Triathlons are an individual sport. The supreme test of physical and mental conditioning. They consist of three sports or disciplines - swimming, biking and running. They also include additional factors such as transition speed, weather, and sometimes luck. I believe that there is also one critical, but often overlooked factor, to any race. And that is traveling with your family to the race and dealing with race day family boredom.
Triathletes are typically older, generally middle to upper middle class people with families. Visit any race site and you will see scores of wives, husbands, significant others, children and family pets ready to cheer on the participants. Our families get packed up along with the bike, gear and running shoes to head to the race site. Since few races are held in our home town or city, traveling to an event is a common occurrence for the triathlete and his/her family.
Let's examine some of the psychological impacts on the family. It is important to remember that our family may or may not understand the burning desire to torture one's body in ways that are incomprehensible. Perhaps the idea of an athlete in the family is still new. My feeling is that a large portion of the triathlete's family did not realize that there was an athlete lurking under the surface of their loved one.
Most triathletes discovered this sport later in life. Loved ones watched as our commitment became deeper and deeper. First wanting "just to finish" the race became the desire to do an Olympic distance race, which subsequently became the desire to run an Ironman. Each step along the way entailed additional time and money. Most spouses recognize this phrase, "Honey, I need a new bike, wetsuit, etc." in an attempt to shave minutes off the Personal Record.
A triathlete can become so focused on improvement that they lose sight of the big picture. They forget to look outwards and take into account the effects that their drive to push to the limits of exhaustion has on others. Many triathletes have families/loved ones and genuinely want them there on race day. We want them to "share in our experience". They, on the other hand, want only to sleep in an extra hour and not have to keep a schedule book of the races just to see if they have a "free" weekend. Our children want to play and aren't' always the most understanding when the host hotel doesn't have Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network or worse - fails to have a pool.
These are some of the realities that a triathlete faces during the traveling portion of the trip before a race. Let's look at some of the ways that you can reduce the stress of travel and increase the families enjoyment of "the triathlon experience". First and foremost have a clear understanding that you are the one racing and that no member of the family no matter how loving or giving will be as interested in the race as you are. Accepting this fact is critical for you and your families mental health. Our spouses and significant others are having to juggle numerous jobs/roles during the race that include but are not limited to: coach, sports psychologist, security blanket, travel agent, cheerleader, photographer, child care provider and full-time saint.
My wife is one of the most supportive people I know. She is at the majority of the races but still, just before every race, she asks how long the race will take. I, on the other hand, have memorized every distance of each race in the State's Triathlon Series and have already shared this valuable information with her on numerous occasions. She is a psychologist whose primary job it is to listen to people. Does her question to me mean that she does not listen to me or worse does not care? No. She's worried about my physical well-being, the hotel, what to do for dinner, where the nearest and cleanest bathroom is and wondering how in this world she is going to keep our daughter happy for the next 2-6 hours of the race. Our loved ones have very different priorities and concerns. This does not mean that they are not interested and do not care about you and your performance. Keeping this in mind can help you understand the families needs and may help you empathize more with their unique situation.
When you begin the process of planning your racing season take extra time to ensure planning is more "family friendly". Use the Internet to locate a quality hotel with desired features (pool, cable, movie access, etc.) While on the Internet expand your search to include family related activities for either pre or post race. Look for museums, planned events, and points of local interest. My daughter loves the aquarium at the beach. I have been there so many times that my eyes glaze over just thinking about it (probably close to the way she feels at one of my races). Most race sites are near some type of Discovery Zone or a special restaurant that caters to children. I often regard the morning of the race as "my time" and the afternoon as "family - or their time", meaning that they get to call the shots and I limp behind.
It also helps to give yourself plenty of extra time when traveling to your hotel. Be sure to travel with some good music and make note of the good radio stations in the area. Bring a Game Boy for your child or a portable DVD player and some movies to help pass the time. Develop a list of "must have" items to bring along for your comfort (pillows, blankets, bug spray, sunscreen, sunburn lotion, etc). Include your favorite snacks, drinks and coffee.
I find it helpful to develop a pre-race ritual. For example when we arrive to the host city I like to find the hotel first, check in, pick up my registration packet and then travel to the race site. That way I know exactly how long it takes to get there from the hotel which helps to lesson some pre-race anxiety. Then we have dinner, return to the hotel and rent a family movie, eat some microwavable popcorn and settle in for the night after making sure the alarm is set. This ritual provides structure and allows family time.
Try to keep a realistic perspective on your races. It is very easy to become discouraged after a race because you didn't take 5-10 minutes off your previous time. This can ruin the rest of the day and possibly the weekend for your family who has supported you. Remember, most of us say we race because it's "fun". So enjoy the race, accept your time and allow yourself to have fun with your family.
Run The Planet thanks the TRImyCoach website (www.trimycoach.com) for the permission to reprint the article "Traveling with the family" by Robert Van Meir. Robert E. Van Meir, MSW, LCSW, BCD, is a licensed Mental Health Professional. He is currently the Head of the Human Services Program at Lenoir Community College and has a private practice in Goldsboro (Usa/North Carolina). He is an age-group competitor and a team member of TRImyCoach. TRImyCoach provides athletes with an e-solution to personalized training, and it offers a variety of training programs, packages, camps and clinics in a team atmosphere.