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Guilt-Free Triathlon Training

By Dr. Mitchell Greene

The triathlon season is in full swing, and your workouts may now include long bricks, challenging intervals, and increased mileage. As a result, many triathletes worry that they are being selfish because they are training instead of spending time at work or with their families. 

Triathletes can make themselves feel guilty as they awaken very early on a Saturday to go for a long run or ride, or when they slip out of work midday to swim. Of course, preparing for three sports at once can triple guilt levels. Many triathletes I work with, particularly the late bloomers, longingly say that their training would be a lot easier if they didn’t have to worry about spouses, kids, friends, or jobs. A common refrain is, “If only I had started this triathlon stuff when I was young, single, and kidless!”

For those of you who find yourself spending too much unproductive time in Camp Selfish, I have a couple of pieces of advice. 

First, it may be that the challenge of your upcoming triathlon actually helps make you a better parent,happier spouse, more caring friend, or more efficient worker. If you look at the “data” instead of the guilt-filled chatter in your mind, you might notice a more pleasant and fulfilling lifestyle, albeit a more hectic one. Generally speaking, everyone wins when you have the transformative experience of going from feeling like you had no time to exercise to thinking that you can’t live without it. 

My second piece of advice for those racked with guilt is to designate a place (e.g., in your journal, on your training calendar, on your computer) where you can write down that day’s apprehensions and preoccupations prior to your ride, run or swim. For example, jotting down a list of what you "should" be doing (writing the office memo, returning phone calls, playing games with the kids) is a simple literal and symbolic act to help you leave your worries behind. Creating a space for those distracting thoughts allows you to refocus on the important elements of your upcoming workout. Undoubtedly, upon returning from your training session, your perspective will naturally shift away from guilt as you appreciate your mind and body in balance. Said differently, the "shoulds" still remain but you are now different. 

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, to help you train guilt‑free, I recommend setting protected times on the calendar for you to spend quality time with your spouse, friends, partner, or kids. Here's a bonus tip: keep some plans under wraps. You can unexpectedly appear at the morning breakfast table, remain in bed next to your spouse on a Saturday morning, or show up at happy hour with your co-workers. This can turn guilt on its head, and ensure that your identity is tri-dimensional rather than uni-dimensional.

In addition, consider creating opportunities for family and friends to be part of your tri experience. Perhaps your kids can get in the pool with you (after your workout) or your friends can meet up with you for part of a long run. You may find yourself looking forward to those get-togethers as much as they are.

The good news is that when you take these steps toward guilt-free triathlon training, both your workouts, races, and relationships will benefit as you achieve more balance in your life.

Dr. Mitchell Greene is the sport psychology consultant to the Philadelphia Insurance Triathlon and the SheRox Triathlon series. Dr. Greene works with a range of competitive triathletes, from professional to recreational. If you have a question concerning the mental aspects of training and racing, visit Dr. Greene's website, or email him. He will use some of your questions in future issues of USA Triathlon's Multisport Zone. He is also available to collaborate with you in developing a personalized mental training plan to maximize your training programs.