june cleaver and beaver

One of our readers, Jen, was kind enough to put her feelings down in writing about being a triwife, living the triathlon lifestyle, and what it has meant for both her relationship with her husband, the triathlete, and her family. We were so moved by her honesty, humor, and candor that we are thrilled she let us share it with you…ENJOY. We’re sure you can relate…

june cleaver and beaver meet triathlon

WHEN A JUNE CLEAVER KIND OF GIRL MEETS AN ENEMY CALLED TRIATHLON

It’s early November 2012. I am sitting outside of the transition area of my husband’s first 70.3 distance triathlon. At this time, back in 2011, I didn’t even know what a triathlon was. Sure, I had heard of that one that happens in Kona every year. I’d even watched it on TV with my husband a few times, but triathlon wasn’t something that I had really taken notice of. Now, it seems like my life revolves around it, even though I’m not the one competing in them.

This half-distance Ironman race that we are at is the “test”. My husband has flung himself into training for this one all on his own. No coach, no advise, we know no one else who does triathlon. My husband has arranged to meet a coach after this race and if he feels like he was successful, he will start training for a full-distance Ironman.

Fast forward 3 months and he has now completed his first triathlon… it is all happening so fast. As I wait for him to enter T2, I am nervous. I love him. I want him to be successful. But, I’m not sure I can handle what I know will happen if he decides that this race is just a stepping stone.

As he enters T2 he is focused. He glances down at his watch. He doesn’t even see me. He leaves T2 to start his run. On his way out, he sees me and breaks into a huge smile and tells me he is ahead of his goal pace. He is obviously excited. As I watch him take off on his run with a spring in his step, I start to cry. Not the ‘boo-hoo’ kind of uncontrollable cry, but the crushed, broken hearted kind of cry that sends silent tears rolling down my face, unnoticed by the other tri-supporters who surround me.

We had two children at home. A daughter who was 11 and a son who was 6… two children who have wondered about their father’s long absences on Saturday mornings and weekday evenings for the last month. If this is what it is like when he is training for a half-distance, I don’t even want to think about what training for a full Ironman will be like. This is NOT how my ‘happily ever after’ was supposed to be.

After that race, we met the coach. TriHubby hired him and he signed up for his first full-distance race, IronMan Texas, and 2 “prep races” that would fit into his new training schedule. The six months between that first 70.3 and Ironman Texas were the absolute lowest point in both my personal life and our marriage. I resented anything and everything that was triathlon-related.

Starting in March of 2013, I closed myself in my closet and cried often and in the 6 weeks leading up to IMTX, I cried Every.. Single.. Day.. without exception. I cried in the grocery store. I cried at Church. I cried those silent, broken hearted tears anywhere – except in front of my husband. And, looking back, that was the first of many mistakes. By not letting him know how I was really feeling, I was not being fair to him or myself.

So, here is the most important lesson I learned…COMMUNICATION IS KEY! Not the accusatory, heated yelling kind, but the kind where you have an actual conversation. My husband knew that things were difficult for me, but he didn’t realize how I was feeling, because I was trying to avoid conflict and appear stronger than I was. See, I’m a “white picket fence” June Cleaver kind of girl. And, I felt like all of my expectations I had for us as parents and husband and wife were being destroyed by my enemy – the triathlon.

Fast-forward to today: It is summer of 2015. My husband did an Ironman in August of 2014 and has just started training for his next in November of this year. Last years’ IM in Louisville was a completely different and at many times, an enjoyable experience and I am looking forward to IMFL in November of this year…and here are a few of the reasons why:

Communication: After IMTX, in May of 2013, TriHubby and I sat and talked…a lot. The night of IMTX, when we were back in our room, I asked him if this was going to be our life now; if I was going to be a single parent while being married forever. He said he wanted to do one again, but it would be when the kids were a little older. This statement is the only reason I didn’t leave him. Yes, it got that bad during his training, but he had no idea because I was trying so hard to keep everything in our family going on my own and I didn’t say anything about how it was affecting me!

That summer, we sent the kids off with grandparents for one week in June, took a trip for our anniversary for a week in July and sent the kids away with family again the first week of August. The week in June was hard. Since we hadn’t been communicating, I felt like I didn’t even know my husband anymore. It was rough and there were many, many tears.

Every time we started to talk about anything to do with triathlons, I would start crying. And my tears would just make him mad. But we kept at it. I didn’t want to lose my husband, friend and father of my children, because of some stupid sport. Those 3 weeks that summer saved our marriage and changed the way we do things in our marriage. It was difficult, expensive and hard on the kids, but it was worth it.

Get to know others in the Triathlon Community: When my TriHubby trained for his first Ironman, I didn’t know any of the people he was training with, making plans with, texting with. I was upset every Saturday when, from my point of view, he would choose to be with these other people instead of with his family. What was so special about them that he would rather be with them than me? Then, after their long training he would go out to eat with them!! It was like he was just trying to make me more upset!!

