Keeping Your Sanity by Finding Balance

Beth Risdon

I don’t know about you, but summer is a huge balancing act around here. With the kids out of school and needing to eat, be driven places and get in their bickering for the day, I struggle with fitting it all in.

This summer, in particular, has been tricky. I had the brilliant idea earlier this year to sign up for my first half Ironman, the Boulder 70.3, on August 7, 2011. This is a long distance triathlon covering a 1.2 mile open water swim, a 56 mile bike ride and a half marathon. One distance after another! All in the same day!

I like biting off more than I can chew, but only if the bites are of things I am passionate about. When I decided to train for my first marathon in 2009, I wasn’t a runner. I ran maybe twelve miles per year, if I was counting. I had never even run a half marathon before. I trained for 16 weeks and completed the 26.2 miles without crawling or throwing up. That gave me the confidence to make more bold decisions about my future.

Fast forward to this past winter when I decided I should take on the 70.3 mile distance. I had done one sprint triathlon last year and figured all I needed to do was quadruple the distances and train a bit more and I could complete the distance respectably. Ignorance is bliss sometimes.

What I did not anticipate was the time commitment involved in training for these long distance triathlons. It is a part time job you are not paid to do. In fact, you pay people and businesses to let you do it. In my case: registration fee ($250), a new bike ($1,200), pool membership ($60/month). Don’t even get me started on protein bars, gels, tubes for the bike, sport’s drink mixes, goggles, the list goes on and on. I’m only training for a half Ironman. Those folks who do the full 140.6 mile distance are beyond disciplined and hardcore. They may be just slightly insane and/or superhuman, in a good way.

So, what does the training really involve? I thought about hiring a coach, but it was another expense and I wanted to pay my mortgage more than hire someone. So, I did what anyone in my position does, and started frantically Googling “half Ironman training plans.” I picked about five of them that sounded respectable, and have done a mix and match of all of them.

Every Sunday night I sit at my computer and create a training plan for the week ahead, taking into account that I have to be a mother, wife and employee in addition to a fitness freak. I try to incorporate three workouts in each discipline and throw in some yoga if possible. Some weeks I have a rest day, some weeks I don’t.  For me, the most crucial aspect is getting in a certain number of hours per week (9-13 hours). The first week I trained, I did six hours of workouts. Now I am in week nine and I just finished my first twelve-hour week.

Twelve hours. That averages two plus hours per day of exercise. And, guess what? I already have two other part time jobs, two kids, a house and a dog.  Oh, and a husband and some friends I like to see every once in awhile.

Early on, I realized some things would have to go. The only way to figure out what could go was to decide what had to stay – those things that were non-negotiable – priorities.

Here to Stay:

  • The quality of my parenting
  • Down time in the evenings with a good book and a glass of wine
  • The quality of my work in my “real job”
  • The quality of my friendships and relationships with my parents
  • The quality of my marriage
  • Yoga/meditation/prayer/inspirational reading
  • Home cooked meals

On the Way Out:

  • Sleep – getting up at 5:00 a.m. has become no big deal
  • Cleaning toilets, picking up dog poop and other house chores that I can make my kids do
  • Some extraneous social events that would be fun, but aren’t completely necessary
  • Complicated meals with lots of ingredients
  • Shopping
  • Answering the phone (I don’t usually do this anyway)
  • Surfing the net
  • Showering, primping, etc. —  no big deal if it doesn’t happen (that’s what deodorant and smelly lotions/perfumes are for)

No matter what type of goal we’ve set for ourselves, I’m convinced that the key to completing all the things you want to complete is planning, prioritizing and keeping a sense of humor. Incorporating these elements helps to create balance.

Planning has meant creating to and sticking with my training plan, setting out my gear the night before, putting the coffee on the timer and checking the weather. Prioritizing involves creating a list like I’ve done above of what I’m willing to sacrifice and what I’m not. Keeping a sense of humor means not taking myself so seriously. I try to laugh off my mistakes and shrug my shoulders when I have a bad day.

The bottom line is that having lofty fitness goals means you will have setbacks and bad days. You have to be willing to roll with the punches and remember that there is life beyond training and paces and finish lines.

Will I be ready to go the 70.3 mile distance next month? You bet. I may not be the fastest out there, but I doubt I’ll come in dead last. At the end of the day, I can pat myself on the back for a job well done. Luckily, I think my kids will remember who I am when I cross that finish line.



