Training with Kids - A Father's Folly
Excerpted from the book "IRONDAD LIFE: A Year of Bad Decisions & Questionable Motives – What I Learned on the Quest to Conquer Ironman Lake Placid," available Fall, 2020
Training for an Ironman with three kids under five compared to training with no kids is like watching a bad sitcom on network television vs HBO. The quality of the training, like the network sitcom, is cubic zirconia with large inclusions.
Like the network sitcom, you’ll get interrupted every ten minutes with commercial breaks. But the ads aren’t funny Bud Light ads. They are a shout from the bathroom from your three-year-old asking you to wipe his bum. Dilly, dilly, Daddy.
It never fails. The minute I hop on the stationary bike, Peter will ask for a glass of milk or some snack, Fintan will need help going potty, and Nora will walk up to the spinning wheel with the goal of seeing what happens when she sticks her finger in it.
Feed Peter, wipe Fintan, move Nora. Get back on the bike. A minute later:
“Dad, can you put on a movie for me?”
(through tears) “Daddy, I can’t find my Spiderman guy.”
(through tears) “Peter hit me!”
“I want pickles and fish for a snack” (is my three-year-old pregnant?).
“Dada, goo goo gaa gaa, I’m going to stick my finger in your bike wheel again.”
After fifteen minutes, I give up, grateful that I even got on a bike that day.
These little ones get into a lot of mischief
Where’s my wife to help handle this barrage of requests? Being selfish again and cooking dinner in peace and quiet or putting away laundry, uninterrupted. Must be nice.
At the end of it all, nobody will be satisfied with the result, the ratings will tank, and I won’t be renewed for another season. And, topping it off, I have to censor my language, so I can’t even swear when I’m angry.
In the meantime, my kid-free friends, or friends with older, self-sufficient children, are at liberty to plan a lavish Game of Thrones-like, commercial-free production.
Uninterrupted, not hindered at all by the constraints of time or schedule, the highest quality, most focused and lavish concentration of training time in the history of mankind.
When we signed up to do Lake Placid in 2016, Jim hired a triathlon coach and shared his training schedule with me. A typical entry looked like this: Monday – 6:30 am Masters Swim followed by an eight-mile run. Tuesday – ride outside for 80 miles and run one hour after. Wednesday – 6:30 am Masters swim, followed by strength training, followed by a 12-mile run. And these were weekdays during which he worked a full-time job!
These days my training mostly consists of pushing this grocery cart of healthy food around
My training schedule looked like this: boys beat the crap out of me for eight hours, then I fall asleep on the couch, drool dripping down my chin.
Fintan liked to slap me and tackle me to the ground. “Daddy, I’m going to punch you in the face and kill you…poop head!”
Peter liked to launch himself from the couch and jump on my back. “You are evil and you smell so I must destroy you!”
If I was training for WWE I’d have the perfect children. But I wasn’t. I was training for an Ironman and I needed to see a chiropractor once a week to fix my back and a psychiatrist to fix my self-esteem. There were no 80-mile bikes followed by an hour run on my schedule.
The hardest part about training with kids, however, is not finding time, it’s trying to fend off every disease they bring home from daycare and school. Getting sick a few months ahead of the race is one thing. It sets your training back, but you have time to recover. But getting sick the week of a race is a disaster.
We get sick a lot
This is an acute problem for me because the bargain I’ve made with Karoline is to just give me two months before the race. If I want to stay married, I can’t ask for six months or a year of intensive training time – what it takes to properly prepare for an Ironman. So I just maintain a base level of fitness for ten months and ask for the two months before the race. She grudgingly agrees to that.
When everyone is tapering – winding down their grueling schedule so they don’t injure themselves or burn themselves out – I’m ramping up. The result is my body is exhausted and my immune system is vulnerable. The two weeks leading up to an Ironman, I spend more money on Zicam and Airborne than on my running shoes.
Sometimes, it’s not enough.
The week of the Eagleman half Ironman, held on the Eastern Shore of Maryland in June of 2018 – a tune-up race for Lake Placid the following month – my throat felt like a baby bird was inside pecking at it.
Of course whatever I had, I caught from my three kids, who were all sick. Three kids, three perpetual petri dishes. Every parent knows that one of the side effects of having kids in day care or school is they get sick all the time. I can guarantee only one direct result of my children’s attendance at either institution, and it’s not that they’re learning things. It’s that they get sick. Often.
