What it’s like to be married to a future Ironman

I wrote this post a while ago but wanted to sit on it for a while until the emotions about Ironman had calmed down a little and I could be a little more clear-headed about it. Three months on and having re-drafted this several times, I think it’s ready to go. I hope it’s useful.

I’m a little hesitant to publish this because there’s a risk that I’ll just be moaning and I’ll come across as whiny. I CAN be whiny and I do moan a little in the post below but I thought the frankness of the below post might be useful to someone whose partner is signing up for an Ironman. I’m publishing this (with the Husband’s blessing) because it’s information I wish someone had given me before we signed up for the whole Ironman thing. I was warned that Ironman training takes a toll on a relationship and that I had to be totally on board. I knew roughly what we were getting into but the info below might be more practically useful.

Firstly, I have to say that the Husband has supported my running and my racing (and ME generally) for years. I adore him;  it was my honour and joy to support him in return and I am beside myself with pride in what he achieved in July. So please bear that in mind as you read the below.


Before the Husband signed up, I had some idea of what the impact it would have. A long time ago we discovered this video on Youtube and we thought it was SOOOOO funny. Now we’re the other side of Ironman, I can say it’s pretty much accurate!  (Excuse the few rude words in the video).

The moment he pressed the button
The moment he pressed the button

Say goodbye to your partner

The Husband started training in January for Ironman Canada at the end of July. He got himself a coach who gave him monthly training plans. I felt reassured that this would ensure him surviving the Ironman (as much as can be guaranteed) and we both feel that this was a great decision and would recommend it.

His training ramped up as you’d expect. I can honesty say that for Jan – March, it didn’t really impact our lives too much. If  anything, it was a good thing. Now, we were BOTH training for things – it felt like a real partnership as we plotted our weekends to give us time to train, time with the Dude and time together as a family. It was fun. If  we went away, we had to fit his bike ride of 1 – 3 hours into the weekend but that was totally do-able. We have a pool where we live which really helped in terms of him not having to drive to/from a pool and thus save that travelling time. His weekday training was roughly an hour and not too burdensome at the weekend.

April and May got more serious, especially May. By now he was gone all of Saturday morning and most of Sunday morning as well. Sunday morning suits us well (the Dude and I are at church) but Saturday was harder. As a SAHM, I looked forward to the different dynamic of Saturday when the Husband is home. Saturday basically became just like my weekdays. There was a period when, being honest, I resented that. I honestly still supported the Husband and ALWAYS wanted him to do the Ironman, I never wanted him to drop out, but I just got fed up with his absences.

The second half of May and June were ALL about Ironman. In fact, it felt like May and June would never end. On a Saturday, the Husband was gone till 4 or 5pm. On Sunday, he was gone till midday or later. After both days’ exercise, he would need to sleep for an hour or so…thus he was technically gone for longer. I was VERY grateful to go to the UK for 2 1/2 weeks in June and have a break from it. That really helped.

Both the Dude and I quite enjoyed supporting the Husband during his Olympic Distance and Half-Ironman races. They were a lot of fun.

rich husband

The first weekend of July was the biggest weekend of training – on the Saturday, the Husband did 110 miles bike, 1 mile run, 2 miles swim and on the Sunday he did 3 miles of swimming and 19 miles of running. He was basically gone the whole weekend. After that, taper began and the burden lessened. We saw a bit more of him.

How did the training impact me as his wife?

Personally, there were a few things I hadn’t considered beforehand.

  • Weekends away stopped after April/May. I tried to book a weekend away in May and gave up. We would have spent the whole time fitting the Husband’s training around what we were doing, and it wasn’t worth it. This means we didn’t go camping at all.
  • We missed out on a few things that I was particularly excited about as a result of training…Western States being the biggest. I’d been planning all year to go and camp in Auburn for Western States to cheer on the runners and I even booked my flights home from the UK in time to be able to do that. But as it grew closer, we realised that it just wouldn’t work with the Husband’s training. Having been away from him for 2 1/2 weeks in the UK, I didn’t want to leave him and go away alone for the weekend, so we didn’t go. I was pretty gutted about that.
  • My own freedom to run was curtailed. Saturdays became all about childcare. I only managed one Saturday trail run with the girls from April onwards and that was thanks to wonderful friends who got up at 6.45 on a Saturday to watch my son. I got fed up with not being able to say yes to invitations.
  • My friends got used to me and the Dude showing up for things alone. ‘Where’s Rich?’ they asked. ‘Training.’ I’d inevitably reply and there would be plenty of sympathetic eye-rolling. Having a bunch of supportive friends to keep us company made it much better.
  • I was able to continue to train because I was free during pre-school times to run. I was incredibly grateful for this. If I was working full-time, it would be pretty hard for us both to train.
  • I stopped racing. Weekends were all about the Husband’s training and me playing with the Dude. Racing wasn’t really possible unless I pushed the stroller. Not having any races in the diary took some of the momentum out of my running – I need something to aim for.
  • We didn’t do any family hiking for months. I don’t want to hike alone with the Dude and the Husband justifiably didn’t want to hike after exercising.
  • This is a family blog…but there was another ‘California Drought’ if you know what I mean. Ironmen are generally working, training or sleeping. They don’t have much ‘extra energy’.
  • On a lighter note…SO MUCH LAUNDRY! And SO MUCH EXTRA FOOD.
  • It’s expensive. REALLY expensive. The Husband keeps saying the next one will therefore be cheaper. Next one?
  • More positively, I felt really proud when I told anyone he was training for an Ironman. An online contact once described me as ‘a runner married to a triathlete’ and it took me a few moments to recognise our family. My pride in and respect for the Husband has grown enormously as he’s trained for this – and I was proud of him and full of respect for him anyway!

