Five Ways to Fit it All in: How to juggle training with a family, a career, and a social life

By Mary Kelley


You have a job, family, friends, hobbies, social obligations, and (if you’re anything like me), a house that desperately needs to be cleaned. Now you want to do a triathlon, marathon, or bike race. Here are a few tips to help you fit training into your already busy schedule.

Make a list of the important things in your life and decide where training fits in. Be realistic about what you’re willing to give up for training. Know that your priority list can change throughout the year, and from year to year. If you have an important event, such as your first Ironman that you’re training for, move it up the list. Just make sure that the people close to you know of your priorities and are supportive of your training time.

My current priority list looks like this:
Cleaning the house

When I was training for World Championships (and before a husband and 2 kids), it looked something like this:
Cleaning the house

Now that you have made your list, learn to say “no” sometimes, even if it means having a messy house, friends who don’t understand your “obsession,” missing some social events, and maybe even turning down a job promotion or a date.

If training is important to you, schedule it on your calendar as you would any meeting – and make sure you attend your training “appointments” most days. Yes, it’s okay to miss training to attend to a sick kid or an emergency at work, but don’t make a habit of dropping out of training when anything comes up. Accomplish your high priority items.

How to schedule:
Decide how many hours you have to dedicate to training. Be realistic, and ensure that your available training hours are sufficient to train for your intended event. Eight to ten hours per week will get you ready for a sprint or Olympic distance triathlon, but not a half Ironman or full Ironman.

Create a training plan. Divide your available time among the days, sports (swimming, biking, and running), your schedule conflicts, and in line with your training objectives. Make sure you increase the volume and intensity of your workouts slowly, and incorporate rest days (at least one per week) and rest weeks (every 3rd or 4th week) into your training plan. If you don’t have the time or the knowledge to write your own, hire someone to do it. There are plenty of qualified coaches online, and probably several in your area.running to the gym

If you can’t schedule at least 2 swims, 2 bikes, and 2 runs each week, combine some of them into “bricks” or back-to-back workouts. I do not recommend more than 1 brick per week on average. If overused, they teach you how to run slowly and with poor form.

Incorporate intervals. If you’re short on time (and even if you’re not), build in plenty of intensity to maximize your training time. Vary the duration, intensity, and rest time to target specific objectives such as 30 second sprints with 60 second rests to improve leg turnover.

Early is better. If you plan to work out later in the day— after work, after the kids are in bed, or after you finish some administrative work—there’s a good chance that you’ll run out of steam before it’s time to train, something will pop up unexpectedly or tasks will take longer than expected. Set your alarm, and get up when it goes off.

Sign up for a race. Talk about motivation! Signing up for a race is a great way to make your goal tangible. Once you have a date and distance, it’s time to start planning your training!

Keep a training log. On paper or digitally, record each workout. Include the mode (swim, bike, run), type (10 x 1 minute intervals with 30 seconds of rest), distance and time. If you miss a workout or cut it short, write it in the log along with the reason. Also include any injuries, signs of over-training, or other significant notes.

Tell your friends and family what you’re doing. Once your loved ones know of your goal, they will want to help you achieve it. It is very important that they support your goal, because you will lean on them more than ever to pick up the slack at home, and to understand why you can’t stay out late partying during training.

calendarHire a coach. Coaches provide motivation, an organized plan to follow, and they keep you accountable. Ensure that you agree with their training philosophy, and their personality, and that they have the appropriate experience, certifications, and/
or degrees.

Find training buddies. If you know someone else is waiting to meet you for a run, you’ll be less likely to flake out. Many of my closest friendships (and my marriage) have been strengthened by difficult workouts that we have conquered together.

Write down your goals and put copies on your fridge, your bathroom mirror, your car visor, and on your cubical wall. Keep them visible so that you always remember why you’re doing this and why you have to work hard every day.

As a busy mom of two and a small business owner, I have employed several creative solutions to get in my workouts without sacrificing my “mom time” or work quality.

Train while your kids/significant other sleeps. Wake up early or train during naptime and get your workout in while the rest of the house is still sleeping. If you’re a night owl, train after everyone is in bed.

Swim, bike, run, and strength train at home. Invest in a bike trainer, a treadmill, swim cords and a set of free weights. If you have these items at home, you can train even if the gym is closed, the weather is terrible, or the kids are sleeping.

Train with your loved ones. This is a great way to combine your family time and your workout.

Run with the kids in a stroller. If they get bored easily, bribe them with a movie on your iPhone or a special snack. Bundle them up in winter, get out early in summer, and use a rain cover in rainy weather. Schedule it around naptime. My 16-month old still falls asleep during mid-morning runs. I like to give the kids something to look forward to at the end, like finishing at the park or the bakery.

If your kids are older, let them bike next to you while you run. If they’re much older, let them swim, bike or run with you! If you’re totally different speeds, you can still warm up, cooldown and stretch together.

Bring them to the track for running intervals. It doesn’t matter if they’re much faster or much slower than your speed. You can both get in a great workout and spend time together.

Most gyms have day care. If your kids are already in daycare or school 5 days per week, this may not be the best option, but 60 minutes once or twice a week is doable when it’s the only way to get in training.

Swap babysitting with another mom. Take turns watching each other’s kids while one gets in a quick run, and then swap.

Swap making dinner with another person (preferably a neighbor). Seriously, save 30-45 minutes once per week by making a double-dinner one night, and eating your neighbor’s double-dinner another night.

Listen to a book or podcast while you train. If you’re indoors on a treadmill or bike trainer, you can read or watch a video.

Bike or run to work. This is an excellent option if you live near work and the route is safe. Try the Google Maps bike option, Map My Ride, or Map My Run to find safe routes.

Conduct business meetings on the track. Major deals are made on the golf course all the time, why not while running or biking? Okay, this assumes that the person you need to meet runs or bikes at a similar speed, and that you both don’t mind seeing each other in shorts/spandex and sweaty but it can work.

Let’s admit it, we all have “time-wasters” in our days. Removing or limiting these will free up 30 to 90 minutes per day or more. That’s plenty of time for a workout or two!

Eliminate or limit TV and Internet. I love watching TV at night after the kids are in bed, but I always stay up too late, and rarely watch anything that makes me smarter, faster, or a better human being. Sleep is almost always a better option.

Okay, now you have a few ideas; hopefully you found some that you can implement. Time to make that priority list, sign up for a race or two, make a training plan, schedule it in, find some friends to train with, and get started!

Mary KelleyMary Kelley is an All-American Triathlete, USAT Certified Coach, Personal Trainer, Wife and Mother. With over 17 years of triathlon experience, and over 25 years of competitive swimming and coaching experience, she has 9 first-place overall finishes to her name, dozens of age group wins, and proudly served as a member of Team USA in 2005 and 2006. Mary Kelley is the Founder and Head Coach of AIM4TRI & Mary Kelley Coaching, offering online triathlon coaching, training plans and video analysis for swimming and running. She can be reached by email at, twitter @aim4tri