SAN DIEGO — The serious triathlete will get up before dawn and train several hours every day; he'll give up smoking, drinking, drugs, sometimes even sex; he'll change his diet, his sleeping patterns, his social life, his job, his wife.
All for the triathlon.
It's 5:10 a.m. in Scripps Ranch and pitch black outside. As the alarm clock begins to beep, my right hand searches the night stand for the snooze button. Suddenly, the baseball alarm clock that shuts off when it is thrown against the wall doesn't seem like such a corny invention.
I rise slowly and stumble into the bathroom to weigh myself, then lie back in bed for 10 seconds to check my pulse. (Rapid weight loss or a quick jump in the pulse rate are two good indicators of overtraining.) After putting on a T-shirt and biking shorts, I head downstairs to fill two water bottles and pack a fanny bag with a bathing suit, swim cap, goggles, towel, bike lock, banana and muffin. Then it's into the garage to inflate bike tires.
These would seem to be routine chores, but sometimes I have difficulty handling them so early in the morning. I have put my shorts on inside out, forgotten to pack my bathing suit and begun cycling without a helmet.
By 5:40 a.m. I'm on the road, pedaling my way through Mira Mesa business parks to the early morning masters swim workout at UC San Diego. With reflector straps wrapped around my ankles and a flashing red light attached to my fanny bag, I look more like a Christmas tree in the dark than a triathlete in training.
Barring a flat tire or some other delay, I'm usually back home by 9:15 a.m. after 35 miles of cycling and 1 1/2 miles of swimming. I grab a quick breakfast, glance at the newspaper, shower and leave for work by 10 a.m. My morning routine leaves me 15 minutes to get acquainted with my wife and two sons.
Ask any athlete to name the most difficult part of training for long-distance triathlons, and he won't mention the grueling runs, the aching muscles or the outrageous cost of equipment.
It's finding time to work out.
Most people are not interested in subjecting their bodies to the constant pounding of compulsive triathlon training. But many of the hundreds of San Diegans who are hooked on triathlons simply do not have the time to squeeze in 20 hours of serious exercise week after week. That is why the shorter-distance triathlons have become so popular. Between working a full-time job, raising a family, remaining sociable with friends and getting enough sleep, there are simply not enough hours to swim 10 miles, bike 200 miles and run 35 miles week after week.
When I started training back in April for next month's Ironman World Triathlon Championship, it became evident in a few short weeks that if I wanted to swim 2.4 miles, cycle 112 miles and run a marathon all in one day, I would have to accept some drastic life-style changes. These included the following:
- No more sleeping in until 7 a.m.
- I could not afford to spend an hour a day carefully reading the newspaper, though my job as a reporter virtually requires it.
- Many lunch hours would be spent running or swimming at the downtown YWCA, not eating at a favorite restaurant.
- A 9 p.m. bedtime, which means I would fall asleep on many nights before my two kids.
- No late-night socializing, heavy dinners with red meat or alcohol--they make it nearly impossible to put in five hours of hard training the following day.
I was prepared to make these sacrifices for six months to get ready for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of participating in the Ironman. I figured they would allow me enough time to properly train for the ultimate endurance event.
I was wrong.
After spending six months trying to juggle my work schedule, family life and training schedule, I'm convinced that the only way to properly train for the Ironman is to quit your job or leave your family. Or both.
As ludicrous as it may sound, Triathlete magazine is right. Changing jobs, wives, social activities and eating and sleeping habits are necessary to train year in and year out for the demands of long-distance triathlons.
I'm fortunate to have the kind of job that sometimes allows me to take an extra-long lunch hour, arrive at work a little late or leave a little early on occasion. Still, I have been unable to make enough time to meet my goal of averaging 18-24 hours of exercise per week.
I keep telling myself that I'm not a serious triathlete. All I want to do is finish the Ironman. Just once. Without losing my wife or my job.
Indeed, I could not have survived the last six months without the encouragement and support of my wife, Willow. She took an active interest in the Ironman three years ago when we vacationed in Hawaii and watched the race. Since then, I have talked about wanting to compete in the Ironman. Both of us figured it was only a passing fancy until we moved to San Diego two years ago and I began to get serious.