During one of our talks, I explained to him that I felt excluded from a part of his life that was obviously very important to him and that by excluding me, it made me feel like triathlon was more important than our family. Today, I know everyone in his training group and I consider them friends. When they go out to eat after their long grueling workout, TriHubby calls me and the kids and I meet them for lunch. We have celebration gatherings after anyone in the group completes an Ironman. We support each other’s families. When being a TriWife seems unbearable, I have other TriWives to call up and complain to….and they know EXACTLY what I am going through!

Know your TriPartner’s training plan: Ok, this one used to frustrate my TriHubby, because he thought I was looking for things to be upset about and focusing on how much he was going to be gone during that particular week. Sooooo, we talked about it!!

One thing that is very important to me is family dinners. Prior to the first triathlon, we had dinner as a family every single night. With the first Ironman, I never knew when he was going to be gone for training. And when he was gone, I never knew when he would get home. Now, I have access to his Training Peaks app, so I know what training is scheduled for which day. I also ask him at the beginning of the week to pick 2-3 days that would be good for family meals. This has cut back on so much of my frustration and it makes me feel like I am a part of what is going on in his TriLife instead of being shut out.

Realize that sleep is actually a big part of training: I grew to dread Saturdays. TriHubby would be gone for HOURS…. Then he would get home, clean up, and lay down for hours.. and still be too tired to be a dad. I now realize that with everything he is putting his body through, he needs more rest. And he realizes that he was taking advantage of that and he missed out on many opportunities to connect with his kids.

Now, it is different. He is still gone for long workouts on Saturday and he still naps when he gets home. But, he is aware of how much time he needs to spend with the family. We hired someone to take care of mowing and taking care of the yard and we call a handyman for things to be done around the house, because, to us, his time with the family is more valuable.

Learn the art of being a Sherpa: Ok, the term Sherpa is thrown around a lot in the TriCommunity, usually as a joke. I decided to take it seriously. If I am going to support my TriHubby, I am going to do it 100%. Now, there are people in my TriHubby’s training group asking me for my “Sherpa Sack” list. And when we travel with others in his group and someone forgets something, they look to me, because chances are, I’ll have what they need.

Find what is important to your kids and make it happen: This is something that your TriPartner MUST be invested in if it is really going to happen. With the first Ironman, there were many missed baseball practices, baseball games, and theater productions. Neither of us realized just how much our kids were affected by his training schedule.

When I told my kids that their dad had signed up for his second Ironman, my daughter broke down and my son said “Great, I’m going to have to be quiet every afternoon and for half the day on Saturdays, because he’ll be sleeping all the time again”.

This was a huge revelation…we needed to communicate with the kids, too! When we look at training schedules for the week, we make sure we also look at the kids’ schedules, too, and then ask if there is something going on that week that they want dad to be a part of. Usually, there isn’t, but they appreciate being asked.

Travel to The Big Race without the kids: My kids are very invested in my husband’s training. My kids (now 14 and 9) both do triathlons now and know what goes into preparing for a race. They come with us to local races and they may travel with us to a prep race. But, when it comes to THE RACE, we arrange for them to stay with family.

There are many reasons, but here are the top two:

  1. Race day involves an early morning, long day, and TONS of stress. Add kids to this equation and it quadruples the amount of stress for you and your TriPartner.
  2. You and your TriPartner have spent hours and hours away from each other. This is a time that you can be alone. And you don’t need me to tell you that Alone Time is important – in any marriage. The day after the race is usually my day. I pick where we eat, where we go, and what we do. If you’re really lucky, arrange to have more than one day together after the Big Race.

I also learned two life-changing things about myself:

  1. I am stronger and more capable than I had ever given myself credit for. Prior to Ironman, in my “life plan”, I saw a white picket fence, family meals every night, my hubby being Mr. Fix-It on the weekends, etc. Now, I know the white picket fence is just a distraction from a normal family who is dealing with their own issues; we can have a family meal without him; and he’s not ever going to be Mr. Fix-It whether he is doing IronMan or not. I can take care of my family without him. I don’t need him, I want him around and part of the family. But, we do ok without him.
  2. Happiness is a choice. (This is the most important thing I learned.) On long-ride Saturdays, I used to resent the fact that he wasn’t around. I would be mad when I woke up alone in bed; mad when I had to take my son to baseball by myself; mad when we had to eat lunch at home while TriHubby was out with his friends; mad when he came home and went directly upstairs to nap…. I spent a lot of time and energy being mad! And it ate me up from the inside out. Now, I see it as an opportunity to do the things I want to do with the kids. We go to the movies, out for pancakes, over to friends’ houses – whatever we want to do. If you have young kids and need a break, get a sitter. I don’t mean to be harsh, but if your partner is spending time and money on something that makes him happy, treat yourself every once in awhile.

We don’t have everything worked out and things come up that cause friction, but that is because we are two imperfect people trying to make a life together. Our difficulties seem to revolve around triathlon, but every relationship has issues; they are just different than ours. Looking back, I can honestly say that our marriage is stronger now that it has ever been. We have been married for 18 years and I know if we made it through the hell that was our first Ironman, we can make it through just about anything.

JEN