Peter was a snot machine. Snot was flying everywhere. Mostly on me. Sneeze, snot shoots out, he eats it. Repeat every five minutes. As for Fintan, he was all stuffed up and didn’t know quite how to blow his nose to get the boogies out. “I have boogies!!” he cried throughout the night. And he was coughing constantly. Nora too. Boogies, coughing, crying.
It’s always worse at night. Restful sleep with babies and toddlers is an exercise in futility in and of itself, but sickness makes it an audacious goal to be achieved, not a standard operating procedure to be blissfully enjoyed.
Glad someone's getting some sleep around here
The Monday night before the race went like this: when Karoline and I tried to put Nora to bed, she screamed as if I was jabbing her with a white-hot cattle prod. After two hours of that joyful bonding, she finally fell asleep. As did we. My slumber was short lived, as Fintan began crying a mere fifteen minutes into it. He wanted his bottle, which is a sippy cup with Pediasure. I got him his bottle, gave him his baba (pacifier) and lay with him until he fell asleep. Then I returned to my bed.
I pulled the warm covers over and burrowed under the blankets to try to get some much-needed recovery rest, the bird continuing to peck, peck, peck away at my swollen tonsils. “Daddy, will you snuggle me?” Peter, the five-year-old appeared before my bed like an apparition. The ghost of carnal sins past. I hadn’t been in bed for 30 seconds. He snuck up like a goddamn black ops special forces soldier skulking into an enemy camp.
“No, Peter, I’m tired. Go back to bed.”
“But I’m scared!”
“Scared of what?”
I got in bed with him, closed my eyes to prepare to sleep and he posed a question.
“Daddy, what does hypnotize mean?”
“What does hypnotize mean?”
“Where did you hear about this word? And why on God’s earth are you asking it randomly at 2:07 am?”
I told him it is like a magician doing a magic trick or when someone casts a spell on you and makes you do things you don’t know you’re doing. Goddammit!! I forgot about the witches! Now he’ll be scared that a witch is going to hypnotize him. I’ll never get to sleep.
Why do five-year-olds save all their questions of the day for precisely the time when all you want to do is sleep? God forbid I try to ask a question or talk to Peter if he’s playing with his Legos or watching Star Wars. So now we went through various questions related to hypnotism and then moved on to the breezy topic of what happens to you when you die. You may find out in a minute if you don’t stop asking questions.
Silence for a few moments. Then: “Dad, is there a Home Depot in Heaven?”
Peter finally fell asleep and I managed to get back to my bed for all of 30 minutes before Fintan showed up and begged me to come snuggle with him. I got out of the bed to escort him back to his room. “Uppies!” he said, arms outstretched for me to pick him up and carry him.
I picked him up and he was soaking wet. He had peed himself. And, I’d soon discover, his bed. “Come on, I said, let’s sleep in mommy and daddy’s bed.” That bed was already crowded with Nora and Karoline. Fintan complained that he wanted to be next to Mommy. Nora was nursing, so that was an impossibility that he didn’t quite grasp.
He cried for a few minutes about wanting to be next to mommy before I convinced him to snuggle with daddy. Of course, with crying comes snots. “I have boogies!! I need a towel!” This went on for about fifteen minutes before he fell asleep again.
Ten minutes later Peter the Apparition showed up at the side of my bed. “No fair!” he cried. “I want to come in too.”
You don't want to see this face at 4 am
“Oh dear Lord, get in then.” I reached over to my iPhone and turned off the alarm set for five am. Screw the 60-mile training ride I had scheduled. I needed sleep more than a bike ride.
Then this happened the very next night: Fintan came in the room at 4 am. “Snuggles,” he said, as he reached out his arms. This meant he wanted me to bring him back to his bed and sleep with him there. The routine is I lie down with him for a few minutes, he falls asleep, I go back to my bed.
This time was different. He was coughing – hacking. This was especially fun when he pulled my face close to his. I thought he was about to give me a kiss. So cute – a special 4 am moment you cherish as a parent. No. He didn’t kiss me, he coughed right into my mouth. He did this for the next three hours.
The topper came at 7 am when he announced that he was throwing up. Then he did. On me. I felt him. He was warm. He had a fever of 101.7. There went the mile swim at the YMCA I had planned that morning. I’d just have get in that final swim the day before the race – a little 100 yard practice run to test the conditions and make sure the wetsuit wasn't ripped from when Peter tried to use it as a Star Wars costume.