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I read this with interest, both the article referred to and this piece. I am going to call a spade a spade here. We cannot have our cake an eat it. The issues here are not how much career or sport a man or woman involves themselves in, it's how little they involve themselves in family. I am making an educated guess the reason many people pick up a sport in their 30's is to get away from the other problems at home, at work, or within themselves. The problem is not sport, sport is a symptom of the problem. A person who feels loved, accepted, praised, and wanted, will have little reason to motivate themselves to prove their abilities to themselves, unless there is something deeper broken inside. Yes we should talk to our spouses, but it isn't going to happen if we are not talking about the other stuff. Yes it is selfish, yes it's egotistical, and yes it's all about choices. I have found a lot of people who run in my life, sometimes perform a physical manifesting of an inward reality. They are running from something deeper or to something deeper within themselves, and the many hours of meditation on foot , on wheels or in the pool, repeating the mantras we do, allow us to reach a point where we might decide to work at family or chuck it all in for another partner who will train with us, and vindicate our search.


I can identify with this. Athlete in my 40s with strong expectations that when I'm not at work, I'm "supposed to be" time-committed to the house and spouse. My 15-22 hours of training a week can seem selfish, like it's presuming my spouse will pick up the domestic slack.

In our house, we had a sit-down and went over the list of stuff that wasn't getting done and what was the most irritating. I also got more up-front about my time management plans from week to week so expectations were clear. It grated that I was asking "permission" for athletic time commitments, so shifted attitude & behavior to reflect awareness of how my hours in sports affected my spouse and the household.

As a competitive female athlete, this is an ongoing balance, not always comfortable, between me and my husband.

Pamela Harper

Very disappointing Joe - very sexist - was this slant necessary? Do you know how many of the people that read your blog are women? I realize that in your second paragraph you were just stating your opinion, but still. All women who are married struggle with the same issues, all parents struggle with the same issues. It's too bad that you wanted to focus on just the men.

Joe Friel

Pamela--I'm sorry if what I said offended you. But I understand where you are coming from on this. It wasn't my purpose to underestimate or ignore the experiences of women. My wife faced even greater challenges than me at that time in our lives. I am not able to describe them as well as she could. But I could explain the dilemma from a man's perspective. That was my purpose.


It's not that whatever you do you're wrong. It's that whatever you choose has consequences. Sport is no different than the pursuit of excellence in any arena. Perhaps the issue hits women somewhat differently because of child bearing. My first son was born when I was 30, my second when I was 34. A decade passed before I could hardly take a breath between home, work, and parenting. Now that my kids are older, I finally returned (at age 46) to the sport of triathlon after a 25 year absence. It's still exciting and wonderful and full of personal bests. Best of all, my kids run with me sometimes. They may be faster, but I go longer.


I am a woman, 29 years old, who just earned her PhD two years ago. Please consider the other point of view. Men, particularly those in their early thirties, are not the only ones who may want to establish a career and a family. You wrote, "Men in this situation must give a lot of thought to their drive to succeed at the highest level in everything they do – career, family and sport. The only one that is truly optional is sport. Something has to give." Do women in this situation not have to give a lot of thought as well?? Perhaps it is even more difficult for a woman in this situation to achieve personal athletic goals, career goals, and develop a family, particularly when everyone expects her to give up her career because she is a woman.

At "Collie," not everyone who picks up a sport in their thirties is running away from their problems. I picked up sport to become a better person inside and out -- a healthier person overall. I am the happiest now more than I've ever been, and it's because I have the mental strength to believe in myself that I can overcome physical challenges. I am not running away from anything.


Hey Pam...did you miss this line?

"and there is no doubt that women face the dilemma described in the WSJ piece in unique and challenging ways - perhaps in more challenging ways than those faced by men."

Seems like it was pretty clear that he was writing from the perspective of a man, since he is one. The quoted line above should indicated that he acknowledges that women have many of the same/similar/different issues on the same topic.


I too re-started my athletic career in my 40's but my wife and I re-started at the same time. We had to sit down each weekend and determine who was going to do what each week. It also meant that somethings didn't get done, but that's where the priority setting came in. Perhaps it was easier for us because I like to cook. I had also been doing chores around the house since we got together as a couple. Also, our kids were competitive swimmers so one of us could take them to the pool and put on some running shoes or take the bike and work out while they were swimming. Our kids still say that one of their best vacations was when we rented a house on the Russian River when my wife and I did our first ironman (yes both of us training in the same year). Granted, neither of us has qualified for Kona, but we do have fun and the workouts keep us fit and motivated. So I guess for me it's all about balance, priorities and time management, oh, and communication.


