Sherpa > Athlete?

Two weeks ago, Greg and I went to an event for an entrepreneur’s group that he’s recently joined. (Lovely evening; we got to share some anecdotes and a snap a few photos with Ben Stein – but that’s another story.)

At dinner, we learned that the husband in one couple at our table also was an Ironman finisher, having completed Lake Placid last year. What I found the most interesting about our conversation was the dialogue with his wife about which IM race he choose, and how their family priorities came into play. What I mean is, not only did the athlete’s family NOT come to Lake Placid to support him and cheer him on. The athlete actually drove back to DC the next morning by himself – 10 hours with stiff, cramping legs – to catch a flight for a couple’s vacation.

Now, Ironman is really a selfish sport. I’ve said it before and it holds true. You transfer ~20 hours of your life each week from family, work and other areas to your training obligations. Wanna go to an exhibit? Nope – you just did a long run and your legs are toast. Want to grab breakfast? Nope – can’t do that either because you need to meet your running group at 9 am. Can you take the kids to a classmate’s b-day party? And no – that’s 3.5 hours right in the middle of prime biking time. So, your partner – or in triathlon speak, the Sherpa – takes a higher burden of home and kids’ care. Face it, your training upends not only your life, but that of your family too.

So, here’s the ultimate question – at what point to the desires of your Sherpa outweigh your own goals and priorities?

OK; back to the dinner conversation. From this Sherpa’s view, the most important criteria of her husband’s IM race selection was preserving their normalcy. The kids attend the same camp every year and it started the day after IMLP. So, it was a no brainer for her to stay in DC on race day. (For them, dropping the kids off a day late, or leaving the kids with a friend for the weekend, or selecting another camp didn’t seem to be options.) And, she and her husband took a couples vacation every year after the kids departed (and going a day later wasn’t up for debate, and flying out of NY wasn’t possible.) The fact that the Athlete set a goal for one of the hardest and most iconic IM races was irrelevant. The timing simply didn’t fit the family’s schedule.

This Sherpa also said “well, one year (Athlete) did a race in Florida in November. That was a lot easier (on the family.)” I mentioned that while that seems easier logistically, it’s actually pretty hard with training because you’re doing your century rides in October in the cold temperatures, and at the end of the season when you’re mentally and physically exhausted. She had no sympathy for my view. There’s a part of me that empathizes with her points. However, if she had been my Sherpa, I’m not sure I could have reached the start line, let alone the finish line.

Now, I’ve been on both sides –as Athlete and as Sherpa (for 3 consecutive summers, with Greg training for and finishing three ½ Ironman races). Both roles are hard. But what’s clear from this exchange is that what works for me isn’t what will work for everyone else. Each couple must find its own balance. What works for one family (you can do your IM race, but our sacrifice ends as soon as you cross the finish line), is not what works for our family (this summer is yours to race – I’ll pick up the slack.)

Athlete v. Sherpa isn’t absolute, like an equation. Instead, it’s a case-by-case issue of knowing and trusting and supporting your family on the terms that work for you. And, in looking from the outside in, you can’t make judgments about fairness or priorities. You need just focus on you, and your Athlete, or Sherpa (or in our case this year, both) and ignore everyone else.

Would love to hear from other Sherpas – what is your take? Should other Athletes and Sherpas check their opinions at the door?

Sign up and get the checklist that will help you take ‘some’ of the stress out of your preparation for race day.

Signup now and receive an email once I publish new content.

I agree to have my personal information transfered to MailChimp ( more information )

I will never give away, trade or sell your email address. You can unsubscribe at any time.

Avatar photo
About the author

Now a 5-time Ironman finisher, Monique is starting to think that, perhaps, she might actually be an athlete. Triathlons were supposed to be a hobby to alleviate the anxiety of turning 30, but more than a decade later, and after a 5-year hiatus to start a family, she’s hooked again.

Related Posts