I know your story. You used to race or just started… you have a $600,000 mortgage, you spend too much time at work, you just had a baby, and your spouse never signed on for all this cycling stuff when you got married three years ago. Don’t worry, because I have all the answers right here. I learned the hard way, which means all the heavy lifting is done. These methods will help you balance your home life and racing aspirations. It may even enable you to squeak out a top ten placing in your favorite racing series.
1. Get the Family On Board: Without the support of your spouse, children, and family pets you are not going to get far. Start off by ensuring your spouse knows how important this sport is. This is tricky. It is just bike racing after all. You could try taking the significant other to a major European event, which is almost a sure fire way to get buy in, but that is costly and could back fire. Look to try and explain the intangibles, and relate it as closely to “faith” as possible. The best description I’ve heard about racing came from a friend, and had that air or religious conviction which speaks to the more spiritual types. “It’s not a hobby, its not a job, it’s a vocation.” Start there and work your way down to begging. There might be a break through in there someplace if you cry enough.
2. Consistency is King: The hardest part about juggling family, career and cycling is consistent training. Give up on the dream of getting in those 12 hour training weeks. I know there are super organized ‘A-type’ people out there who can manage everything, but that’s a select few and hard to maintain year over year. Don’t put pressure on yourself that big training loads is the only solution. Realistically you likely only have 4 hours during the week and maybe 3 hours on the weekend to train. Be consistent about getting out every day even if it means you take a haircut some days and only ride for and hour. Over time a routine will develop, and the hours will add up. Don’t feel bad about only riding a few hours a week – Stuart Smiley put it best “As we say in program: progress, not perfection.”
3. Train with a Power: I bought a PowerTap purely out of peer pressure. Everybody I knew was using one so I splurged and got me a wireless ‘yeller’ handlebar unit back around 2006. I had a vague notion of how it could help me manage my time better, but it didn’t pan out quite like I expected. One of the challenges of the family bound cyclist is that no matter what, you can’t go to as many races as you’d like. Travel time, expenses, and time away from home mean that racers with family have to be more discerning about the number of races they hit during a year. Without the ability to gauge where you stand in the peloton every week its hard to assess fitness, speed, and other metrics that are so important to helping a rider get on the podium. I found the PowerTap helped me track my progress without racing every weekend. At this stage I can tell how well I’m riding based on a few sprints, and quick 20-minute ride up Old La Honda, a popular 3.1 mile California hill. It also provides a great way to measure progress year over year once it is combined it with the software like TrainingPeaks.
4. The Long Ride: I spent all this time telling you to do more with less. Here is the flip side. If you can get in one long endurance ride, consistently remember, during the week or weekend it will help maintain your base throughout the year. I found more than anything else, one good endurance ride a week helped provide a foundation through out the year for intensity focused workouts, group rides, and training races that I used to get ready for racing season. Ironically I found that on weekends I had less time to train, and my rides were allotted to about two hours per day. From my families point of view a free day was not time for me to go on a 4-hour ride. My families expectation was that we would be hitting museums, building forts, hiking and playing with lego. My work schedule has been flexible enough where I can take 3-4 hours on a Tuesday or Wednesday to go on a long hilly group ride. I had to stay at work later on those days, but it helped me maintain my sanity in my professional and personal life. When I’d miss it, my behavioral reaction was noticeable.
5. Minimize Travel Time: Every couple has a different temperature gauge on what is acceptable so I can only speak from experience on this one. If a race is more than an hour away I don’t go because it puts me too deep in the hole with my spouse. I suggest that if you are racing with family stay as close to home as possible so you can fully enjoy the experience at the race and not feel too rushed.
6. Tight Race Day Time Management: Get your race day routine dialed in. Equipment, nutrition, warm up, parking, and exit should all be set up and ready to execute the night before your race. Hang out with the family before you leave. I suggest a nice breakfast, and make sure you don’t loiter and miss the ‘Return ETA’ set by you and your significant other. Spouse management is half the battle and will help for the important build up weeks that you want to put in more training time.
7. The Race Day Swap: It is entirely possible to coordinate with another parent and do a child-swap so that you each get a race in. This creates some good will at home, and gets the little ones involved, but it also requires a lot of planning. Bring snacks, bring toys, and electronic device with videos. The hardest part of the plan is pre-race routine. Being a servant really contradicts the needs of a prima donna cyclist. Frankly, throw out all your aspirations of doing well if you are doing a swap. Just getting through the day without everybody throwing tantrum will be a win. Pro Tip: Make sure your races are not back-to-back so that you both can get in warm up time on the bike before you race.
