What Marathon and Triathlon Training Means for a Relationship

Fitness training is never easy, especially when you have other commitments; couples share their stories

Training for any fitness event, be it a local 10k or a full 140.6 Ironman, is never easy. Waking up with the sun to pound the pavement, logging miles after work and managing to fit in long workouts on the weekend are tough facts of life for everyone training. While the workouts alone can easily take their toll, it seems even more daunting when you add in life’s other responsibilities. Work, significant others and, perhaps most overwhelming of all, kids, mean that your free time is sparse and very valuable.

As tricky as it can be to balance these priorities, couples and families manage to pull it off. For a small snapshot, we asked couples to share their stories with us. From couples training together, to those supporting their significant other and those receiving support, we’ve heard from people on all sides of the training equation and we’re sharing those stories with you.

Blogger, mom and runner Jolie Gray said she was surprised how much changed when she started training for her half marathon. “I don't think I realized when I set out to run a half marathon that it would be such a change for our entire family… It's been an interesting transformation. I like that my day now focuses on when I will get a run in, [but] I'm not quite sure how I feel about the fact that the first words out of my son's mouth each morning are waffle and stroller.”

Gray said that in order to fit all of her training in she would have to get up early each morning, strap her son into the stroller and give him a waffle for the road. She also had to miss some time with her husband in the evenings and to ensure she got her long runs in before Saturday family breakfast, Gray woke up at sunrise.

Susan LeBron is on the other side of the training partnership. An author, mother of six and wife of a triathlete, LeBron recalls the start of her husband's obession with triathlon.

Photo courtesy of Susan LeBron.

“After 16 years of off and on exercising, my husband became frustrated. He had good endurance, and definitely great legs, but his middle section was still larger than he would have liked. At this point support from all of us was critical. It was one of the lowest for him and he felt defeated. We talked about his frustration and how he felt he needed to kick it up a notch. He needed to swim, bike, and run, with purpose. He needed a goal. A colleague of his, whom he had been swimming with and admired, mentioned one day that he was training for a 70.3 Triathlon several months away. That was it,” LeBron said. “He signed up immediately and began buying all the books on the subject. Rich is an avid reader and is driven to master every skill. I was used to his quest for knowledge and various fitness activities but this seemed well over the top. He brought me lists of foods and menus he wanted to stick to, bought supplements and gadgets, a shiny new bike with all the latest monitors, along with a subscription to Tri Magazine. At one point he was talking about opening a Tri store after he retired. Yes, it was quite something. It was all he talked about, all the time.”

As her husband became increasingly obsessed with his hobby, LeBron said there seemed to be no room to talk about anything else.

“We needed to stop for a moment and discuss this new hobby that had taken over my husband's every thought and action. It was too much. First, about all that crazy health food and menus...It didn't stick (or taste) very good so we had to make adjustments there for sanity and budget reasons. We did, before Tri, eat a fairly healthy diet as a family without restrictions so we returned to family favorites and were just more mindful about his restrictions,” she said. “The second point of discussion was the ridiculous amount of time his regimen required of him to maintain. An hour here and there became an all morning event climbing mountains (which worried me also for safety reasons), coming home later and later from work because he was trying to balance it all and not take time from family when he got home.”

As the race got closer, his training got more intense and they spoke about making more adjustments. He rearranged his schedule so he could swim in the morning before work and run during his lunch break. Ultimately the whole family made it through the race and LeBron attributes that success to open lines of communication, which she said is especially important for them because she isn’t into competing in triathlons.

“I continue to support him by understanding how important training and racing is to him. I help him get ready, kiss him for luck, and then jog down to the finish to take that photo documenting another great accomplishment. Triathlons will probably never really be my personal thrill but I do enjoy the energy at the races and will forever be his cheerleader,” LeBron said.

Photo courtesy of Mandy Menaker.

Marketing director, cyclist and new runner Mandy Menaker is training for her first half marathon with her boyfriend, Eric; together they’ll be taking on the Pittsburgh Half. Eric is an experienced runner who’s finished eight half marathons and a full marathon, while she has never competed in anything longer than a 5k color run. She said she used to struggle with running but he’s been helping her look forward to it.

“Having my partner train with me has been an incredible way to spend time together. We plan our weekend around the long runs including selecting where we will explore together, it makes me excited for the long runs rather than dreading them because I know I will have my best friend next to me,” Menaker said. “Training together has been an absolutely positive experience.”

Another couple that made working out together a priority, Kristen King and her husband were not very active just two years ago.

“I was overweight, my husband was obese, and we were basically couch potatoes together,” King said. “After getting our fitness in line we've lost almost a hundred pounds, combined and are now both extremely active and fit.”

Photo courtesy of Kristen King.

She’s now a runner who teaches fitness classes and is training for her first sprint triathlon and he competes in sprint triathlons, teaches a boot-camp style workout class and is training for the infamous Leadville Trail 100 MTB, which is in August. They both compete in obstacle races.

“My training schedule can be challenging in the weeks leading up to a tri or half-marathon, but his training for Leadville is downright grueling, it's months long, and it's been a serious challenge for our family,” she said. “We've had to dramatically restructure our lives to accommodate his workout schedule. So far we're making it work, but neither of us had any clue how hard it would be.”

Above all, it seems that communication and compromise are two major factors in making it all work. A busy schedule doesn’t mean you can’t train for a marathon or triathlon, it just means you need to find a plan that works for you and be realistic about the sacrifices you are willing to make.