5 Steps to Family, Sport and Life Balance

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John Newman

Husband, father of two, age-group triathlete and healthy lifestyle advocate. Along with his wife, Tara, John blogs about everyday challenges, successes and pitfalls pertaining to training and family at FamilySportLife.net. John has transformed his life over the last decade, losing over 70 pounds and becoming a highly competitive triathlete, typically finishing in the top 10% overall. An engineer by trade, John takes a very analytic approach to training and fitness. John is currently training for his first full Ironman at Lake Placid in 2014. Find him on Twitter at @newmanjohnd or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/FSLblog.

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“Where’s Dad?”

“Really?  Where do you think he is?”

“Swimming, biking or running?”

“Yup.  He will be home soon.”

My kids initiated this conversation with my wife almost every morning this past year.  By design, I would typically be walking through the door within a few minutes of these exchanges, not from a quick run around the neighborhood, but from a 3-4 hour brick session.  And, all this was taking place at 7:30 am.

I take my role and responsibilities as a husband, father and provider very seriously.  Likewise, I am also very passionate about health, fitness and triathlon.  Most would suggest that family and endurance sports cannot peaceably coexist, and involvement in one would naturally take away from the other.  There are only 24 hours in a day and the ability to reclaim lost time is still undiscovered.  True, but what if I increased my utilization of those hours?  Or better yet, increased my efficiency within those better utilized hours?  Once I was honest with myself and admitted that I wasted a TON of time over the years on things that were not high on my priority list, the ability to balance family , sport and life became a reality.

My desire to “do it all” while making it appear that each task has my undivided attention is still a work in progress.  However, once I made the commitment, a few small changes in my life catalyzed the process and has put me on the right path to achieving a once seemingly insurmountable goal.

My participation in triathlon and endurance activities/events started with cycling, about 10 years ago, prior to becoming a father.  At that time, I had the luxury of being able to jump on my bike for any number of hours with little or no repercussions.  My wife had yoga and spin classes, coffee with friends and other “me time” activities to fill a Saturday morning while I was out training.  With few other commitments or responsibilities, we had plenty of hours left in the day to be husband and wife.  It worked, and rarely effected our relationship.  In fact, there was so much room for error, we wound up wasting countless hours each day, but it didn’t matter back then.

Then came the kid(s).  While Tara was pregnant, we made a pact to not let the little guy affect our hobbies and lifestyle.  We could use jogging strollers, bike trailers and the gym had a daycare center.  It was going to be easy!  OK, we were a bit naive.  When reality set in, we had to adapt and overcome. Balancing both of our training schedules (particularly mine), two demanding full-time jobs, two active kids and a slew of other commitments, activities and responsibilities has not been easy.  But, we’ve gotten much better at it in the recent past.

Here are five things that I (we) do to help ease the stress and make it all possible in our house.

Train In The Mornings

I have always been an early-riser, going to the gym before work since college.  In those early years, I also stayed up fairly late, somehow able to function on a few hours sleep.  Chalk it up to youth or stupidity, but I just cannot do that any more.  These days, I am in bed at 9:00 pm, read for about 30 minutes and then pass out (usually dropping the Kindle on my face).  I wake up at 4:00 am and begin my day with triathlon training.

Since the kids are asleep until at least 7:00 am, I have about 3 hours to get in a swim, bike, run or combination of any two, before they wake up.  My thinking is that I am not taking any time away from them to train.  When I first greet them, my training is done and we can start our “get ready for school and work” routine.

Since I typically train 6-7 days per week, I also follow the same schedule on the weekends.  I do, however, have the opportunity to go a little longer and get back home by 8 or 9.  My wife handles the kids for an hour or two and then we swap roles.  By 11:00, we have all of our training done, leaving the rest of the day to give our undivided attention to the kids.

Plan and Share Your Training Schedule

I have found that one of the most effective methods to improving my performance in endurance sports was to plan my training sessions as far in advance as possible.  This eliminated the “What should I do today?” self-discussion I had almost every morning.  This year, I began using a training coach who writes out my weekly plan every Sunday afternoon.  The training schedule works around my constraints, optimizes the time I have and allows me to focus on getting the most out of each session.

Even if I didn’t have a coach, I would carry over this valuable tool, writing out my own plan a week in advance.  The second part of this equation is to communicate the plan to my wife and family.  We discuss the week’s schedule then overlay it with Tara’s training and the kid’s activities.  We make some adjustments and off we go.  Tara and I are also Evernote junkies, so we routinely post training schedules and commitments in a shared notebook.  This has helped us tremendously in organizing and managing all of our activities without dropping the ball.

Find and Eliminate Wasted Time

To me, “wasted” time would be any time spent not focusing on my highest priorities.  I was honest with myself and identified that the time spent with social media, Words With Friends, lame TV shows, and excessive travel times (we live on Long Island, well-known for our traffic) was just plain wasted.  I cleaned up my social media feeds, deleted game apps from my phone, removed 75% of the series recordings from my DVR and adjusted my travel requirements by using Amazon.com much more often than before.  I was amazed at how much time this freed up.  I now have the time to train, blog, read, interact with my wife and kids and take care of other higher priority items.  A 20 hour training week now fits nicely into my schedule.

