By its nature, the sport of triathlon attracts overachievers. People are drawn to the element of mastering and competing in three distinct sports, even though it would be far easier to focus on just one. But adding a triathlon training program to family, work, and other commitments creates a very busy life. Professional triathletes and twin sisters Rebeccah and Laurel Wassner admit that this balancing act is tricky and suggest it should be considered triathlon's fourth discipline. As contributors to The Women's Guide to Triathlon, they offer 10 ways to plan and prioritize so triathlon becomes a natural part of a woman's life without becoming a stress or a burden.
- Weekly goals. The Wassners like to visualize each week individually and plan for it in a seven-day period. Every Monday morning they write down a list of three or four triathlon-related goals for the week, such as swimming five times, working on bike position, or doing a Pilates class. “When training becomes monotonous, this is a way to measure progress and also get the satisfaction of achieving something,” they explain. “We like to think that the week has been successful if we've met all of these goals, regardless of whatever else we did or didn't do.”
- Timing. Similar to the idea of setting weekly goals, the Wassners recommend getting the calendar out and looking at the week ahead. Identify the commitments you have, along with the windows of time when you might be able to fit in workouts. They stress that the best time to exercise is when it works best for you, whether it's early morning or late at night. You may have 30 minutes between an appointment and picking up the kids at school, so have your gear ready to go when the opportunity arises.
- Regular workouts. Planning regular workouts will keep you on task. This could be a weekly group bike ride, a standing running date with a friend, a masters swim lesson, or even a Pilates or yoga class. “These sessions tend to form the backbone of a training week since these are the ones you are less likely to miss and the ones that are the most likely to push you,” the Wassners point out. “With our busy schedules, there's no need to make every session a preorganized affair. Just try one or two of this kind of workout for starters, and then gradually add in more if this works for you.”
- Fuel. Fueling properly is an important component of the triathlete lifestyle. The more you train, the more you will naturally start integrating more nutritious foods into your day. The tendency toward eating junk food will fade away, replaced by a craving for foods that make you feel ready to tackle your next workout. The Wassners recommend planning for meals and snacks, having a supply of pre- and postworkout snacks on hand, and eating nutritious meals before and after big training days.
- Racing. When choosing which races to compete in, consider the logistics involved. It might make sense to choose a local race before trying a destination race. For women with children, REV3 races could be a good option since they are held at or near amusement parks. You can also use a triathlon as an excuse to visit a place you've always wanted to visit but never had the opportunity or a reason to do so.
- Key sessions. One way to prioritize is to focus on the key sessions for the week and plan them for when you feel like you'll be at your best physically and mentally. For example, don't schedule an interval run after spending the morning on your feet; make it a priority for a morning when you have free time. Likewise, it's probably not a great idea to do an intense bike workout the afternoon before attending a dinner party.
- Big picture. Although the Wassners think key sessions are important, they also think it is beneficial to focus on the big picture. Instead of worrying about how to keep up bike training during a five-day work trip when you can't bring your bike with you, think of something you can do. “You could dedicate the time you would be spending on your bike to improving your running form,” they offer as an example. “The beauty of triathlon is that there are three sports to master, so if your schedule doesn't allow you to get to the pool one day, you can replace that workout with something more convenient.”
- Be efficient. Once you've identified a block of time for training, maximize every minute by sticking to the plan. If you have two hours of child care at the gym, arrive ready to go, already dressed in workout clothes, and with your iPod and playlist in hand. If you are really efficient, you should have time for a quick warm-up, a treadmill workout, stretching, lifting, and even a shower.
- Take a day off. Even professionals like the Wassners acknowledge that the body needs and deserves a day off every once in a while. This could be a planned day off, but it doesn't have to be. “If you wake up one morning and feel wrecked, take this as a sign and make it a day off,” they recommend. “Don't beat yourself up about taking a day off, either. Even the strictest coach would tell you to listen to your body and let it recharge.”
- Have fun. Finally, the Wassners can't overemphasize the importance of remembering that triathlon is something to enjoy. It isn't something that should cause stress or make you feel as though you are missing out; rather, it's something that keeps you active and healthy. Getting too serious about it can bog you down, run you ragged, and possibly even start to damage relationships.
Authored by USA Triathlon, the national governing body of the sport, The Women's Guide to Triathlon is the definitive companion for female triathletes. A landmark resource, it features the latest research, proven techniques, and expert advice addressing the unique demands of today's female triathletes.