Many endurance and multisport athletes are continuing to stay fit and race well into their 40’s and beyond. But with age comes marriage, children, a 40-hour work week and the challenge of finding the time to train and race. Finding a two-hour workout window can become a challenge, and going for the weekend on a destination race is dreaming the impossible.
For me, the solution to these challenges came unexpectedly when my wife and I decided to try adventure racing together. Long kayak sessions, mountain bike rides and trail runs served the dual purpose of fitness training and as well as catch-up time with my spouse. Here are some things to think about as you consider racing with your spouse.
Why Adventure Racing?
The simple answer is that adventure racing (AR) is a team sport. More importantly, AR emphasizes teamwork, skills and decision making above fitness.
Teams with the ability to think clearly under stress and combine their various fitness levels to go fast, along with strong navigation skills, are the ones that find success at the finish line. This sense of team accomplishment is something that is hard to describe and can only be experienced.
Fitness and Skill Levels
The most obvious challenge in team sports is the differences in fitness and skill levels among team members. With sports like mountain biking, kayaking, running and navigation, the skills equation within the team can get really complicated. Recruiting the best athletes for your team is one solution, otherwise, the fitness and skill levels your team possess is what you have to work with.
When training and racing with your spouse, you should first focus on skills development. Bringing your spouse along on a ride to a scary cliff-side single-track may not be the best first-day for a first time mountain biker.
The same would apply to developing kayaking and navigation skills. Instead, be sure to start at the appropriate level, practice, gain confidence and you will have fun and go faster as a team.
Second, focus on fitness. The gap in your fitness levels may seem impossible to close at first, but you will find that each of you will have strength and weaknesses that will compliment each other. Just give it time.
Roles, Responsibilities, and Respect
In adventure racing, you have clearly defined roles: captain, navigator, work horse (aka “The Mule”) and the “mother hen”. There are no roles for husband, wife, girlfriend, or boyfriend. When you race with your spouse, you need to understand what role they have and respect that role throughout the race.
If your wife is the captain of the team, her decisions are final. And if your boyfriend is the navigator and you are not happy with his navigation, you simply need to let him continue to navigate until the end. If he or she needs help, they will ask. Rather than relationship respect, offer one another a sense of professional athlete respect. Resume the relationship after the race is over.
Goals and Expectations
You may think that you are racing for the same reason, but I challenge you to ask your teammate/spouse for their goals and expectations. You may be surprised to find that your wife wants to go for a podium finish, for example, or that your husband is just looking to have a good adventure.
Whatever your goals are, be sure to align your expectations before and throughout the race. Talk about it when you are training and remind each other during stressful race situations.
Finding Your Alone Time
Part of training and racing has to do with getting away from your normal schedule and activities. Putting on your MP3 player and hitting the trails might be the therapy you need from a hard day at the office. Or you may want to get a ride in with your colleagues at work.
In either case, racing and training with your spouse does not mean you have to spend 100% of your time together. The advantage of doing activities with your spouse is sharing a love of sports, spending quality time together doing what you enjoy, and creating a family lifestyle that includes fitness and sports.
Sharing a family adventure together, when done right, can be a great way to spend a weekend with your spouse, but make sure to take these steps.
- Train together and get to know each other on the trails
- Treat each other like teammates when training and racing
- Start with the shorter events
- Talk about what is working and not working in your team
And if you are doing things right, you should be enjoying this added time together.