Monday, December 07, 2009

All In Love Is Fair

I was talking to a friend the other day and she was telling me this great story (read: nightmare) about a husband and wife doing Ironman together.

And it did not go well.

I could only laugh because I could relate. And I thought it might be interesting to write about the ups and downs of training (and racing) with a spouse because I know there are many out there who make it work – or try to make it work. Any relationship is a delicate balance of saying the right thing at the right time, choosing your battles, sometimes biting your tongue to keep things calm. But when you have two supercharged people who are highly competitive and driven athletes – is “calm” even possible? Especially when your outlet for releasing the competitiveness (training) is something you do together. Can you train with your spouse without competing with them? Is it possible? Is it advisable?

Imagine you could do everything you love to do with the person you love. Swims, bike rides, runs, races. When it comes to sport there is nothing that is off limits. A sporty vacation? Why not. Your spouse is right there with you. A trip that includes a race? Totally acceptable. Spending a good chunk of your change on a new bike, wheels, goggles? No permission necessary. Talking about training, racing and chafing? Appropriate dinner conversation. Cleaning your plate – and then trying to clean theirs? Not uncommon.

In other words, you don’t have to make any excuses, special requests or changes for yourself. You can do as you please because you are with a person who gets it and supports you. In fact, they want to do all of this with you and more! Together you are like junkies tapping into a new triathlon vein every month. And you’re convinced when you run out of veins, you can just go to and buy a new one.

We love to train and we love to race. But it’s not always easy together. There have been countless strains, arguments and fits along the way. Pull buoys have been thrown, hell once an entire bicycle was thrown (not Chris’ finest idea considering we were about 15 miles from home). Accusations have been made.

So that was your zone 2, eh?


So you can run that fast in zone 2.


THAT pace while staying in zone 2, really?

You get the point.

Competition and love do not mix. Because if you want to stay in love you cannot compete with the person you love. You cannot even give the illusion that you are competing with them. It will not go over well. I learned that the hard way. Especially when you are dealing with a man. The man does not like to be beat by the woman. No further detail is necessary (but shall be given for journalistic purposes).

Flashback to Kona 2007. I remember running along at mile 19 when Ruben (a friend from Chicago) was all of a sudden standing there (though he was in the race – I’m not sure how that happened), clapping while shouting Chris is less than a mile ahead, you can catch him!

And for a moment I entertained the thought. I was feeling good. Sure, I could pick up the pace. But then I thought about his family watching. And all of his friends back home. And I realized that if I had any visions of staying married for the long-term, I best keep my pace right here. And not chase after him. Because if I know one thing about a man and his friends, I know that if the wife passes said man at a world championship, he will hear about it from them for the rest of his life.

We finished less than 8 minutes apart.

So you make sacrifices. You change your approach and you otherwise know there are things you can do and things you should do. If you want to stay married.

Chris and I do not run together. We’ve tried. Oh, we’ve tried so hard. But I’ve learned it’s better to just run apart. He warms up slow, really really really slow. I warm up sorta slow. I think he’s a path hog. Inevitably I end up running off the side of the path while he’s got 6-feet of middle path to himself. He hates the sound of my turnover. He doesn’t like me chasing him. He doesn’t like me pulling ahead. He thinks the GPS lies. There are so many warning signs and sirens sounding DO NOT RUN TOGETHER (!!!) that I finally just stopped telling him when I had to run so we would just run by ourselves.

What he doesn’t know, will not hurt him.

For whatever reason, we did run together a few months ago. It was 5 times up a 6 minute hill (yes, they do exist around here!). If I can do anything, I can beat Chris up a hill. He will still try to tell me otherwise and I guarantee he will chime in on the blog comments and tell me IT’S ON, PIPSQUEAK, IT’S ON, but I tell him all the time when it comes to long runs and hills I have two things working for me:

Superior nutrition plan and freakishly high power to weight ratio

Anyways we were running up the hill, stride for stride, until the last one. So far the run was evenly paced so of course I noticed when the pace upped about half way up the hill. Relentlessly, I would not give up. I matched his pace. He picked it up more. Nothing like an uphill sprint. We neared the top and I noticed that he slowed down. A weakness was sensed. I took this as my opportunity to bolt at full tilt speed while making overexaggerated panting noises and turning back to look at him like you want a piece of me the whole time. A delayed reaction but he finally realizes what I’m doing and chases after me laughing. At the top, we obviously have found ourselves hilarious when another couple walks by and says “it’s not enough that you ran up that hill, you had to race too?”

