Training With Family

Originally published in Cyclocross Magazine in 2008

I know your story.  You used to race or just started… you have a $600,000 mortgage, you spend too much time at work, you just had a baby, and your spouse never signed on for all this cycling stuff when you got married three years ago.  Don’t worry though cause I got all the answers right here.  These are well worn methods to help you keep it all balanced and try to squeak out a top ten placing in your favorite cross series.

1. Get the Family On Board: Without the support of your spouse, children, and family pets you are not going to get very far.  The best thing you can do is make sure your spouse knows how important this sport is.  The best description I’ve heard about cycling came from a friend.  “It’s not a hobby, its not a job, it’s a vocation.”  Start there and work your way down to begging.  Half the following tips relate to easing the burden on family life.

2. Consistency is King: The hardest part for juggling family, career and cycling is consistent training.  Give up on the dream of getting in those 12 hour training weeks.  I know there are super organized A types out there who can manage that but that’s a select few and hard to maintain for a long time so don’t feel that’s the solution.  Realistically you likely only have 4 hours during the week and maybe 3 hours on the weekend to train.  Be consistent about getting out every day even if it means you take a haircut some days and only get an hour in.  Over time you’ll get the routine down and the hours will add up.  Most importantly don’t feel bad about only riding a few hours a week – Stuart Smiley put it best  “As we say in program: progress, not perfection.”

3. Train with a Power Meter: I originally got a PowerTap purely out of peer pressure.  Everybody I knew was using one so I splurged and got me a wireless yeller handlebar unit.  I had a vague notion of how it could help me manage my time better but it didn’t pan out quite like I expected.  One of the challenges of the family bound cyclist is that no matter what you can’t race as much.  The PowerTap helped me track my progress without racing every weekend.  It also provided a great way to measure progress year over year once you combine it with the available software like TrainingPeaks.

4. The Long Ride: I spent all this time telling you to do more with less.  Here is the flip side.  If you can get in one long endurance ride (consistently remember!) during the week or weekend it will help maintain your engine during the short intense work outs, training races, or what ever you might be doing to prepare for your races.  I found that on weekends my training rides were allotted to about two hours per day.  My work schedule was flexible enough where I could take 8:30 to 12 go on a long hilly group ride every Wednesday.  I had to stay later on those days but it helped me maintain sanity both at work and through out the rest of the week if I couldn’t get out for a ride.

5. Minimize Travel: Every couple has a different temperature gauge on what is acceptable so I can only speak from experience on this one.  If a race is more than an hour away I don’t go because it puts me too deep in the hole with my spouse.  I suggest that if you are racing with family stay as close to home as possible so you can fully enjoy the experience at the race and not feel too rushed.

6. Tight Race Day Time Management: Get your race day routine dialed in.  Equipment, nutrition, warm up, parking, and exit should all be set up and ready to execute the night before your race.  Hang out with the family before you leave, I suggest a nice breakfast, and make sure you don’t loiter and miss the ETA set by you and your significant other.  Spouse management is half the battle and will help if and when you ask for more training time!

7. The Race Day Swap: It is entirely possible to coordinate with another parent to take your children to an event and do a swap so that you each get a race in.  This creates some good will at home and gets the little ones involved but it also requires a lot of planning.  Bring snacks, bring toys, and bring a portable DVD player of video iPod.  The hardest part of the plan is getting in a good warm up.  The crucial factor is to make sure your races are not back to back so that you get in some time on the bike before your race.

8. Bring the Family Circus: Bringing the whole family is doable for 1 or 2 races so use it wisely.  I get the family out for the two big ones one of which is in Golden Gate park and we got out after and see some of the sights in San Francisco.  The other race I take the family too is a blow out party with a tent, snacks, drinks and all the trimmings.  What ever you take them too it should either be a great location (hence Golden Gate Park) or a great party that they will have lots of fun at.  Taking your family to a field with no people and a bunch of racers will earn you no respect when they try to picture what you do every weekend.

9. Race in a Block: Just like the pro’s train in blocks you should race in set periods of time.  Cross season (October- Early December) is great because it lasts about 10 weeks and most races are part of a series that lasts 3-6 races.  This works out great for the family racer since a 5-6 race series is enough racing to keep you motivated and more than enough for your body to handle.  I find after six cross races, and the usual stress of juggling training, work and famil I’m ready for a break and I hang up my racing bike until next season.  The shorter focused race season provides the intensity I am looking for and makes my significant other feel like my life doesn’t revolve around cycling (even though it does a little bit.)

10. Don’t Judge A Race by Your Result: Discouragement about results is the family racers worst enemy.  Too many times I have had to beat the “why do I bother” thought out of my psyche after finishing 22nd instead of 10th. Getting bummed out because you aren’t finishing where you want too is inevitable unless you are winning every weekend.  I’ve met only a few nearly pro’s who have been able to juggle family and racing and perform to their potential.  Consequently they have often prioritized family and cycling before career and make their lives work well.  If that’s not you then look for incremental gains after each event with an eye on the big picture.

Cycling, especially cyclocross is about the war not the battle.  It can take years to dial in training, fitness, and technique so being consistent from race to race and year over year will help you get to where you want to be in results.  Patience is a key factor if results are important to you but they will come

Bonus Tip: Getting family involved in racing is the family racers dream but let them (kids and spouse) come to you.  I pushed my girlfiend, who is now my wife, and is a very strong cyclist to try a race.  My wife is very competitive and overcooked a corner her first lap, I figured she’d be happy finishing not competing, and broke her arm.  Since then getting her to try a race has been impossible.  The moral of the story is… let them come to you after they see how much fun it is.

Training with a family requires creativity and stronger desire to participate than perform.  If you have the desire and belief that showing up is half the battle then you can race into your golden years with the support of the folks you love the most.  Unless you have some seriously good genes these tips are not going to win you any championships but it should get you close enough to the front of the race that when you come home and tell your family you got a top 15 they don’t spit in your face.
December 18, 2010 | Posted in: Training Tips |