How do you justify the time?

Let’s face it, if you’re into training for half-Ironman or full Ironman events, then triathlon is a major part of your life. Not to say that if you only do springs or olympics that it’s not, but there’s no way around spending 10-20 hours per week training for a half or full Ironman, and anything you spend that much time doing means it is a lifestyle, not just a thing you do sometimes for fun.

My question to you is, how do you justify the time you spend on training? I’m not asking how you logistically fit it in, I want to know how you rationalize spending 10-20 hours per week swimming, biking, running, stretching, weight training, etc. when you could be spending that time doing something else. In my case, “something else” includes running a business, preparing to enter a PhD program, reading, writing, spending time with friends, and most importantly, spending time with my wife and two young kids.

Because I own my own business, I can adjust my schedule to fit in 20 hours per week and still get my work done. But that can cause some friction in a marriage when there are kids. Although working from home allows me to spend a lot more time with our kids than many dads, I don’t spend nearly as much time with them as my wife does. If I’m working out 20 hours per week, the natural inclination on her part is to ask “If you’ve got a spare 20 hours per week, shouldn’t you be spending more time with your family?” It’s not that my wife wants to get out more and wants me to take care of the kids, she just feels that they benefit from me interacting with them, and how can I justify spending 20 hours by myself rather than with them? She’d be fine with it if we had an older child who was out training with me, because then it wouldn’t just be me by myself anymore, I’d be getting family time in as well and bonding with one or more of our kids. I think she makes a good point.

That isn’t to say there aren’t other benefits that accrue to the family generally by me working out 20 hours a week, even if it’s by myself. Here are a few:

  • I’ll live longer.
  • I’ll be more able to enjoy physical activities with our kids and grandkids due to my health.
  • I’m setting an example for our kids and grandkids of living a healthful lifestyle.
  • I’m setting an example of setting high goals and accomplishing them.
  • Related to the last one, I’m making the impossible possible. Not that an Ironman is anywhere close to impossible (just look at the people doing them with artificial legs), but it is in the minds of many people. But hey, if dad or grandpa did one, not such a big deal, right? This goes along with a saying a professor of mine had for his family whenever a child complained “It’s too hard!” The response is “Yes, it is hard, but you can do hard things.” I’m showing our kids that I mean it when I say it.
  • I listen to audiobooks while I work out, so I’m also learning a lot and setting an example of continual learning and self-education.

Now, the rebuttal:

  • I’ll live longer if I’m not killed by a car.
  • I’ll enjoy more physical activities if my knees aren’t completely ruined.
  • I’m setting an example of putting my own needs above those of my family.
  • As good as all the good stuff is, it’s not as good as spending time with family.
  • What good is doing an Ironman? I’m just teaching my kids what an egomaniac they have for a dad.

These statements are not necessarily straight from my wife’s mouth, nor do they necessarily reflect her feelings. I’ve made some of this stuff up on my own.

The thing is, triathlon and doing an Ironman is not the most important thing in my life. Being physically fit and living a healthy lifestyle is way up there, but of course one doesn’t have to do an Ironman to get there. I would like to do it for the positive reasons I listed, but there certainly are challenges. In my case, it’s not enough to say “Hey, I’m getting my work done, and I’m spending just as much time with the family as I ever did before.” Not just because my wife says that, but I’m fairly convinced of that myself. But I’d love to have some outside thoughts on the matter, so chime in.

  • Bruce

    I think a lot of ‘taking too much time away’ depends on what else you do. I spend 8-10 hours a week right now swimming, biking, running etc. but it’s where I take the time from that counts. I go to work a bit early in the morning so I can take a long lunch and go swimming at noon. I don’t do the ‘out with the boys’ at the local sports bar etc. If I wasn’t training, I’d have some other hobby or interest that would take my time. In the end we just trade one interest for another and try to cram it all in.


  • mark gordon

    I don’t know how old your children are. I have five, ages 21 to 8, sharing two homes, between me and their mom (we are no longer partnered). I have found that as my children get older, their capacities and willingness to engage in spontaneous training, like playing soccer, or bike riding, playing challenge on the beach, etc. are how I fill in a bit of the lighter side of my workouts. For the tougher, solitary routines, I justify my time spent by lowering my expectations and needs of others around me, as a trade if you will. And when the needs of others present themselves as really important, I show up and make them my priority as well. This goes a long way in walking the walk.

    Another, and equally important point of view for me is to see all time as equally valuable, and rather than finite, it is more a part of the continuum. Granted, being self-employed does make this more viable. But I still must challenge the notions that certain moments are more important or valuable to my overall goals and training than others. My fullness as an athlete is born in the minute of how I spend all time not just the time that I think is making me stronger or faster.

    Thanks for letting me have a few words.