July 13, 2011 at 6:10 pm

Well written. Training for my first IM right now – sixteen weeks out – and I have 20+ training weeks. Sadly, weight training, Pilates and other “fun” workouts have gone straight out the window. I normally have 5 swims (swimming is my weakest sport so I am working hard on improving), 4-5 cycling days and 3-4 runs. Usually I am up at 5 a.m. and in bed by 10 p.m. I do have the luxury of not working during the summer months so it is not uncommon for me to spend 4 hours a day working out. I do manage one Yoga session a week but wish I had time to do more. I had to laugh because the reason I clicked through the link was the headline (finding balance! hah!) … I am as balanced as I can be but training for an IM seems to have me continually just about to tip over. I’m like the Leaning Tower of Pisa right now.

I’m sure you’ll kick some righteous butt in your 70.3. And then you’ll be hooked. I promise you it is only a matter of time before you take the leap to the ‘big one.’


July 13, 2011 at 9:57 pm

Reading your journey so resonates with me! I was in the thick of my Vineman training last year and came to a lot of these a-ha’s along the way; NO way to have a semi clean house, or social life while training for a HIM…things like that.

And I’m glad I have the race under my belt and am taking a year off from the training commitment, because it is huge! And the 12 hours doesn’t even account for all the pre-post prep planning involved in getting ready for each discipline: bike maintenance, driving to your bike path destination, swim gear prep, etc. Tack on another ~2hrs at least for that.

And it’s very impressive that you have time to keep the yoga/spiritural side of things involved. That unfortunately was completely lost for me during my training.

You look great girl!;)

Donna Connelley

July 14, 2011 at 5:55 am

You ladies are such inspirations. Keep up all of your good work for those of us who cannot! Thank you!!!


July 14, 2011 at 7:20 am

Thanks for boosting my determination! It’s nice to hear that it CAN be done. I’m not at the IM fitness level that you all are but I am planning my first long distance relay run. (Cache-Teton Epic Race) Having four kids and a part time job had my head swimming. Thanks for laying out some guidelines to help make it easier. Good luck! Also I’m interested in what your family eats regularly…I’m having a hard time feeding my little ones meals that fit my training diet but they still enjoy.


July 16, 2011 at 7:53 am

Thank you for writing this! I just completed my first full marathon a few months ago, and I couldn’t believe the balancing act I had to perform to get there. My goal when I started training for the marathon was to not let it make me less of a parent. I have two 2 year olds, and I figured that they didn’t need to suffer or miss out of anything just because mommy wanted to run a marathon. Running (or in your case running, biking, and swimming…you rock!) the actual event is such small part of the whole process. It really does take so much planning and self-motivation to get there. I really like your idea of making a “here to stay”, and “on the way out” lists. I think I am going to have to try that! Thank you again, this was beautifully written!


July 18, 2011 at 3:37 am

Great article!! I’m coming back from an ACL surgery and am plotting out my races for the next year – but was wondering how I’m going to fit it all in. I love the idea of committing to write down my priorities, setting specific weekly goals and not worrying about the things that will always be there (weeds in my garden, a load of laundry). Thanks for the inspiration – I’m bookmarking this entry and will look at it again when I’m trining for my marathon next summer. Good luck in August!

Lisa @ Eat.Pray.Run.

July 19, 2011 at 6:53 am

Loved this piece, Beth! It’s fun to see your writing on here–it’s a really good fit for you. I love to read about your goals, and your dedication to those goals AND your life beyond fitness. You prove it can be done, and with a smile on your face! Can’t wait to hear about your 70.3 experience!!


July 19, 2011 at 9:03 pm

I am impressed with your planning dedication and prioritizing. I wish you all the luck with you half triathalon. I’m sure you’ll do great!

julie dunkle

July 29, 2011 at 7:03 am

best of luck next weekend! As a fellow triathlete I get it….balancing kids, life, training is tough!
keeping your priorities straight is the way to go-
my kids come first…and we can all tell when I am in peak Ironman training – the house is less than adequate, dinners get simpler (always healthy and home cooked but simpler) , mom is in bed by 9, dog gains weight as his walks are shorter (he is not on board for long runs) … but the pay off is huge on race day. you will cross the finish with a smile on your face and a huge sense of accomplishment

have fun, practice your nutrition and hydration plan before race day, wear your race clothes on a long ride, make list of what you need, nothing new on race day….. plan for everything and enjoy the day!

Anne Samoilov

September 06, 2011 at 7:28 am

Planning, determination and commitment. It’s so inspiring to see those qualities working in such balance with one another. You will definitely be read for the next half triathlon Enjoy the process and keep us updated!.

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