Triathlons may be the most demanding of all endurance events as, by definition, they require proficiency at three individual endurance sports—cycling, running, and swimming. IRACELIKEAGIRL founder and PEARL iZUMi athlete Angela Naeth has been racing triathlons at an elite level for over a decade and founded her organization as a way to bring more women into the sport by sharing her knowledge and experience while creating a community of inclusivity for triathletes of all levels. If you’re triathlon-curious but have always used time (or lack thereof) as an excuse for putting off the requisite training, we’re here to shed light on the question you’ve probably been wondering yourself: how do you find the time? We surveyed thirty female athletes—most of the moms and all IRACELIKEAGIRL members—about how they balance training and life, as well as how being a woman plays a role in their identities as athletes.
Of the women she trains, Naeth says, “I have so much respect for them. They are balancing a load that for anyone is tough! I commend those that not only find the time to train but also bring their family into the mix of training and racing. It’s a feat that I find very inspiring to learn from.” The women we spoke with offered inspiring insights into what it takes to become a triathlete while juggling the myriad responsibilities of motherhood. Their words of wisdom? Find balance through planning, surround yourself with a strong support system, establish your priorities then stick to them, and—well—it helps to become a morning person!
Make A Plan
Planning is perhaps the most critical element in creating some form of balance between training and other aspects of life. Having a training calendar provides you with a broad framework that can give structure to your days, weeks, and months leading up to a goal race. Furthermore, it enables you to visualize how the elements of your training can be puzzled-pieced together with work and family time. Nearly every woman surveyed wrote about starting her day (often as early as 4am or 5am) with a workout before work and/or helping her kids get ready for school, “I am intentional with my time and schedule. I know I’m exhausted after work, and that my prime training time is in the morning, so my routine is around morning workouts” wrote in Kate Faranetta from NJ. Many others rely on syncing some parts of their training with their kids’ extracurriculars—Beth Halford, from Ontario, writes that “if my daughter has diving practice, I plan to take her and do a lane swim at the same time,” while other women strategize by getting in a run by doing laps around their kids’ practice fields. Tracy Gilbert, from Colorado, acknowledges that being a mom puts certain restrictions on her training that athletes without kids may not face, “I have to plan week-to-week how I am going to fit my long workouts in so I don’t take time away from my kids. Normally, triathletes do their long workouts on the weekends—as a mom, this schedule doesn’t work for me. I do my long workouts on Thursdays and Fridays when the kids are at school. I am blessed to work part-time, so I work in the afternoon on those days.” Finally, as Cynthia Falardeau (based in Florida and the CEO of a non-profit) points out, sometimes the best planning comes in being prepared for anything, “The true trifecta of motherhood, career, and triathlon exists in my SUV. Honestly, you could live, train, and eat out of the ‘mom bus.’”
While most of the women we surveyed wrote about the intricate games of Tetris they play with their workouts, careers, and families, many also wrote about the fulfillment they get from occasionally letting the spheres of family and training overlap. Countless women in our survey swear by a jogging stroller or bike seat for training with young kids. Mary Kay Jessen, of North Carolina, and her husband (also a triathlete) set up a second trainer in their garage so their two daughters could keep them company on indoor rides, while Gilbert gets her three sons to engage with her training by doing “family challenges—the kids love the competition.”
Trust Your Team
Another key element our survey respondents point to is the importance of having a strong support system—family, training partners, and friends who can provide that extra emotional lift when morale is low. Courtney Culligan, of Colorado, emphasized how impactful she has found “words of support and encouragement from other women who travel a similar path” on her motivation throughout her years as a triathlete. Others, like Mackenzie Howard of Maine, point to the importance of communication with partners and spouses, “My husband and I communicate every evening about the next day’s schedule and what we need from each other to manage our businesses and complete our respective training.” And, as many respondents acknowledged, the importance of reliable training partners willing to meet you day-in, day-out for a sunrise workout can’t be understated!
In order to maintain the discipline to keep logging daily (and often, twice-daily) workouts, while keeping your motivation alive, a number of women surveyed spoke about the importance of defining your priorities and staying laser-focused on them, while being willing to cut out the extras. “Often it means getting up super early or skipping night-time TV,” says Jessen. To another respondent, making training a priority might mean that “the laundry piles up and the dishes stay in the sink a little longer, but prioritizing training and therefore my mental health, has been key.” Shannon Stefaniuk, of Alberta, writes about the importance of setting herself up for success by making training “a priority every single day; sometimes that means getting up at 5am [. . .]. No matter what, I never leave a workout until the end of the day because I know I will not have the energy to complete it.” In Maryland, Christine Saleeba derives motivation from her desire to prioritize physical health, “It’s in my top life priorities. I strongly feel if it’s important to you and you enjoy it, you will make time for it. I wake up at 4:15am almost every morning of the week without question because I love sport, training, but most importantly taking care of myself and being healthy.”
Race Like A Girl
Even after taking into consideration the time demands of training, the work it takes to find training-life balance, and the sheer physical toll of preparing for a triathlon, there’s still one more factor our survey respondents have to consider going into a race: being female. While the triathlon scene, and specifically Ironman, has made a concerted effort to increase equitability between male and female racers in the past five years, according to Triathlon, USA Triathlon membership was just 39% women at the start of 2020 and the global average of female participants in Ironman’s 70.3 events was just 21%.
When asked what it means to them to race like a girl, many of our respondents spoke to wanting to tip those scales for future generations. For Ellen Messinger-Patton, of Nevada, racing like a girl means “defying expectations and building community [. . .] being strong for yourself and others, even when people doubt you,” and for Stefaniuk that means fulling committing “to bettering myself and showing my daughter that one is never too old or too much of a ‘girl’ to conquer something challenging. Others felt strongly that it’s time to redefine the colloquialism “[race] like a girl”—“I’m not a thing to be used as an insult.” writes Erica Pratt in Georgia, “Girls are strong. Girls are mighty. Girls are capable. Time to turn that phrase on its head.”
In New York, Laura Beth Lincoln has already made that mental shift and embraces being a female athlete, “I like ‘race like a girl’ because it is about owning one’s identity. I race like me. I am a girl. I race.”