Yes, yes we did.

You see, that is acceptable competition because it was ridiculous and fun-loving. But I’ll tell you where competition really doesn’t work. In the pool. Maybe it’s because we are both know the pool is our weakness and because it’s so fickle. Some days you go and you’re whipping out top speed 100s at your best pace. Other days you’re giving it just as much and you’re 10 seconds per 100 off pace. Why? Who knows. That’s just how swimming is.

Nevermind that we met in the pool. Chris wooed me in a chlorinated bath kept at a boiling warm 102 degrees (he was either try to woo me or cook me). Soon after getting together the pool quickly turned into a woo-less place of that can’t be your warm up pace, of get out of my draft, of stop watching me. When I ask Chris about this today, he admits something that surprises me:

It wasn’t you, it was me.


I always wondered how can I be 4 times your size but not swim as fast as you.

Imagine Tugboat Tom. He’s like 40 times my size and sometimes doesn’t swim as fast as me.

You’re too competitive in the pool.

Guilty. But isn’t that the point? Isn’t that why we swim with other people? I’ve never understood the whole training as socializing. When I show up to a workout, I show up to throwdown, to get into that zone of discomfort - especially in the pool. I do not show up to make friends and socialize. Tea time and recovery rides are for socializing. Not training.

My favorite thing to secretly drive Chris nuts in the pool do is to race him without telling him. That’s because he pushes me. He’s just that much faster than me now that I have to work to stick with him. He’s like the little Metal Man on the Computrainer who’s always one pedal stroke ahead of you no matter how hard you work. The best time to race Chris is when I’m using paddles and pull buoy. I can really throwdown. Especially on something like a 400. And when I reach the wall first I pretend like I didn’t realize I was there first or didn’t realize that I beat him.

Were you racing me?

Not guilty.

Sitting at dinner this evening, I asked Chris his favorite memory of us racing.

Lifetime Fitness Triathlon

I recall one of several trips to Lifetime Fitness in Minneapolis. We were up there one year with Liz Attig (now Ott) and a wee bit tipsy when we walked into Lund’s market and saw a…short cart. Like they forgot to build half the cart, painted it fancy nancy green. Seeing the short cart for the first time when drunk is the quickest way to find yourself racing the short cart around the store and filling it up with post-race recovery snacks like….cookies. I remember another time up there when Eric Ott joined his pre-wife and us for Lifetime Fitness and we finished up the weekend with a trip to MOA to ride the log ride. Again, tipsy. Notice all of these memories involve drinking and not racing. There were times when priorities were more about good times than fast times.

Chris, however, recalls a Lifetime Fitness that I clearly forgot.

Our waves were 11 minutes apart. I remember coming up on you in the last ½ mile and thinking how nice it would be to have a Kodak moment of us crossing the finish line together.

Go on.

But then you bolted to a full on sprint with 100 meters to go and left me behind.

Was it not a race?

Do you remember the time before the World’s Qualifier when we bought a bundt cake and nearly ate the entire thing?

I remember that. And the stomachache that followed. Note to self that a chocolate bundt cake is not a good pre-race snack. And neither of us qualified for worlds.

Nationals in Shreveport.

Oh yes, I remember that.

Remember that evening? We were daring everyone to take shots of TriGenix. Then we ended up running through some fountain racing Liz and Eric Ott, Starky and a then unknown TJ Tollakson.

There has to be 100 more memories just like that. And for all the ups and downs, the memories of training and racing with Chris are mostly up and good. And makes me wish for many miles, yards and watts ahead.

Tonight we swam together. I found some evil workout that consisted of mostly IM.

