Ask A Random Triathlete: How to Be Half of a Triathlon Couple

Just press the magic button. (Photo: GotCredit.com)

In the second installment of Ask a Random Triathlete, we’re answering that perpetual and ever-frustrating question of how to workout with and accommodate a triathlete significant other, as opposed to the even more vexing non-triathlete significant other. (Read the first Ask a Random Triathlete installment here.) As your resident Random Triathlete,  I felt this was a good opportunity to talk about myself, since I’m pretty sure I’m amazing.

Submit your own questions in the comments below, on the forum, or by messaging me. 

I recently started dating a fellow triathlete and we have done minimal training together. It is very obvious that I am a much fitter, faster, and mentally tough athlete. He is a great guy and training for his first 140.6. How should I navigate this? With that, he has a total bonehead coach and often asks me my opinion about his training plans. HELP!!!

My husband once said, while on an easy run with me, that it physically hurt him to go this slow and that anything slower than 7:45/mile pace basically wasn’t even running. I believe what I said back is probably not printable, even on TRS. 

Despite that whole ‘how triathlon couples make it work’ story that was making the rounds a few weeks ago and its many variations that have been written through the yearly publication cycles, I’m not 100% sure that just because your significant other can ride a bike means that you need to ride bikes together. At least not all the time. How ripe that is for disaster probably depends on you and your relationship, but I find it unlikely that the odds are ever zero. Maybe you want to spend time with this new triathlon fling and share in this special bond you both have, etc. etc., so you want to do workouts together. Me, I spend enough time with my husband; I can spend some quality workout time by myself. 

If you choose to do some of your training together, there are general rules that it seems everyone adheres to (though also it seems triathlon divorces are common, so what does everyone know anyway):

  • Set expectations from the beginning of the workout — You know what ends with passive-aggressive hostility? You thinking it’s going to be an easy ride and him thinking he’s going to do 4 x 10′ at half-Ironman pace.
  • Establish meet-up points or guidelines for what you’ll do if one person falls behind, as much as you’d like to think that won’t happen. Are you going to wait around or would each of you rather be left in your own misery? When I’m struggling, I prefer to get dropped, so I can wallow in silence. I don’t need the husband telling me I should be able to keep up, as he soft-pedals zigzags across the road.
  • Maybe, sometimes, you just start out together or just drive to the gym together. That’s fine. Who says you have to do everything in unison. Oh, people say? Well, people are dumb.
  • If your goal is to spend time with each other, modify workouts; if your goal is for both of you to get the workout done correctly, then modify only carefully. I’ve done long rides where I rode my TT and the husband rode his road bike (or, once, his mountain bike, though I told him he was going to regret that decision after four hours, and I was right). It made the effort level much more equivalent for both us, especially if I was drafting.
  • Know that sometimes workouts will go very south and you will end up yelling at each other. If that never happens, you’re probably not trying hard enough in your workouts.

The key to all this is knowing which of you is the faster one. I wonder if it’s as obvious to him as it is to you that you’re the fitter, faster, and tougher of your duo. If so, well, congrats on defying gender norms and embracing non-stereotypical roles. But if it’s only obvious to you, then that’s your biggest problem — which isn’t so much a triathlon problem as it is a self-awareness one. (Hah, no, I take that back. That’s exactly a triathlon problem.)

Which brings us to the second half of your question: When to offer your hard-earned advice to your triathlete other half?

I suppose “never” is too simple an answer. 

Let me modify my advice, then, about when to offer advice: Almost never, when not solicited. The last thing anyone wants to hear after a tough workout is all the things you think they should have done differently. Keep that shit to yourself. But, if he’s asking for your take on what he should be doing and what his “bonehead coach” has on his schedule, then offer away. You might consider suggesting that he not hire a bonehead for a coach.

There’s this standard narrative out there that triathlon is selfish and not conducive to healthy relationships. The danger with this narrative is that the problem isn’t triathlon, it’s that your triathlete husband/wife is a dick. If your significant other was a non-factor in your relationship because they were spending all their time at macramé conventions, then that would probably also end badly, though possibly for slightly different reasons.

The presumption here is that normal healthy couples don’t spend hours training. I don’t totally get this. What is it that all these so-called normal couples do with their free weekends that’s supposed to be so great? Hang out at farmers markets? Instagram pictures of their hike? Go to IKEA? I’ve got news for you, hiking is just glorified walking and they have these things called CSAs now, which are basically farmers markets that get delivered to your door. 

My point is this: The biggest benefit of dating someone who is also training for something is that they are also training for something. They will understand. At least, they should if they don’t suck as a person. Not to get all mushy for a second, but: You should be able to support and accommodate each other, at least you should be able to if you’re both reasonable human beings. And then you don’t have to always be his training partner or his coach, though you can be both sometimes, because he has other people for that. Instead, you can just be in a normal healthy relationship that includes two triathletes. Believe it or not.*

* This is, uh, with the caveat that one of you isn’t trying to make the Olympics or win Kona outright. Because, in those conditions, yeah, pretty much only one of you gets to be a big deal at a time.

About the Author

Kelly O'Mara
Kelly is a reporter and writer in the San Francisco Bay Area. She quit triathlon for a few years, because triathletes can be annoying, but now she's back into it and only hanging out with the non-annoying triathletes. She blogs about stuff at Sunny Running.

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