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Navigating Fatherhood and Ironman Training: What are you trying to teach him?

Welcome back to the latest chapter of the Iron Dad blog series, where I share my ongoing journey of balancing Ironman training with the ever-changing demands of fatherhood. In this update, I'll share the highs and lows of my recent training weeks, the challenges of adjusting to a flexible training schedule, and the lessons I've learned since the last post.

The Balancing Act:

Since my last blog post, I've been back into some sort of training, navigating the unpredictable waters of parenthood. Time has become a precious commodity, and it's become evident that sticking to a strict training plan is nearly impossible. Instead, I've embraced the idea of training whenever a window of opportunity opens up, even if it's not the optimal session I had planned or, as it has meant at times, climbing onto the turbo at 22:00 when mother and baby are settled in bed.

My training philosophy, both for myself and the athletes I coach, often revolves around frequency. I believe in setting off the signalling pathways for endurance adaptations as often as possible. This has led me to strive for multiple training sessions throughout the day, whenever circumstances permit. Some days, I find myself walking around in my bike or run kit, as my training window gets pushed back and back. It did mean giving myself some mild heat stroke when that window happened to open at midday on a 33 degree day! This instance aside, something is nearly always better than nothing and just getting out the door adds up over time.

The Basics of My Training Plan:

In the midst of these unpredictable training sessions, I've tried to maintain a basic structure. For swimming, biking, and running, I aim for one higher intensity session and two easier ones, with one of those being a longer session. Plus a strength session. I just think for both health and performance strength training is so important. Running has taken priority in my training, given its ease of accessibility and also going into an Ironman knowing I won’t be as prepared as I would like, I would like to feel as confident in my run as it’s there that things can unravel quickly and painfully come race day.

The Highs and Lows:

In the past few weeks, I've experienced some definite highs and lows. On the downside, I've felt sluggish and heavy during runs and bike rides, lacking any "pop" in my stride. I’m pretty good at trusting the process, but not comparing my current performance to my previous fitness level has been mentally challenging, especially when I look down and see my pace or power being way lower than what I expected to see. The stupid Garmin fitness and sleep scores continue to tease me!

Having a generous paternity leave and now moving into the school holidays means that there is definitely some time to train, however even so I do really struggle with guilt of leaving Sophie and Rory to go and train, mainly as I just want to spend as much time with them both as possible and be the best Dad I can be. I know without these school holidays there is no way I would want to be even attempting any sort of “serious” training at this stage. Low times have led me to say a few times that I am not doing the race. The race I am due to do is on the 1st of October and as I have said before, my fitness was already low coming into the birth as other things were rightly taking precedence. It sounds silly as it is just a hobby, but I have felt quite a bit of pressure about this race as I am obviously juggling a bit more than normal. A couple of times after some difficult days at home meaning not being able to get any training done (or in some cases sleep!) I said I was definitely pulling out of the race. Sophie in her typically blunt manner just said "no you're not, what are you trying to teach Rory, that you should just quit if it is a bit difficult?". Fair point, bit harsh I felt but I've tried to pull up my big boy pants and crack on with it!

Finding Joy in the Journey:

Amidst the ups and downs, I've come to appreciate the joy of simply being back in training. Swimming, in particular, has been a pleasant surprise, as I've been able to feel the improvements, mainly as I wasn’t really swimming before Rory was born rather than any fitness improvements - but I’ll take any win I can!

Favourite Session: The Red Mist Swim Set:

In this block of training, one session stands out as my favourite—the classic Swim Smooth "Red Mist" swim set. Kicking off straight with 10 x 400m intervals, this set is challenging as the pace builds through the session and is as taxing mentally as it is physically I think. I must admit, given my slightly fragile confidence at the moment I was buzzing to get through it.

Conclusion and learnings:

As my journey continues, I am trying to embrace the unpredictability of parenthood and training. Newborn babies are super random and what goes on today is no indication of what will happen tomorrow so life and training have to follow a bit of a similar pattern. The path is not always smooth, but I'm learning to roll with the punches and just relax as much as possible about the training side of things and I think that is really important. I think it’s more important for me to be giving it a bash and even though he doesn’t have a clue what’s going on right now, I hope that one day we can look back at a finish line photo of us both and I can reflect with the wee man about this experience and he can retrospectively learn a bit about commitment and perseverance.


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