When it comes to fitting triathlon in among life’s priorities, is there such a thing as ‘balanced’?
I finally ventured into the world of social media during the past year. Looking at some triathletes’ profile descriptions, I have to wonder just how many hours are in their days. Swimmer, biker, runner, yogi, coach, husband, wife, dad, mother, attorney, doctor, world traveler, wine drinker, coffee enthusiast, movie fanatic, cook … and the lists continue. “Circus performer” is what most should list, because when I see all these activities I can’t help but envision a tightrope walker navigating his way across an expanse. This particular daredevil, however, has his bike, running shoes, wetsuit, family, job, friends, probably a dog, and every other person, activity and hobby associated with him piled high on his back while doing everything he can to avoid the abyss below.
The phrase “balanced triathlete” is an oxymoron. I’ve struggled to balance everything in my life from the moment I combined the three sports—swimming, cycling and running—and I know I’m not the only one.
“If I only had more time to train.” I’ve said it. I’m sure almost every triathlete has said it. I said it during my very first year of racing. Twenty years old, still in college, I was trying to balance classes, a lab job, training for my first Ironman and a social life. I would wake up before class to swim or run, fit in another workout around my lunch break, and ride after my last class or on the trainer at night. (Yes, I had numerous complaints from neighboring apartments about the noise.)
Substitute a full-time job, spouse and kids, and I’m sure that schedule begins to sound familiar for many. I know plenty of athletes live this lifestyle year after year for what is supposed to be a healthy, fun escape from the daily grind. Instead, it becomes just another part of that grind. Eventually, something has to give. Grades, jobs, marriages, happiness and especially athletic performance all suffer.
Something did give out for me that year after my very first Ironman. Jumping back into my busy routine only days after racing in Kona, I ended up injured and on the disabled list for six months. My grades suffered because of my increased training, and I returned home without a girlfriend. I lost my balance and fell into the abyss.
Once I joined the professional ranks, with no school or job competing for my time, I figured that I would never be worried about having enough time to train again. Finding balance would be a smooth glide across that tightrope without even a wobble. Unfortunately, I teetered again when I delved into the disastrous “if I just train all day” routine. Because training was now my job, everything else took a back seat and more injuries, poor race performances and the search for a successful balanced triathlon lifestyle continued.
People may assume I found that elusive answer when I reached the pinnacle of our sport. Winning two world titles and competing at the top of the professional ranks for more than 15 years requires some kind of balance in life, right? In all honesty, I would probably say those were the most unbalanced times in my life. I prioritized one thing and sacrificed so many others. At the time it made sense, but it was obviously never sustainable.
Twenty-three years after my first triathlon and a few years since my last, I don’t struggle much anymore trying to balance all the aspects of my life. I’ve learned that a “balanced life” is probably as much of an oxymoron as “balanced triathlete.” I frequently say, “I wish I had more time to work out,” and occasionally, I even reminisce about “training all day.” However, I never lose my footing anymore. My back is still loaded up with priorities, responsibilities and even hobbies, but I know the differences between them. Some can wait till tomorrow. Now that tightrope is more like the smooth, wide trail out my backdoor that is almost impossible to even stumble on. I may be ready to update my own online profile one of these days. “Happily unbalanced” sounds about right.
Tim DeBoom is the 2001 and 2002 winner of the Ironman World Championship, and the last American to win in Kona.