I get asked a lot about how much I train, how many hours, how much mileage, etc. Honestly, I think everyone is training hard, that’s the easy part. It’s obvious; work hard, and accumulate work hours and you’ll get fitter. Here’s the important question you should ask a pro athlete: what do you do (or not do) outside of training? This is the difference maker. Let’s say the average pro triathlete trains four hours a day or 28 hours a week. What are you as an athlete doing with the other 20 hours of your day? This where I believe a tremendous amount of discipline, sacrifice and financial investment comes into play.
Personally, I have very high sleep needs. Eight hours is my absolute minimum, and ideally I need between 9-10 hours. To accommodate for this I start getting ready for bed around 8:30pm so that I am in bed by 9pm and asleep by 9:30pm. It means leaving dinners, functions, parties, etc. a little earlier than I’d like to but sleep comes first. I am a terrible napper and can never seem to fall asleep during the day, so it’s very important to me that I get the sleep in at night. Most of my training partners nap for about 30min-2 hours a day. I believe that sleep should be made a priority for everyone, but especially for professional athlete. This is when we heal and recover from training and the damage we inflict upon our bodies.
Eating healthy is expensive. My husband and I are at the grocery store 4-5x/ week. We recently figured out that we are spending approximately $1200/month on food. We eat a lot of fresh unprocessed foods, and rarely eat out. We eat almost exclusively organic/ grass fed meats, which is also more expensive. We splurge on a meal delivery service called Blue Apron. It provides the ingredients and recipes for three meals a week. We decided to do this after we were getting bored of the same 7-9 meals we were making. Blue Apron allows us to branch out and try new meals, while making us feel like we actually know what we’re doing in the kitchen. Plus it’s a great way to spend time together with your partner. I could write an entire blog post about what nutrition is important, but in a nutshell you’re going to get out of your body what you put into it. It’s expensive to eat well, and it requires planning and time to make healthy and nutritious meals at home.
I use the NormaTec for approximately 3-4 hours a week; especially in between key sessions. I don’t spend a ton of time stretching as it’s counterintuitive to the thought process behind Muscle Activation Techniques (MAT), but I do gentle stretching after all my run sessions. I also don’t foam roll for the same reason I don’t do deep stretching. However, each day I spend 20min in the evening doing my MAT exercises that help reinforce the treatment I recieve. These exercises address stubborn compensation patterns as well as new ones.
On a weekly basis I get a massage, chiropractic treatment as well as a visit with my Muscle Activation Therapist. Each of these varies in price and time commitment, depending on where we are training. Currently, I am spending $265/ week on these three treatments. It’s a combined time commitment of about 2 hours of driving commuting to these appointments.
If you don’t spent the time and money taking care of your body, how long do you expect it to take care of you? Bodywork is the most common thing I hear athletes skimping on, but the athletes at the very top travel with an entire entourage of people to help them stay healthy. At some point you have to find a way to make it work. With regular bodywork, you’ll get injured less and be able to handle more work on a more consistent basis. Most importantly, you’ll get faster because of the consistent training, and ultimately perform better at races, making you more money so that you can continue to afford the bodywork. Rarely have I seen an athlete get the results without taking care of their body first. Not getting bodywork for the purpose of saving money, when your body is the vehicle for which you must perform in, is very short sighted.
Personal relationships will suffer.
When you’re away training and racing, you’re going to miss a lot. I’ve missed more weddings than I can count, I believe I have 4 new cousins I have yet to meet because it’s been so long since I went home. I just had to go through the agony of my grandfather passing and my uncle before that without getting to say goodbye in person. Some of your friends and family will get it, some won’t. I realize that this could be a sacrifice for anyone with any particular job, or simply living far away from home, but our job never stops. We are always on the clock; it all counts, it’s all measured on race day.
When you’re training and racing professionally as a triathlete you won’t have much energy for anything else. Since you’re family and friends probably have real grown up jobs, they’ll want to get together or hold functions (i.e. weddings, parties, etc) on weekends, which is when we race. So there will understandably be a lot of conflicts where you’ll have to make tough decisions. Furthermore, it’s our job to be selfish, it took me a long time to understand and accept what this meant. We have to take care of our bodies and ourselves first. It can be difficult to contribute equally to a relationship, whether that be a friend or something more significant. This is the reason why I believe it is so common to see professional triathletes marrying one another. It’s not just a job; it’s a lifestyle that requires us to be on the clock 24-7; not very many people get that. I want to be clear that I’m not suggesting that you need to ditch all your friends and family to be a good athlete, but simply to recognize some of the unique challenges that professional triathletes have maintaining relationships. After all, success means nothing if you have no one to share it with.
Find hobbies that allow you to recharge
Personally, I love to read; my husband loves the history channel. Many pro triathletes I've lived and train with spend a lot of time on the computer watching tv programs or movies online. My good friends Katie and Tommy Zafares love to go for walks together and take pictures. Photography is a passion they share together. It's important to know how you best recharge and knowing whether you're introverted or extroverted will help you in that process. Someone who's a little more extroverted might need time in social situations to feel recharged, ie. going for coffee with a group of friends. Whereas someone who is more introverted needs time alone or in very small groups/ couples to feel rested. I lean towards the latter, but it's important to know what works for you.
If it takes away from training/ recovery and you can afford to pay someone else to do it, do it.
For me to relax, I like my space to be clean and tidy. I was spending a couple hours on most Sunday’s cleaning. A few years ago, I lost it on my husband after I had boiled over with resentment for cleaning the toilet for the 1000th time as he lay on the couch. He exclaimed that he was exhausted, and that cleaning wasn’t good recovery and that frankly, I shouldn’t do it either. To make a long story short, he was right, and we were interviewing cleaning companies within a week. Time is money, especially if you were previously spending that time doing something that is counter productive to training. I think it’s important to mention that I did not start making a living as a triathlete until 2011. For most of my career hiring someone to help with the cleaning wouldn’t have been an option I could consider. Before 2011, my profession was considered a hobby in the eyes of the IRS. I have been a professional triathlete since the age of 14, meaning it took me well over 10 years to make a living at this sport. It is not easy and all of the points mentioned above are lessons that I learned along the way of finally being able to call triathlon a job.
I used to think that it was so important to have balance in an athlete’s life, but I’ve come to realize that there is nothing balanced about what we do. In the words of my coach, Joel Filliol: "You’re either switched on or not". There is no grey area if you want to make a living in this sport. The money is only good if you’re on top, no one makes a living finishing off the podium and that’s just the facts. You have to invest the time and money in yourself to achieve the results that will get you paid. I truly believe that “The other 20 hours” is what separates the top of the podium from the rest. It's a huge sacrifice, one that you feel every day. But when you get the job done on race day and accomplish something really big that you almost can't believe you made happen, it makes all the sacrifice worth it.