Organize Your Gear

I purchased a transition bag earlier in the year.  This allowed me to organize my gear for all three activities in one portable little medium-sized package.  I know where everything is and it is always fully packed for whatever tomorrow’s schedule requires.  After a bike ride, I prep it for the next one, shoes clipped into pedals, water bottles refilled and stored in the fridge and nutrition items replenished in the Bento box.  After a swim, I air-dry my suit and then repack it in the bag with a clean towel.

I know it may seem trivial, but having your gear organized and ready can save hours per week.  It also helps when plans unexpectedly change.  A few times, I have gone to the gym at 5 AM to find that the pool is closed for one reason or another.  Instead of losing an hour workout, and since I have all of my gear with me, I am able to quickly gear up for a run on the treadmill.  Having this ability has added another valuable tool to my training toolbox.

Involve The Family

There is no better way to get support for your activities than to get “buy-in” from your family.  If they can become passionate about your endeavors by being involved themselves, it become mutually beneficial.  When I have an easy recovery ride or run scheduled, I ask my wife to join me.  I enrolled my son in a triathlon camp that he just loved.  My daughter cannot get enough of those “fun runs” that take place before adult running races.  We also try to have the family attend as many races as possible (for both my wife and me).  To this day, I get more pumped up to spectate my wife’s and kid’s races than I do when I race.  We have made all of our training and racing a team activity by involving everyone.  From all of this, “buy-in” is achieved.

We live a very busy life, as do most.  But, by being sensitive to the needs and desires of others, as well as being a little selfless in a very selfish hobby, balance can be achieved.  We still need to tweak a few things, but for now it’s working well.  Last month, I officially started my training for Ironman Lake Placid next July.  Over the next 250 days or so, I will be tested physically and mentally, but I am also aware of the toll it will take on my family.  However, I think we have a good plan to make this journey a successful one for the entire family.

14 Comments

  1. Tim R

    Well said (written). My training partner is a single man in his 30s with no kids. When we were training for Ironman Wisconsin in ’12, I always had to explain how after a century ride or long run, I still had to go home and be “daddy”. At the time, my twins were 3 and didn’t care if I was tired, they needed me to play ‘Pirate’ or look for unicorns in the back yard. He got to take a nap or go recover by watching a movie and eating whatever he wanted. I’m looking forward to doing some of the things you talk about here to integrate the family more with triathlon. Thanks for the blog!

    Reply
  2. John Newman

    Tim-
    Thank you very much. I can’t tell you how many times I have gone outside to throw a football around or had to empty the dishwasher in cycling shorts with my Garmin HR strap still on! Many of my cycling buddies have older children that sleep until noon and can watch themselves for a period of time. When they want to ride at 9:00 am, I have to explain that I need to be DONE by 9!

    Thanks again for reading and sharing your experience.

    John

    Reply
  3. brian

    Thanks! This is hugely helpful to me. We just had our first kid and I’m always training for my next marathon, so a lot of this is very applicable to me.

    Reply
    1. John Newman

      I thought it was tough with one kid….then the second one came! It was easy to dump my son on an in-law or aunt so my wife and I could train, but the volunteers disappeared when there were 2. Thanks for reading.

      Reply
  4. Patrick

    Great tips. I have a one year old and a 4 year old. I managed to fit in two marathons this year. I usually run home from work during the week and bring one of the kids on the Chariot on the weekend until we get snow. Once our 1 year old starts sleeping longer I plan to start running early in the morning again.

    Reply
    1. John Newman

      Patrick-

      My 8 and 5 years olds don’t do the running stroller anymore. However, when my son is motivated, he can ride his bike while I run. My daughter is close to being able to the same. I look forward to having them join me as they get older. Thanks for reading.

      John

      Reply
  5. Nathan

    When our son was born, I got the best baby jogger I could find. Now that he’s old enough, we regularly go out for 5 – 7 mile. It’s great for both of us. It’s become a little ritual that we share. I think he likes the feeling of going fast.

    Thanks for the post!

    http://minneapolisrunning.com

    Reply
    1. John Newman

      Nathan-

      We sold ours last year. Both kids out grew it. We did put some decent miles on it though. Thanks for reading.

      John

      Reply
  6. Paul Mora

    Great post! My biggest struggle is with getting up early. Mind you going to bed early is also key. I will try some of your suggestions and see if they help.

    Reply
    1. John Newman

      Paul-

      Thank you. It only takes a few weeks to adjust to the early morning hours. Once you start nailing it, it becomes easier. Good luck.

      John

      Reply
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  8. Butch

    The above story is every new parent and old triathlete’s story! My wife and I went through the same conversations and have done a great job including our daughter in our training and travels to insure balance in our family.

    The tips lined out above are a great reminder of how to keep things in balance and focus on the important things in life.

    Reply
    1. John Newman

      Butch-

      Thank you for reading. Balance is everything and it is still an ongoing process. I also find that as I build fitness, it is an easier decision to do family stuff and skip a workout. Work really hard when I can, so I can reap the benefits later.

      Reply
  9. Dr Derek

    Great post, John! Like any passion, we can’t let it unbalance the rest of our life with the people we love. Great practical tips to help manage it.

    Reply

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