Dad, Husband, Businessman and World Champion. Owain Matthews explains to us how he fits it all in
Posted: Nov 17 2016
As age group triathletes we devote a significant amount of time to juggling a healthy lifestyle, training, racing and work. More and more I’m asked about how I manage my training alongside coaching, a full-time job and spending quality time with my family. As much as I’d love to say it’s all down to my amazing efficiency and organisation, the truth is, its hard, it doesn't always work, I have to be adaptable and I get a lot of help!
Throughout my 5 Ironmans, including 2 trips to Hawaii, I have learnt a lot of valuable lessons about managing my commitments to still allow me to progresses as an athlete and fulfill my responsibilities. I got into triathlon for the enjoyment and to challenge myself, and although my commitments have grown since starting a family this past year, my goals are set high and I continue to improve. Reflecting upon triathlon only being one part of my life is what I believe is the key to keeping me grounded and finding balance in my life.
Here's my perspective on how I manage it all:
Change is ok - when I started triathlon in 2011/2012 I was training once a day, unstructured, racing shorter distances. Over the years I have doubled my training load, switched to long distance racing, grown my involvement in coaching, volunteer as part of the Balmoral Triathlon Club committee and started a family. Through these developments, my triathlon performances have improved as have my expectations. Exponentially these gradual developments have made me adapt and refine my training habits to meet all my weekly commitments.
Through my first couple of Ironman's Dani and I had a lot of free time and few commitments outside training and work. Now our life revolves around Ethan's development and schedule. It's not a bad thing and something I wouldn't change, but now I have to be smarter about when I can train, the quality I can produce and how I recover properly with less free time and often less sleep. My point here is that adaptability is key, talking with your coach and training with purpose can still produce the best results.
Get organised - my life would not function if I woke up every day and then decided what I wanted to do. I not only have to take into account my training, coaching and work commitments, but those of Dani, plus Ethan's activities. Dani and I are often tag teaming multiple times though the day, finding time together where we can, but we rarely get to fulfill all our planned activities for the week. That's just life and something we are ok with!
As a family we definitely make time to have easier days in the week, or in the month where we are away from triathlon and work and can relax and be less structured. Often this is a family breakfast out or a rest day at the weekend. This may have minor impacts on the way I train, but in the big scheme of things its a small adjustment to make. My attitude is to make the most of my training and coaching when I do get the time to get out.
Be patient - training, coaching and work can be physically and mentally draining. I think most people who know me would say that I am quite laid back and patient (years as a teacher and now a parent helped me refine this). This allows me to cope with the times when training has to be rearranged or crammed in as I need to share family duties with Dani or amended my plans in some way. I'm no longer the number one priority in the house!
Keeping perspective on training consistency and life balance helps me not to worry about unexpected things that crop up, I don't let myself feel guilty if I have to adapt and I have great faith in the quality training I do. Ethan is always quick to remind me with his cheeky smile and babbling, how irrelevant some perceived problems are. When I have a tough day, including work, crammed in a couple of training sessions then have been coaching, I just focus on the next goal ahead, am pleased that I have managed to cope with the days workload. It's a bit of an overused phrase, 'but don't sweat the small stuff', just focus on what you can control.
Be a parent first - even with representation for Wales and Great Britain in athletics and 2 trips to Kona, nothing can compare to the joy of the day you become a parent. It's by far the hardest and most rewarding thing I've ever done and at nearly 1 year, Ethan is keeping me on my toes.
My approach to training and family life, is to incorporate as much of these together as I can. I think this makes me a better athlete and prevents me from over-training or over-analysing my performance. Ethan comes to races with Dani and I, he's often meeting me after training or being looked after by the amazing friends we have at Balmoral Triathlon Club. He's always so happy to see me when I come in from training and on hand for a cuddle or to play as I'm stretching or recovering. It's these moments that keep me grounded and motivated, hoping that he will be proud of the things I'm trying to achieve in sport.
Accept help - no one can do it all alone, and I'm lucky to have the best support network. Firstly, my amazing wife Dani not only enjoys triathlon and moves in the sames communities as me, but she is incredibly understanding and supportive of my passions and goals in triathlon (being an athlete herself). Obviously training for an Ironman often takes 15-20 hours of training a week, on top of work this leaves little time for errors in planning and recovery, but it means that Dani often has a great deal of extra work with Ethan. It's her great attitude and love of spending time with Ethan which makes training a possibility for me.
The community at Balmoral Triathlon Club is second to none. An absolutely amazing group of people who love Ethan and help us out on many occasions. The option for flexibility in the week to drop Ethan with a friend for an hour or so to allow me to get in a quality session in better conditions or at a time when a training facility is free makes a massive difference to my training. It also makes me happy to know that Ethan is going to grow up with so many positive role models around him.
Find Efficiencies - at my age and after years of endurance training it's important for me to focus highly on training consistency and health. As well as swim/bike/run training I need to make sure I prioritise strength and conditioning, proper recovery and nutrition in to my weekly routine. This can put added time pressure on things.
I combat this by trying to multitask, a LOT! When Ethan goes down for naps I'm often preparing food, completing exercises or on the roller. When I get home from training and need to help in Ethan's bed time routine I often stretch in the shower while he plays in his bath seat or give him his bottle on the couch while I have a recovery drink or check in on my athletes on Training Peaks/Strava. These little efficiencies can save me time each day
Like triathletes across all levels, we're all searching to better our performances, enjoy our time training and racing while still maintaining a life! Regardless of the things that you tell yourself can potentially get in your way, just try to maintain perspective on it all. It's not as hard as we sometimes make out to ourselves or our coaches, and we are choosing to do this! The key is to not look to far ahead and take each day at a time. We will all struggle at times, but dealing with it as best we can and moving forward positively will help us all manage it all.