8. Bring the Family Circus: Bringing the whole family is doable for one or two races so use it wisely. I like to bring the family out for races which I can generally perform well in and that have a fun Atmosphere. I used to love the cyclocross race in Golden Gate Park, which has since been tragically abolished by some fascist park managers. After the race we would go out see some of the sights in San Francisco. I also try to take the family too any race that has the potential to be a blow out party replete with a tent, snacks, drinks and all the trimmings. I took my son to the Downers Grove Criterium in Milwaukee one year. He ate three brats, two chocolate milks, and two snow cones. He’s loved bike racing ever since. Whatever race you take the family too it should be a great location or a great party. Taking your family to an empty field or corporate office park, with no people and a bunch of racers, will not earn you much respect when they try to picture what you do every weekend. A little flash will go a long way to getting the family team on board with your training plan.
9. Race in a Block: Just like the pro’s train in season blocks, you should race in finite periods of time. I like cyclocross season, September to early December, because it runs 10 weeks, and a lot of races tend to be part of a series that don’t run across consecutive weekends. This works out great for the family racer since a five to six race series is enough racing to keep you motivated, and probably close to what a rider can handle on less than eight hours of training a week. I find after six cross races, and the usual stress of juggling training, work and family, I am cooked and ready for a break. A shorter, more focused race season provides the intensity, community, and atmosphere I have grown to love, and makes my significant other feel like my life doesn’t revolve around cycling, even though it still does a little bit.
10. Don’t Judge A Race by Your Result: Getting discouraged by results is the family racer’s worst enemy. I have frequently had to beat the “why do I bother” thought out of my psyche after finishing 22nd instead of 10th. If you are competitive, results oriented disappointment is a tough aspect of racing to overcome. I’ve met only a few “nearly/former pro” riders who have been able to juggle family and racing, and truly perform to their potential. Many folks that are successful have prioritized cycling before their careers, and only the most dedicated A-type personalities who can handle getting up at 4 AM to train, succeed at all three. I’m not on that end of the personal drive spectrum, I like ice cream and chocolate too much, and I’m starting to understand that’s okay. If a life of sacrifice and toil is not what you singed up for, then try to eek out incremental gains at each event with an eye on the bigger picture. Cycling, especially cyclocross, is about the war not the battle. It can take years to dial in training, fitness, and technique so being consistent from race to race, and year over year, will help improve over time. Patience is a key, but the results will come if you can reconcile that progress may be slow and steady.
11. Winter/Rain Options (2014 Bonus Track): Getting a winter solution dialed in will help. In colder climates, like Wisconsin where I now reside, riding outside just isn’t and option. Ice roads and extended periods of time in sub 20-degree weather increases the potential for injury and sickness beyond what any family rider should take on. The same goes for rainy winter climates like Northern California, where safety concerns should outweigh the benefits of extended time riding in wet conditions. A close friend who recently had a baby swears by splurging on a good trainer and media set up. He says if you don’t dread it, then time on the trainer isn’t so bad. I’ve been eyeing the LeMond Revolution trainer, and Sufferfest videos, which have both received strong reviews. Carving out a little cyclist enclave with enough room to sit, change, watch a race, and rider your trainer will be an investment that pays off come June. Personally I have not been able to make the jump, and have opted to spend time learning to skate ski in local parks. A cold winter with frequent snowfall helped me improve dramatically through the year, but come March I hit a wall when snow disappeared and cold rain and temperatures kept me off the bike. Suddenly the trainer option looked appealing.
Bonus Tip: Getting family involved in racing is the family racers dream but let them (kids and spouse) come to you. I pushed my girlfriend, who is now my wife, and is a very strong cyclist to try a race. My wife is very competitive and overcooked a corner her first lap, I figured she’d be happy finishing not competing, and broke her arm. Since then getting her to try a race has been impossible. The moral of the story is… let them come to you after they see how much fun it is.
Training with a family requires creativity and stronger desire to participate than perform. If you have the desire and belief that showing up is half the battle, then you can race into your golden years with the support of the folks you love the most. Unless you have some seriously good genes these tips are not going to win you any championships, but it should get you close enough to the front of the race to impress your family, and make you feel competitive.