If you think all those hours of training are only preparing you for one thing, think again.
by Lisa Barnes
The decision to start a family tends to put personal goals like finishing an endurance event on the backburner. Time and money get reallocated to everything that welcoming a new life brings. It’s easy to cast an IRONMAN race into the “someday” pile when it comes to priorities, but the experience of training for a 140.6-mile race can actually give you a leg up as a parent.
How? After having been through both myself, and talking to others who have as well—including pros and new parents Jesse Thomas and Michael Lovato—here is a list of ways IRONMAN helped prepare me for parenthood, using my own “little man” as an example.
1. You learn that there are good days and bad days.
IRONMAN: Some days, you’re headed into hour five on your bike marveling in the beauty of the countryside. Others, you’ve only pedaled a few miles before you’re thinking about all the places you’ll need Aquaphor later on.
Little man: Some days your baby is all smiles and belly laughs, others he’s an explosion of pureed squash and snot.
→ The leg up: You’re confident. Bad days don’t make you any less of a parent, just like crappy workouts didn’t make you any less of an athlete.
2. You’re an expert at researching and shopping for gear.
IRONMAN: Wheels, wetsuits, and watches. What are the must-haves?
Little man: Strollers, bottles, and toys. What’s best for baby?
→ The leg up: You’re resourceful. Learning the art of online research and tapping into trustworthy social circles is key, whether you’re gearing up for multisport or parenthood.
3. You know all about sacrifice.
IRONMAN: Happy hour means more miles and less margaritas—the last time you heard the phrase, “Last call!” was in the transition area.
Little man: Happy hour means giving your kid a bath before bedtime followed by a drink on the couch, and going out means you’ll spend more money on the babysitter than you will at the bar.
→ The leg up: You’re comfortable. Getting used to a new lifestyle can be a tough adjustment, but it’s easier when you focus on what you’ll gain from the experience, rather than dwelling on what you’ve given up.
4. You’ve mastered the art of the daily plan-and-pack.
IRONMAN: A long brick workout tomorrow means laying all your gear out the night before, making sure your drinks are mixed, gels are packed and your watch is charged.
Little man: Play date at the zoo tomorrow means packing the diaper bag with a change of clothes, a bag of Cheerios, a sippee cup and a favorite toy.
→ The leg up: You’re efficient. Preparing ahead of time is key to good workouts and good play dates. Your habit of toting snacks with you wherever you go comes in handy with parenting, too. “Always have spare food on you. You never know when a meltdown is coming,” says professional triathlete and new dad Michael Lovato, pictured below.
5. You appreciate your body in new ways.
IRONMAN: Looking good in a bathing suit seems silly compared to feeling good at mile 20 of a long run. Strength and perseverance trump the attributes of superficial sex appeal.
Little man: Looking good in a bathing suit seems silly compared to a healthy pregnancy and recovery after birth. Strength and perseverance change the way we feel about our bodies and what they are capable of.
→ The leg up: Healthy self-esteem. Pushing the body’s limits—whether it’s to meet new goals, or create new life—causes you to redefine strength and beauty. It also help you feel comfortable talking about your body more openly. Lovato reminds us that the conversation can (and will) go anywhere: “You have no trouble whatsoever talking about vomit, poop, pee or sometimes all three.” And as is sometimes the case with triathlon, “you’re also okay with it getting pretty much everywhere.”
6. You’ll build the endurance you need to be a great parent.
IRONMAN: Long runs, miles of swimming and hours on the bike. Every weekend.
Little man: Long nights, round-the-clock feedings and hours of crying. Every day for a year.
→ The leg up: You can persevere. Functioning while sore and sleep-deprived, and planning essential moments of recovery, is key to covering 140.6 miles as an athlete and 365 days as a new parent. “You understand that being tired is part of life now,” says Lovato.
7. Your playful side will flourish.
IRONMAN: Hammering your trainer and swimming laps around the same floating Band-Aid in the pool every morning gets old. You learn to stay motivated by using your imagination to keep the miles interesting (and ignore the Band-Aid).
Little man: Reading The Hungry Caterpillar every day, and playing 156 rounds of “Where’s daddy?” can be mind-numbing. Adding variation and flare to toddler time will help maintain your sanity.
→ The leg up: You’re creative. Repetition comes with the territory for triathletes and parents. An open mind gives you the power to revitalize the same-old routines.
8. You’ll form positive life-long habits.
IRONMAN: Training for an IRONMAN race means doing what it takes to be ready for race day. Discipline helps you listen to your body to avoid injury, feel fresh and stay focused on your goal.
Little man: Parenting means you do what it takes to be there for your family. Discipline helps you make smarter decisions for long-term health, find balance in your life and be a solid role model for your children.
→ The leg up: You’re committed. Meeting long-term goals requires ongoing attention to correct and define what’s best for the bigger picture.
9. You realize how little control you actually have.
IRONMAN: Race day is a living, breathing thing with its own personality and energy. You cannot control who is in the field or what the weather will bring. You can only control the way you’ll handle it.
Little man: Very little about pregnancy or birth will be in your control. Sudden emergencies, hormonal tidal waves of emotion, and yes—the weather—can all influence the experience.
→ The leg up: You’re pragmatic. Preparing for children (like preparing for races) is an exercise in managing the factors you can count on and control, while having a great attitude about the things you cannot.
10. You will appreciate the reward more than you imagined.
IRONMAN: They say nothing compares to crossing an IRONMAN finish line.
Little man: They say you never know love until you become a parent.