How did it affect the Dude?

  • Not too badly. He missed having his Dad around on the weekends, especially if he woke up after the Husband had left to train on a Saturday when sometimes there were tears. But he got used to the different dynamic. The Husband is an awesome father and made time to do one-on-one things with the Dude each weekend and in the evenings.
  • He was given an ‘ironman’ superhero toy for Easter by some relatives. He immediately started making it swim, bike and run!! The poor child thinks that this is how normal families operate.

Tri Folsom Family

How did it affect the Husband?

  • He lost weight. Since March 2013 he’s lost about 50 lbs. He looks awesome right now.
  • He grew in confidence. With weight-loss and fitness comes confidence and I think he’s rightfully proud of how fit he is right now.
  • It was great to see him get back into exercise and fitness. He’s a guy who thrives on challenge and he’s been talking about future challenges already. I did giggle when he nonchalantly decided he’d run Western States next year though.

Well done for reading this far. I hope I haven’t moaned too much and it’s been helpful to someone. I appreciate it may be a little negative and I apologise for that if so. I think the main thing to consider is that a spouse has to be TOTALLY on board and supportive of the athlete. He or she really has to want the IronSpouse to succeed and be willing to sacrifice for a period in order to make this happen.

Having said all that…I can honestly say that watching the Husband come out the water, fly past us on his bike and, best of all, run down the finishing chute with the Union Jack was utterly incredible. It still makes me teary-eyed to think of it now. It was an incredible journey for all three of us and I am so glad we did it.

Family portrait - sleeping Dude included
Family portrait – sleeping Dude included

19 Comments Add yours

  1. Kate says:

    That video is hilarious! I think your post is really well done and realistic. Thanks for sharing your experience!

    1. Cathryn says:

      The video’s brilliant, isn’t it!

  2. Nic J says:

    A remarkable team effort. I don’t think anyone (athlete or support crew) ever consider the time implications of getting ready for an event – it took me by surprise when gearing up for the marathon. I periodically think about signing up for another marathon, but having already experienced the build up, I know I don’t have the time to devote to it, as it totally takes over your life, and affects those around you as well. I can only imagine what the Ironman training was like for you all. Still, on the flip side, he will always be an Ironman, you’ll now always be an Ironwife, and you’ll both always have an Irondude. Can’t beat that! x

    1. Cathryn says:

      Yeah, I look back at the time I put into marathon training and wonder how I did it. Ironman is much worse! But you’re right, there’s a load of pride in the Husband and what he achieved and that doesn’t go away.

  3. Grace says:

    Your post cracked me up! I don’t think it’s negative at all, just realistic. As the spouse of someone who just trained for and finished his first and last ultra (I was pretty sick that day so there aren’t any photos…bummer), I think I went through a tiny bit of this in miniature.
    In a two-athlete household there will always be some give and take – our house rule is only one person can train for a major endeavour at one time! In a two-athlete household with child(ren) where you both work full time… I guess the juggling becomes even more tricky. *ulp*

    1. Cathryn says:

      You make a great point – that you take it in turns to train for a challenge!! That seems to be key! Congrats to UltraMan…what an amazing achievement

  4. Bean says:

    Love this post. We have all been warned;). I love that you all are such an amazing team! After reading this I do think you can wear that Ironman hat. You have earned it!

    1. Cathryn says:

      Thanks, lovely!! I shall dig my fraudulent hat out and wear it with pride.

  5. Layla says:

    The last three words sum it up: “We did it.” Your husband wouldn’t have done nearly as well if he hadn’t had your support. I do know athletes whose spouses aren’t supportive, and it takes a toll.
    Your post wasn’t whiny at all, and I think it’s something all spouses/significant others should know — and especially something the athletes should know. Well done, IronFamily.

  6. Jen says:

    Great post, Cat. Very honest and insightful. I admit that part of my hesitation in signing up for a 50K is the amount of time that it would require me to be away from Tim and our friends and family. It’s not anywhere close to training for an Ironman, but the time commitment on top of a new full-time job plus long commute is overwhelming to me. And I don’t even have a kid! I guess all this to say — congrats Team Iron Ramsden on surviving your first Ironman!

    1. Cathryn says:

      Thank you 🙂 I think an ultra would have similar time requirements and would cause the same strain on a relationship so it’s something you’re right to bear in mind. I didn’t have a ‘proper job’ though which helped enormously. I can’t imagine the challenge of all that plus a job and a commute!!

  7. Awesome! You all truly are an ironfamily! I thank my other half all the time for putting up with my crazy running and I did promise him nothing more than a marathon but I think that was for my own sanity. I know he would be there if I did anything else. Maybe it is time for you to sign up for an IronMan?!

  8. Amy says:

    I don’t think you were whiny at all! When I first started dating Aaron, he was signed up for Ironman Arizona which was about 5 months later, and he basically told me that he’d be pretty distant until that point. He ended up dropping out of the race (he got promoted at work and had less free time), but I imagine that I would have had a similar story to tell. And I know at some point the bug will catch him to do one again, and I’ll try to keep these things in mind! I think you are right…the partner has to be completely on board, otherwise I could see some major issues coming to the surface. Glad that your marriage survived!

    1. Cathryn says:

      Glad it was useful…and not whiny!

  9. Michaela says:

    I love this post. And it’s why I chose to do my first Ironman now — I’m single and have no commitments. My apartment is a wreck. Everything smells like cat shit. There are piles of laundry everywhere. And last night I went to bed at 7:30. But I don’t feel guilty because it’s just me.

    1. Cathryn says:

      Yeah, there’s a real freedom to pursue your dreams when you’re single. Both being single and being in a relationship have pros and cons but singlehood definitely makes sporting achievement easier 🙂 I wish I’d done more things before I met the Husband!

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