work life balance family fitness

Sundried Ambassador Amber Bullingham gives an insight into how she and her partner juggle middle distance triathlon training with jobs and bringing up two young children, and why she thinks triathlon is of direct benefit to her family.

"How do you do it?"

This is the number one question that I get asked. How do you manage all your training and the kids and work? We all know that triathlon is a very time-consuming sport. Swimming, cycling, running, strength and conditioning, stretching, physiotherapy, bike maintenance, travelling around to get to training sessions – all these take out a big chunk of a typical week. Balancing training an average of 12 hours a week (times two as both my partner and I are keen triathletes) with work and family life is a challenge that requires a lot of skills, but ultimately it brings so much to all our lives.

Here, I write about some of the elements involved in achieving a successful balance and answer what I think is the more important question: is it worth it?

Communication and organisation

Planning and open communication are vital. My partner and I share a fantastic coach who empathises with and works around the demands of family life (trust me, they are not all like this!). Immediately on receiving our sessions, we share them with each other and plan how we will fit it all in and communicate back to our coach if there is anything we cannot do. Rather than a structure that is the same week in week out, we prefer a more dynamic and varied plan, which allows us to both take advantage of group sessions, switch up who has to train late, and swap around family duties (plus, it is a lot more interesting!).

Creativity and flexibility

It can take a fair amount of creativity and flexibility to tick off all the week’s sessions. The running buggy is a great piece of kit for easy runs, and we have embraced indoor biking and the treadmill to allow for evening training/early morning/nap time workouts when the kids are sleeping – sometimes the stars align and we can even train together this way! A home gym set up has been invaluable to help save time. Riding home from work or running/doing S&C at lunchtime are other tools in the efficiency kit. Pre-lockdown, we sometimes used time more efficiently by one running to the pool whilst the other drove the kids then swapped over. And during lockdown, we even rigged up a paddling pool/bungee cord set-up in our back garden so we could keep up some swim practice. We are nothing if not determined!

swimming pool home workout training triathlon

Compromise and fairness

Triathlon is the sport that brought me and my partner together, so we knew from the outset that it was an important part of both our lives. I think this makes it easier for us to both advocate for our own training and ensure that we are being fair in allocating coveted group training, unavoidable late nights, and occasional sacrificed sessions. One might think it would be easier for just one of a couple to be so into their training, but I disagree – we are both on the same page and this makes it so much easier overall, even if logistically it can be a challenge.

Ring-fencing time for relationships

It would be all too easy to fit all the training we would like to do in by being constantly on the go. But just as it is important to plan training, so it is important to plan time to be together as a family, a couple and individually. On Sundays, we endeavour to get all our training done by early afternoon and spend time all together in the afternoons, for a walk or to see family and friends. We are also able to do dinner and bedtime routines together several nights a week. We have excellent family support which means we can sometimes even train together. 

Is it worth it?

The children (aged 3 and 11 months) are our number one priority and making sure they are happy and provided for goes ahead of any of our training. Happily, so far triathlon seems to be beneficial to our family life. The kids get to spend one-on-one time with both of us individually, which I think is important for developing relationships and independence. We are demonstrating to them skills around sharing, compromise, planning, resilience and perseverance. My three-year-old is already directedly interested in what we do – watching races, running around, riding his bike (and probably able to name more parts of it than I can mine!), loving his swimming lessons, and doing his ‘exercises’ – I hope we can inspire them both into a sporting life. And being active and pursuing our goals makes us better parents – stress relief and a feeling of personal fulfilment outside of work or family life is incredibly important.

So, my answer to the question, Is it worth it?: emphatically, yes!

running children family work triathlon training

Top tips for successfully balancing triathlon, work and family:

  • Plan, plan, plan! But be flexible and realistic that plans often must change
  • Get a coach to take off the extra work of figuring out training and to keep you accountable
  • Utilise efficient ways to fit in training: buggy running, commuting, lunch breaks, early mornings/late nights/nap times
  • Communicate and compromise with your partner, whether they are an athlete or not
  • Ring-fence family, couple and individual time
  • Don’t try and do it all – you can do anything, but not everything!

About the author: Amber Bullingham is a runner turned Age-Group triathlete returning to training and competition after having her second baby.