I did IMFL in 2000 when I was young(25) and single(but dating). Afterwards I vowed that I would never do it again(unless I had a really good reason), b/c of the impact it had on those around me. I had to push away a girlfriend at the time, and other family and friends. I simply let it take over everything. Not the way to live moving forward.

FastForward 10yrs, I'm married to a wonderful woman who is up for anything. Out of the blue, she said "lets do an Ironman". Now I had a really good reason, so that's exactly what we did. We did the vast majority of our longer workouts together, which made a huge difference. I wasn't nearly as obsessed as I was 10 years ago. I could still do all my workouts by myself and obsess over each and every split, but what's the point if there's nobody to share it with. So, we both finished IMFL 2010(faster than 10yrs ago), and look forward to many more years of adventures.


Philip Turk

Wow -- pretty heavy stuff, Joe. A really good read that I posted on my Facebook page. I'll be quite interested in seeing the responses from my ultra, tri, and athletic buddies who are married. At this point in my life, if I were to be involved in an intimate relationship, it would be quite difficult to imagine a scenario where my partner was not as enthused about exercise and nutrition as I was. Of course, being in an intimate relationship means celebrating the fact that my partner would be a strong, independent woman. However, exercise and nutrition are such key components in my life that it would be like mixing gas and water. And there would always be something "missing".

By the way, I second Hills re: Collie; it is not fair to generalize and make the claim that all endurance athletes are running from their internal demons. I run ultras for the same reasons Hills or most any healthy athlete does; that is, to throw my arms around life and make the most out of it.

-- Phil



To those training 20+ hours a week at the expense of their families, jobs, and other interests:

-buy a powermeter
-do some testing
-make your workouts meaningful
-train 8-12 hours a week
-and wake-up!

ron Fantano

I enjoyed this article on many levels because I do see that the ones who suffer most are the children. My daughter just wanted me to be there for her, be at her sporting events. I never concidered taking on IM event, just would not want to compromise my parenting responsibilities. Our children really dont care if we are IM, what they want is our time.


@Sam. You are so right. Yet I will say that I, as a former "EmbrunMan" finisher, does not believe that 8-12 hours a week is enough to go the whole way. But it's not the point here. The point is that it's all about priorities and dreams. I will be brief - When I was in the mid-twenties, I had a dream about being in the elite of Ironmens. I tried to follow that dream. Back then I had no children, and I could easily train 20+ hours a week. It was a single track road, and unfortunately with many injuries, so I didn’t managed to get it al the way to the top. Today, closer to my 40s, with a wife and two kids, house, two cars and even a dog ... Well, if I did as I did then, so would the family fall apart. I can’t imagine that anyone wants that situation, and therefore one must prioritize. If you're not exactly on the road to the Olympics, how can you prioritize eg bicycle training rather than the family, especially children. They must have a certain age before they can understand the "lack of one parent”. But again, that it's just my opinion on the subject. I love to train, and have the feeling that I can’t live without it, so in my case I bought a power meter, hired a coach to guide me through max. 8-10 hours of bike training per week. It is not an excuse, but with that amount of training it is not possible to be a cat-1 cyclist. I live with this because for me it is a priority ranked 5 or so. Therefore, reading about Mr. Waxman is also a bit scary. I see him as a skilled person in an important position, but with some strange priorities in his personal life. He has been gifted with a wife, 3 children and very good education ... but he still has ambitions to reach a certain higher athletic level. I do not care what drives him, but it looks as if he forgets his obligations. In a certain period in life, some of the responsebilities determine the order of priority - and priority 1 should at least always be your children and your wife.


Listen, I am going to dominate Masters-Cat 5 this year, no matter what my wife says!


Guess I better come back in an just point out, it was angle not covered, I didn't intend to 'generalise', and I didn't think that saying 'many' or 'a lot' meant everyone, but being in a club with 60 folk, and reading often on the internet, and being part of couple myself, it seems there is a lot of issues to be dealt with in a any relationship that don't get dealt with in the pool or on the bike etc; However I will state, that the individual in the story as it is reported,is refusing to give time to his family, and yet hoping swimming the channel is going to be an example for them. I would say it's a perfect example of how not to engage.... I am clearly not talking about people in healthy relationships or who have healthy relationships with themselves. Everyone has their own reason and testimony as to why sport is important. My own was the realisation that if I didn't get fit I might not be around to enjoy my children's adulthood. As most of you seem to understand, it's give an take. But if an ordinary Joe ( pun intended) can't give up a training session for the sake of family harmony...then deeper questions need to be asked.

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