There is an oft-forgotten hero in many Ironman sagas.
This person sacrifices movie nights, relaxed weekend brunches, and any hope of having dinner made for them without any of the social media bragging rights that come with long training rides and hard runs. They give up a normal life for months, all culminating in a day that is nearly as hard as an Ironman race, but without any of the glory or accolades that come from being pronounced an Ironman. They make all these sacrifices with no prospect of personal gain and for the sole purpose of seeing someone that they cares about achieve a personal milestone.
This person is the Iron Partner.
These Iron Partners often do not receive nearly enough credit in the triathlon world. For every Ironman, there is someone who helped make it happen, whether that be a significant other, a parent, a child, a roommate, or a close friend.
It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it. And tensions can sometimes run high during peak weeks. There’s a joke in long distance triathlon that if you’re still married at the end of your training cycle, you didn’t train hard enough. Relationships have ended over triathlon, which goes to show you just how hard Ironman training can be on the would-be Ironman’s closest supporters.
For the Ironman—Make time for your support system. Be willing to inconvenience yourself to participate in things that matter to members of your support system. You are busy training, but make an effort to carve out time for your loved one(s). For me, this has meant doing things like skipping church one Sunday to go see a movie with Rob or taking him out to breakfast that one time I didn’t have a long ride or run on a weekend morning. He’s making a lot of sacrifices for me without asking for anything in return, so I’ve tried to make sure I don’t totally neglect him.
For the Iron Partner—Be honest about your needs. There is a lot of power in the words, “This is really important to me.” These words should neither be avoided nor overused. A few weeks ago, I was stressing over a wedding in Rob’s family that I was going to have to go to. Rob saw I was stressed and told me I didn’t need to go… it wasn’t that important to him. So I stayed home that evening instead (and I needed it!). When he says that something is important to him (or, more likely, when I know it’s important even though he hasn’t said it outright), I make an effort to be there for him.
For the Ironman—Give your partner time to shine. Don’t put your support system in the position of constantly supporting your goals. If that means not doing an Ironman every year or only doing one Ironman, then so be it. It’s different for every relationship, and there aren’t hard-and-fast rules. But if you look back over the past 2-3 years and see that you have not been an equal partner for most of it, you might have a problem.
For the Iron Partner—Don’t pick up big, hairy goals during the Ironman training cycle. This is dependent on the tip for the Ironman above. If your Ironman is not constantly enmeshed in an intense, life-consuming training cycle, then time your own big goals so that they don’t conflict with your Ironman’s training. For instance, now would not be the time for Rob to apply to grad school or move to a new state. This kind of scheduling isn’t always possible, but if those types of things are on the table, I think it’s best to wait a bit so that your Ironman can take a turn offering you the support you need.
For the Ironman—Try not to be too crazy. I know it’s hard. I know Ironman consumes your life. But set some boundaries for yourself. This has the added benefit of letting your support system know what to expect. For instance, try to take at least one evening off a week. Or set a limit as to how early you will wake up (mine is 4:00am for training… I refuse to set my alarm earlier than that unless I’m racing). Or set up other boundaries. Whatever works for your situation.
For the Iron Partner—Try to adapt to your Ironman’s schedule. Well, somewhat. You don’t need to get up at 4:00am. But recently, Rob shifted a bit closer to my schedule and started cycling in the mornings. Even though we don’t live together, this has still been really helpful. We typically eat dinner and spend the evening together, so now that he goes to bed earlier, he tends to be ready for dinner around the same time I am (i.e. early). I can go over to his place early on a weekend and enjoy some coffee with him on the porch before heading off on my long ride. He goes to bed not long after I leave in the evening, so he’s not spending evenings alone with nothing to do.
For the Ironman—Realize when you are being ridiculous. For me, it was when I decided I just wasn’t going to eat dinner because I didn’t think salad (the menu item for the night) had enough calories, I was too tired to make something for myself, and I didn’t feel like eating “snacks,” as I put it. The second I started saying these things, it hit me that it was completely over-the-top and ridiculous. And I apologized profusely and made fun of myself mid-breakdown. This kept the situation from actually getting heated. I was hangry, I knew I was hangry, and Rob knew I knew I was hangry.
For the Iron Partner—Let your partner be ridiculous (sometimes). I mean, obviously, if I were having breakdowns over dinner every day, there would be a problem. But in this case, Rob could tell I was tired and worn down and overwhelmed, even if I wasn’t quite able to articulate that. So, he finished eating his salad and then just went out and bought me KFC (I had been craving fried chicken for months). This little gesture made my day and clearly meant a lot to me since I’m still mentioning it now. Which leads me to…
For the Ironman—Be grateful. Don’t forget the sacrifices that your support system is making to help make it easier for you to achieve this dream of yours.
For the Iron Partner—Be patient. Your would-be Ironman is tired and exhausted and likely not always thinking clearly (see above). If they were a kind, considerate partner before Ironman training, be willing to forgive a few peak week snafus.
Training for an Ironman isn’t easy. And supporting someone who is training for an Ironman isn’t always easy either. I’m lucky that Rob is supportive and is totally on board with the whole Ironman thing (though he has said wistfully, “I can’t wait until this is over…” several times). Though there have been moments of tension (usually stemming from my tendency to catastrophize when I’m tired or overwhelmed), it’s mostly been smooth sailing… which is mostly due to Rob’s patience and understanding.
So here’s to Iron Partners everywhere, and here’s to mine!