Since 2004, I have been sweating and carrying on in the greatest endurance sport on the planet: parenting. I have been a triathlete since then, too.
However, I am a special breed of parent; I am a step-parent. Usually step-parents accept the role with their eyes wide open to the reality of receiving daily ridicule and discerning side-eye from their step-children — as opposed to the blissful ignorance and built-in unconditional love I assume a traditional parent feels for and from their young. Luckily, I have an exceptional young lady as my step-child, an eighteen-year-old soon-to-be high school graduate named Hannah.
There are many misunderstood stereotypes of step-mothers. For example, there is a stigma that step-mothers only chat with their step-children over surface-y subjects during their scheduled bi-monthly visits. But that was never the case for me. Since my husband has joint custody, I’ve been able to spend a lot of time with Hannah over the years.
That being said, I care for and respect Hannah’s mother tremendously, so I would never want to step out of bounds in the mother category. Rather, I embraced my role in our family as “Head of Logistics.” I was the “Team Parent” for all of Hannah’s soccer and volleyball teams. I was in charge of making and taking her to doctors’ appointments. And I was always head driver when shuttling her and friends around town.
Concurrently, I was also training for Ironman.
Since my roles of step-mother and triathlete have paralleled each other, I’ve learned a few things from each. Here are some of the tips and tricks I picked up over the years while trying to be both a successful step-parent and triathlete:
- I suggest finding an (A) pool in-between home and school, and a (B) pool in close proximity as a back-up. One year, my (A) pool was too far away from Hannah’ssummer gymnastics camp, so I searched for an alternative pool close to the gym, which let me squeeze in my swims while she learned to how tumble.
- I would plan my swim workouts for either early in the morning when her dad wasstill home before work or right before I needed to pick her up from school. If that timing doesn’t work, find a pool/gym with quality child-care, so you can swim confidently knowing your kiddo is being closely kept an eye on.
- Embrace your trainer. Since riding our bikes is the most time-intensive part of triathlon, I spent countless evenings after helping Hannah with homework and cooking dinner, pedaling away on my trainer in order to get in the required riding time. Plus, I clocked more than a few 4+ hour rides on the trainer on weekends and school holidays when my husband had to work and I was in charge of Hannah-care.
- Invest in a Road I.D. bracelet and always carry your phone when riding outdoors. This tip should be standard for any athlete, parent of not, but if you are counted on by another human being, I think considering safety while riding should be an even higher priority.
- Always be prepared to sneak in a run whenever and wherever you can. I’ve runduring many of Hannah’s soccer practices and after-school tutoring sessions.
- On a related note, I found that my training habits were a great way to engage other parents’ interest in running, triathlon, and improving their health in general.
- At whatever suitable age you feel your children can be left alone at home, I like to still leave notes when I go for an early morning run. That way, if they wake up to find you missing, they don’t worry. (For the record, Hannah never once woke up from her morning sleep-in sessions while I was running. Still, I was able to relax and enjoy my run knowing she knew where I was.)
- I think it’s great to have your kids share in the adventure of race travel, and to be part of the grand finale of all of the hard work you’ve completed. However, some races are best executed without the additional stress of taking care of your family—spouses included.
- For my first few Ironmans, I insisted that Hannah attend because a.) They doubled as our family vacations, and b.) I wanted her to share in my accomplishment. However, I eased off over the years as her life was taking shape and she had her own goals to pursue. Plus, on many occasions, especially marathons, it was easier for me to get in and out of a race venue only fussing about my sweaty solo self.
- It can get tricky when multiple events take place on the same day, like a marathon and a volleyball tournament. In this scenario, even though her mom drove Hannahto her tournament and had her that weekend, I still wanted to be there to support her. So I cleaned myself up haphazardly in the bathroom after the race and drove directly to the volleyball games. Obviously, I tried not to sit too close to any other parents on the bleachers.
I am honored to be Hannah’s step-mother, but much like in an Ironman, there have been rough moments. In fact, I draw upon the strength I found surviving those tough times when I am deep into a difficult workout or have dipped down into the valley section of a race. We have always resolved our issues, just like I have always made it across every finish line. Being a parent has made me a both better athlete and human being.