Where Have All The Cowboys...Err...Triathletes Gone? Dating In Endurance Sports
For the past 7 months I kept this information well hidden: I was dating a fellow endurance athlete. If this is your first time reading one of my articles, allow me to describe myself. I am a late 20’s triathlete, ultra runner, and open water swimmer that lives in Venice Beach, CA. I have a large-ish social media following of mostly athletes & people interested in endurance sports lifestyle. And my life is pretty much laid out in DETAIL on social media every. single. day. There is not much I am able to hide. In fact, if I don’t post for a few days, I receive very sweet, concerned messages asking if I am ok. That is something I love about the connections I make over the interwebs.
But I hid this relationship out of respect for the other person and to give us space to feel out what it meant to date each other. I had never attempted a relationship with someone who shared so much of my athletic interests, skills, and experiences. Honestly, it was a huge selling point at the beginning. That was my dream: share my lifestyle with someone who could FINALLY '“keep up.” No more explaining why I can’t stay out late for drinks because I have to be up at 5am for training. And not having to feel guilty for suggesting a run or swim instead of going out to the movies or watching the big soccer game. I haven’t owned a cable TV in almost 10 years. I live my life outdoors, and I like it that way.
Because I am followed by so many people, I hear a lot of stories. I speak with a lot of athletes. And for the most part, athletes put the idea of an “athlete-athlete” partnership on a pedestal. It is sought after, highly revered, and believed to be the solution to the problems I listed above. I drank that Kool-Aid big time. Tall, fit, handsome, and open water swims? SIGN ME UP. Now coming out the other end of this attempted relationship, I have learned some unexpected lessons the hard way. As personal as this is (going through a break up is definitely not something most people want publicized), I felt that my experience was something beneficial for this community to consider. Dating in endurance sports might not be made of lycra rainbows and carbon dreams like we all hoped for. For me, it certainly was not.
This is not an article to bash the person I dated, nor is it to make a generalization that you should avoid dating other athletes. I am merely going to share the lessons I learned. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would learn these lessons, but life always has other plans for me.
THE SOLO SPORT ATHLETE
Triathlon, open water swimming, AND trail running are one woman shows. On race day, you are not competing for your team. You are competing for you and against everyone else. Yes we train with triathlon groups or running groups in our preparations, but for a lot of us, we spend a fair amount of that time alone. This mentality affected me and this relationship much more than I had thought. When you take your sports seriously like I do, training at your level is really important. Mentally as well as physically. Run with someone much slower than you and spend your time either under-training or waiting for them at the finish. One option allows for companionship and one does not. One option allows for proper training and one does not. In the case of this relationship I was in, not only were we at different levels with speed, we trained for different distances. I am a long course athlete (70.3, 140.6, and 30k-50k trail races). He was fantastic at sprint tri and short explosive events. The only place we could meet was for casual runs, but at some point, neither of us have too much time to allocate to casual runs if we are seriously training for events. Training schedule time is precious.
What I Would Have Done Differently:
Don’t date anyone. LOL! Just kidding. But truthfully, I would have established going into the relationship that time spent together working out was either “purely for fun” or “training.” And if we opted to do training together, I wanted the flexibility to ditch his a** or be ditched if one person needed to move faster. I do this with my friends in training all the time, no ego about it.
Remember that just because you are both good at something and you enjoy it doesn’t actually mean you have to do it together. This was the hardest lesson for me to swallow because the whole allure of the relationship was incepted on the premise of “doing it together.”
Leave the competition for race day. I take full responsibility for this one. I f***ed up. In a romantic relationship that is built on love, understanding, and healthy communication, there is no room for mercilessly slaughtering your significant other at swimbikerun. I like to win just as much as anyone else does, but trying to compete with my boyfriend is only going to leave one or both parties feeling utterly shit. And if he should ever stumble on this article, he kicked my BUTT at open water swimming. If only I could have told my ego to kicks rocks. I know better now.
Much like politics, each athlete has his/her own viewpoint on what is right and what is wrong. Do your absolute best to respect your significant other’s opinions on training, even if they are different from your own. Coming from an education background and a philosophy that success in endurance sports is mostly hard work, a touch of luck, and training everything in moderation, I am not wild about the specific, technique-heavy, analytical approach to training. My partner was. A LOT. Like #1 biggest technique nerd on the circuit. Charts, graphs, lines draw up and down your body in the pool like a prize-winning geometry project. I can appreciate this approach and do not refute its place in coaching. But there was never a mutual respect we held for each other’s differences in this way. Hold space for the other person, it is much better.
Exercise caution when mixing business with pleasure. I travel a lot for races and to work with cities/hotels for my marketing company. It seemed like a GREAT idea to include my significant other on these trips. We could race together, stay in the same hotel, and get to spend quality bonding time. But because we were still new to the relationship, traveling was especially taxing. I think this is still something I am going to be seeking out in my next relationship (someone who can travel and race with me), but I will prioritize my work first. And like I said earlier, sometimes you don’t need to do it together.
Be your significant athlete’s biggest cheerleader. We all know what it is like to cross the finish line and have to cart off your own bike because no one could make it to your race. And we all know what it is like to pour your heart, time, and wallet into training. For us, it is a big deal. For ME, it is honestly my entire life at this point. Having that support from your romantic partner is priceless. Even if you can’t physically be there with them, let them know how proud you are and relate to their experiences. You know how hard it is to accomplish what they have; you do it too.
I hope my lessons are helpful to any of you looking to date in the endurance sports community. I see all the pro triathlete marriages (I am particularly inspired by Luke & Beth McKenzie), and I know that there is real true happiness in athlete-athlete partnerships. Like in ANY relationship, longevity it contingent on many factors including compatibility, personality, and circumstantial logistics. Blend those with the tips I mentioned above, and it sounds like a recipe for #1 badass power athlete couple. I know mine is out there waiting for me. In the meantime, I will be playing mermaid in the ocean and long-legged mountain goat on the ridge-lines. Life finds a way.