outside of your control, too. Perhaps, you had two flat tubes on a ride and your spouse had to drive 80 miles to retrieve you, and in turn, the kids missed their time at the pool. “But this wasn’t my fault!”

Well, technically.  But arguably– maybe you should have had three tubes. And regardless, you were training AND you disappointed your family. Doesn’t matter who is at fault. It happened.  When you stack a bunch of those in a row, that is a hard thing for the fam to keep swallowing.

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Which leads to the final question…

Have I said “I’m sorry” lately?

This also goes a long way.

“But I don’t have anything to be sorry for!”

(You actually probably do. Think hard on this one.)

I am sorry I snapped at you when you lost my heartrate strap.
I am sorry that I didn’t do what I said I would, because I was too tired from the bike ride.
I am sorry that you feel that I am choosing this sport over you–I truly am not. I am nervous, and scared about my race, and I am taking it out on you. But I will do a better job of letting you know what you mean to me going forward.
I’m sorry that I disappointed you and missed the first two innings of your game.

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[To name a few.]

Here’s the thing: triathlon is a push and pull.  If you want to keep your life and triathlon together, you have to “win some” and “lose some.”  You can’t always win. And YOU (yes you) must learn to let some things go.

You really do.  That includes workouts. That includes swallowing your pride and saying thank you when the laundry is done–but maybe not precisely how YOU would have done it.  The list goes on and one.

But really, it just starts from a place of gratitude and kindness.

Be kind and be grateful for what you have, and then show that to your family. As a triathlete in your house, start from these three easy questions.  Answer them honestly, and see what happens.

Oh, and don’t worry. I’m not picking on the triathletes only.

Tomorrow’s post flips the tale – and talks about the one thing that you should never say to a tapering triathlete.

I will cover one crazy thing that you (as a partner or sherpa) should never say to a tapering triathlete… and like most things on this blog, it goes much deeper than you might think.

9 Comments

  • Allyson

    September 12, 2016 at 6:48 pm

    This is equally true in a two athlete family. When my hubby and I where training for our Ironman together, it was hard! Up to that 2 year period we alternated big races so someone was around to deal with all the real life stuff and now we are trying to get back to that so we have each others back. I am doing a 70.3 or two next year and he is moving to trail ultras and may do a 5i50 but we will not be doing many of the same events in future, it’s creates chaos.

    Reply
  • Kasey

    September 12, 2016 at 6:49 pm

    I certainly don’t say thank you and sorry enough. Thanks for the reminder. We do put them through a lot while training, don’t we? I once missed my son’s football pep rally because of 2 flats on a dark trace 15 miles from home, then came home pissed because I had to find my way home by myself, took an hour bath, cleaned up my wounds (b/c I fell off my bike when I looked down to check if I had a flat) and went straight to bed without talking to anyone. I think I’ll apologize now for that event that happened a year ago.

    Reply
  • Nichole

    September 13, 2016 at 7:25 am

    I know this was written from a triathlete perspective but those same tools can be used for all marriages. We spend so much time criticizing and taking the good for granted, these are gentle reminders that what you put out in the universe you will receive back.

    Reply
  • Lisa C

    September 13, 2016 at 9:30 am

    ? Even when there is no one living at home anymore, i apoligized before the season started to my grown children. No Sunday dinners, my yard will be a jungle, i’ll be out of town, alot!

    Reply

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