We always hear the story about the successful pro triathlete, working the high stress job, waking up at 3 AM to get workouts in then quitting to train and race full time. I get it and I wish I could write the same story about myself, but right now, I can’t.
Something that is lacking out there is the narrative about how to survive while working full time AND maintaining a high training load. How are those people making it work?
Now don’t get me wrong, this is not a blog promoting this lifestyle, but for a lot of us, making the leap from professional to professional triathlete is extremely difficult or nearly impossible. For me, it’s a personality trait; I don’t like change, instability, uncertainty, etc. The amount of stress quitting my stable job would cause would likely be counterproductive to my training and racing, so for now this is the right thing for me to do. Maybe in the future, Nate gets a big promotion, I win the lottery, or somehow I become the first World Champion who works full time, this could become a reality.
A couple of years ago I would have thought the amount of training and racing I do today would be absolutely impossible. I was already tired all the time, grumpy, dreading every day at work, and falling asleep on the couch before I even making it out to run. I couldn’t maintain this for long.
Then a couple years ago I took a special assignment in California for 8 months where I loved my job. I didn’t have a boss checking to see what time I came in and what time I left because he was back in Virginia, I was in charge of me for those 8 months doing something I really enjoyed. I woke up every morning excited to go to work, slept like a baby, and I was happy all the time. I never felt this way back at home. Ironically, even with my longer commute and longer work hours, I still managed to fit in training and I was feeling fantastic. I lost almost ten pounds in those 8 months (in a good way).
So what was the deal? I was training more, working more, sleeping less, and I couldn’t be happier. It dawned on me that all of my previous barriers were stress-related, both from my work and self-imposed. So this kicked off a two year journey of learning how to reduce my stress and improve my overall quality of life.
So here are a few steps I took to reduce my stress, which in turn allowed me to improve my training both in quantity and quality, and I think take me to the next level in triathlon. The steps below were not immediate, but things that I learned over time and helped me to remain relaxed and stress-free.
1. I got a new job. I’m an Engineer with nothing to do with sports or fitness, unfortunately. I stuck to the same field, just switched companies where the culture meshed with my pursuits. I was searching for the mentality: you have kids, you have a dog, I have triathlon. All I needed was respect for the things I do outside of work. This also meant 40 hour weeks with no unexpected travel and the option to work from home occasionally.
2. I relaxed my schedule. I’m a scheduler to a fault. I stress and get anxious if I am late for a self-imposed start time where no one cares but me. So now I make a conscious effort to not care. If I’m 10 minutes late for my “bed time” or a few minutes late for swim practice, that’s ok. I just go with the flow.
3. I embrace some quiet time each day. Surprisingly this time is my commute and I love every second of it. I drink my coffee, listen to the radio, and just relax because it’s the only time I get to do nothing and not feel bad about it. I can turn everything off.
4. I ease into the morning. I have stopped racing to see how fast I can get out the door or if I can make it from my bed to the bike in 15 minutes. I give myself about an hour regardless of what I’m doing and I even lie in bed and play on my phone sometimes. It feels so nice not to rush all the time.
5. I start Monday off by waking up early. I find I wake up later and later as the week goes on which gets tricky to fit workouts in without going to bed at midnight. So waking up early on Monday when I’m rested from the weekend allows me to get all my work hours in and to bed earlier at night. If I don’t do this, I’m usually playing catchup with work hours, workouts, and sleep by the end of the week and that’s not fun.
All of these changes and many more have greatly improved my efficacy in both training and work. For now, they are working together mostly in harmony and I’m thankful. I dream of the day I can write a post about how to quit your job and do triathlon full time, but for now, this is it. If you have any of your own tips for reducing stress, please share! I’m always looking to improve.
Great post! I think these are great tips for everyone – even age groupers, like myself. I was so stressed out in my former job, working lots of extra hours, spending lots of time commuting, etc., and my training definitely suffered. I’ve been fortunate enough to find something with more schedule flexibility and, as you recognized in California, that’s a real game-changer. The one good stress relieving tip I try to use (although I need to remember to do it more often) is to ask myself “then what?” For example, if I’m on the verge of a nervous breakdown because I am running late to TRX and will get there ten minutes late, I *should* ask myself “then what?” You normally can only get through two or three steps of consequences and none are ever as serious as the Earth exploding. It goes like this: I’m running late. “Then what?” I will be late for class. “Then what?” I will feel like a slacker. “Then what?” I’ll finish the class and go on with my day. Done. It helps put silly things in perspective. Rarely – if ever – is the thing stressing you out the end of the world!
Hi Leslie! We haven’t met, but hopefully in the future as I’m one of Alyssa’s athletes! This was such a great post full of great reminders. Even though I’m not a pro athlete, I can relate to the time management necessary to get through the week as I have over an hour commute each way everyday. Thanks for sharing!!
Great post! It’s similar for me: stress makes my schedule feel tighter. One crucial thing for me is cooking a few days’ worth of meals and snacks Sunday. I stress if I’m spending money to eat lunch out or cook dinners weeknights (which forces AM workouts every day…it’s a spiral). I also try to be realistic about my schedule, with my coach and myself–i.e. swimming 3 nights in a row or getting up early every weekday won’t likely happen. I try not to set myself up for failure, and make the most of days I can work from home or leave early. I know you’re going to keep rocking your debut pro year!
Great advice Dawn. Thank you!
This is a great post! Thanks a lot for sharing.
I know moving from the Midwest to California has really changed my training for the best.
I actually do the same scheduled when I was back home and I didn’t get the same results as I have today. Stress is a major factor in this.
It would also be nice to see how you managed research outside of work. Meaning: races, new gear, transportation, hotel, etc., all the logistics that happen behind the scenes.
Great post! Very relatable to semi-pros!