200 warm up
4 x 100 as 25 kick, 25 drill, 25 kick, 25 drill in IM order
4 x 100 pull w/paddles
3 x 50 fly
4 x 100 IM

3 x 50 back
4 x 100 IM

3 x 50 breast
4 x 100 IM

3 x 50 free
4 x 100 IM

I made Chris lead. I used fins at times when he went without. I sometimes swam free instead of fly. I sat so close in his draft that I could see the bottom of his wrinkly feet. And at 2650 yards into it, with one more set to go he said:

I’m tired.

And whereas in the past I would have egged him on to quit being such a nancy about the whole thing and nut up to finish the set, I told him to do 3 x 50 more and call it done. Because if I’ve learned anything in the past 10 years, it is when to push, when to pull, when to buck up, shut up or just plain keep the yapper shut all together. When the man has led the entire set of IM it is not time to tell him to nut up.

Unless you want see a fin fly across the pool. Or worse yet, be forced to lead the set yourself.

Love. Still going strong – thank you.

And yes, for the record, that was my zone 2 pace.


TriGirl Kate O said...

I'm still trying to convince my husband to get on a bike. He'd never get in a pool to swim laps, for which we should all be grateful! Congrats on keeping it together through thick, thin, and sweaty!

D said...

But have you made the baby yet?

Molly said...

How cute are you two? :) I have accepted that my husband will always be able to crush me on the bike, without ever having to train (except over ~90 miles), but he's taken it well in stride that I can out-run him now!

Sarah Giacomarra Schrader said...

I loved this post. I brought back great memories and left me pining for the past. My husband and I played soccer together for years and we managed to compete with each other and laugh about it at the same time. His knees are shot now so we don't play together anymore...and I miss that playtime a lot.
Thanks for the post.

ADC said...

I am glad it's not just Shaun and me...

Dave said...

We had a kickboard race the other day. You're not alone. Like Molly, the other two sports are pretty one-sided, so the pool is where it's at.

Shelley said...

This was an epic post..loved it!

Jonathan Rose said...

this is the first entry I've read on your blog and I loved it! You have a new follower!


IAN said...

U almost made me regret my singleness. Almost.

Keith said...

That workout is a killer. And, to be blunt, you cheated, (fins, free) AND drafted the whole thing. Chris MUST love you. Most guys would have HTFU, done the last set, then said it's your turn to lead this same workout, next week. How'd you get the fins on without him noticing, anyways?

It's a good thing I'm married to a spectator, and not even a spectathalete. This way I get my tail kicked by workout buddies where there is no romantic interest, and therefore almost no ego involved.

Mike Russell said...

Classic A type personalities clash like a couple of high speed cars on the highway. I loved this post.

Mike Russell said...

Classic post. This post may or may not hit home with everyone here, but everyone can imagine the tension that can be created by a bruised ego once one of you has beaten the other down.

Morgan said...

Thankfully my boyfriend is BQ status and I'm nowhere near that so we will *hopefully* never compete... :) Great story as always and thanks for sharing the hijinks!

Sara Cox Landolt said...

Wow this was good! I brought my husband to step aerobics once ... he walked out swearing. But we have managed to train together off & on over the past 14 years. I'd love to keep up with my hubby in the pool. I'm hoping to cut some time this winter in the cold pool.

trilife said...

i have read your blog regularly and this is the best one yet. my wife is a total non-athlete but i can understand the sentiments and the competitiveness and the love that you put together so beautifully. thanks for that.

Kim said...

Very freakin cool. You guys have a way of making it work and I love hearing about the adventures, the hardships and everything in between.

H said...

Great post...well-written and oh so insighful for those of us who are single triathletes, waiting for the right girl to come around...and sometimes wondering if she's in the next lane in the pool or on the next bike.

I laughed out loud a couple times...and thankfully, now I'm 100% clear on training time not being tea time. Sometimes I get confused :)

Ange said...

very cool ending.... :) love this. I can somewhat relate...My husband is a great natural athlete but only participates in races soemtimes. Occasionally we head out for runs together thinking it'll be wonderful time together. Nope. drives me nuts. The hog the road, 1 big huge step to my 3 blah blah....
You guys seem like a great team.

Tri1016 said...

Loved this post! I'm glad Anwar and I can do this endurance sport thing together even though he's way at the front and I'm way in the back each step of the way. Even at two different paces, you can still be competitive and push each other at the same time.