The Single Parent Endurance Athlete

Swim Run Verdon

As most non-professional athletes will agree, finding time to train effectively can be a challenge by itself. You have to work of course, family time is important, and without some semblance of a social life you would probably go insane. Now, add into the mix a little one too and you’ve now got a real juggling act to maintain.

A little background before I get to the core of this article, so please bear with me. I’m  a designer by trade and also now entering  the age group triathlete field for my first serious competitive season. Back in March 2016 I literally dipped my toes on the water of endurance events and struggled then to even swim a 25m length of the pool without gasping for air. So, I had a couple of coaching lessons, joined a local triathlon club, downloaded a 14 week program from the internet and began my journey. With my first triathlon booked for 9th July 2016 I had a target. I just needed a wetsuit, a bike and to get fit!

I entered 3 standard triathlons and just couldn’t manage to break 3 hours, so I had some thinking to do, did I want to continue or give it up and remain happy that I’d pushed myself to what I though was my limit. The answer was glaringly obvious to me. I had to continue. Inspired by the Brownlee brothers amazing performances I wanted so badly to represent Great Britain. So, I went about getting a proper coach to take me to the net level.

As luck would have it, I didn’t have to search for very long as I got chatting to Gary Spencer (GB Age Group triathlete), while going through one of my own swim sessions. He agreed to give me a shot to see if I had what it takes to become a serious contender at that level.

We discussed my lifestyle and responsibilities so he could work out the best possible training plan for me. This also meant I could relax by knowing I’ve a seasoned athlete structuring my training and not have to stress over working out my own path. This also gave me the flexibility to shift sessions around for the week commencing.

The first couple of months was spent getting me up to speed over the winter so I’d be strong enough to be really put to task and ready for the season ahead. This was a painful period both physically and mentally as although I loved the training, I was so tired all the time that I wasn’t the lively and active father for Junior. I maintained a strong performance at work, but at times I felt as though it was interfering with my training and that became frustrating. I was missing training sessions and getting down about it, but Gary quickly guided me through this to get me back on track. It’s really important that you don’t get discouraged if you’re missing sessions.

The coaching has done two things. Firstly it has greatly improved my ability in all 3 disciplines better than I could have possibly hoped for, but on the flip side, it has also intensified the pressure on managing the other important aspects of my life. Training between 10 to 13 hours a week you can understand that my time-management skills have also been pushed harder than ever before. You have to train smart.

Knowing the immovable aspects of your life is critical to training efficiently. Early morning sessions on the bike turbo before taking Junior to school and swimming before work really help get the day off to a blistering start and carve a huge slice off the schedule. Running at lunch is a great way to break up the day nicely so you have some evenings left to enjoy. And let’s not forget the ever popular cycling to work to clock up the extra mileage.

Taking advantage of ‘wasted time’; time spent waiting for your dinner to cook in the evening can be filled with shorter stretching, rolling  or core strength sessions. And although it’s not for everyone, time spent waiting for a train can be optimised doing bodyweight exercises. Calf raises on steps or glute clenches (expect funny looks on the latter) for example.

The support from friends and family is invaluable, and although I’m not advocating that you constantly palm off Junior to every available source, you can certainly lean on these relationships to help out when it’s needed. Why not take advantage of an early morning run or long bike ride while they look after Junior the next time you stay over for the weekend. You’ll then have the rest of the day to enjoy each others company. Or you could also arrange a playdate. Got a race on, then grandparents would surely jump at the chance to spend a little uninterrupted time with Junior, and you’ll then be able to tell them all about it when you return, and get a big cuddle from Junior. You can become really creative in how you weave training into your life that doesn’t effect your relationship with Junior, and it does become easier.

And then there’s the importance of nutrition, and this I would suggest requires extra planning as a single parent. Getting the week planned out on Sunday evening you can prepare multiple meals ahead of time to free up time later in the week for you to concentrate on training, work and being a parent.

I am very lucky in that myself and Junior’s mum have remained friends. We share the responsibility of bringing up Junior and more to the point, we don’t have a strict schedule in place which greatly reduces the pressure for all of us. However, on the flip side of this, time with Junior is very precious so managing training volume effectively without overload, and enjoying quality time with Junior is very important. Rest and recovery for the endurance athlete is as important as the training itself.

I’ll leave you with this. You get out what you put in, but not at the detriment of things that you hold dear in your life. It is a balancing act, and you are after all a role model for your children so for them to see you working hard for something you enjoy is surely going to encourage that same attitude in them when they grow older. And your training focus can flood through into other aspects of your life.

Here’s to marginal gains…

Big Daddy

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