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|May 1-7, 2008
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How do busy people find the time to train for extreme sports? These athletes have found a way
by Sam Mcmanis
Most of us, at some point, have uttered that tired old refrain, “I just don’t have time to work out.” And it’s not an excuse. Really, it’s not.
Our plates aren’t just full, they’re overflowing. The job’s been a bear. We’re putting in major hours, meeting insane deadlines. And then there are family obligations: dinner to make, kids to taxi about, traumatic late-night math homework to correct. Got to say hi to the spouse, too.
Day in, day out, who has the time, energy and inclination to lace up the running shoes, strap on the bike helmet or hoist metal slabs at the gym? And you’ve got to be kidding if you think we can carve out enough hours to train for time-consuming endurance events such as marathons, double century bicycle rides or open-water swims.
Believe it or not, it can be done without sacrificing work, family or even blissful sleep.
Talk to Sacramento Police Chief Rick Braziel, who works 10-hour days, is a father of five and still trains for marathons.
Or Andy Hitchings, an attorney who once argued (and won) before the Supreme Court? He’s logged major billable hours while simultaneously training for next week’s Boston Marathon and the upcoming open-water swim season and cheering on his two daughters in their sports.
Or John Whitehead who works as an engineer at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory — and still bicycles 100 miles a week.
Or check out marvels of multitasking such as Channel 3 morning anchor Deirdre Fitzpatrick, who juggles breaking news, an active 2-year-old son and marathon training; and long-distance cyclist Caryn Holmes, a single mom of four and a counsel for the California Energy Commission who can log 100-mile weekend rides before the kids even get up.
Exhausting, isn’t it?
Not really, these high-achievers insist.
Their secret: The three P’s — planning, persistence and prioritizing. Then again, as Fitzpatrick quips, “Maybe we’re just whacked.”
In any event, read their stories and judge for yourself.
—Profession: Senior attorney, California Energy Commission
Holmes is nothing if not flexible, both in her musculature and her busy schedule.
“The key is to not be rigid,” she says, “and have options.”
Mother of four — three still living at home — Holmes is separated from her husband, is working 50 hours a week dealing with state power plant licensing cases, and maintaining her fitness base so she can compete in double century bicycle rides.
It’s easier than it looks.
“First, the [children’s] dad is involved and supportive of my cycling,” she says. “Most important, I ride my bike to work every day, and the commute is a marvelous base. And when I’m really training, I’ll add more miles going home, so I’ll have at least 150 miles there.
“I’ve got to get in long rides, so I might take two or three vacation days during the week and use it for that. I’ll work with the kids’ dad to find out when a good day for him to take the kids is, and I’ll ride then. And one thing about having teenagers is that they sleep until 10 or 11 weekend mornings, so if I start riding at 6 a.m., my ride’s half over before they even get up.”
Because her commute doubles as her workout, Holmes can spend most evenings with her children.
“And support at work helps, too,” Holmes says. “I’m able to work at home some and at night, if it’s a tight time [at work] when I’m training. Of course, there are only 24 hours in a day.”
—Profession: Sacramento police chief
Something had to give and, unfortunately, it was Braziel’s Achilles tendon in mid-February.
He had been training for next week’s Boston Marathon by doing the bulk of work on weekends and squeezing in an hour run each weekday. He had been sworn in as Sacramento’s new police chief a month before, so more weekday training was out.
It was near the end of a long out-and-back run when Braziel felt an ache in his tendon. It worsened as he pushed on. Finally, it was debilitating. He took a few days off, but it didn’t help.
Boston, Braziel’s goal, will have to wait a year. (The race allows entrants a year’s deferment.)
“I put the testosterone away,” he says. “I just can’t do it this year.”
But that doesn’t mean Braziel has subsequently vegged out on the couch. While his injury heals, Braziel and his wife, Karen, put in 25-mile weekend bike rides, and he swims laps to maintain his cardiovascular fitness until he can run again.
Motivation for Braziel goes beyond race goals.
“I exercise in the morning so the rest of my day goes well,” he says. “It’s my quiet time, it focuses me, gets my day all set up. I tell this to people at work — I’ve never come back from a run where I’ve said, ‘God, I hated every moment of it.’ I come back and say, ‘I’m glad I pushed through and did it.’”
As his rank has gotten higher, Braziel concedes he has made concessions to the job.
Back in 2001, when he was a captain, Braziel had enough free time to train for — and finish — the grueling Hawaii Ironman Triathlon. He would swim in the early morning, run at noon in lieu of lunch and put in long runs and bike rides on weekends.
Even as deputy chief in 2007, he was able to put in serious marathon training for December’s California International Marathon, where he qualified for Boston. Now, once the injury heals, he says he’s determined to carve out time.
“I’ve been telling my secretary to schedule meetings later, because I’d like to free up my mornings again,” he says.
Because all but one of his children have grown and left home, Braziel doesn’t feel that parental tug as strongly as before. And his wife is a former triathlete, so he says she understands his athletic desires.
In fact, she didn’t blink when Braziel suggested this alternative way of getting to a dinner party with friends: “I decided to ride there, a good 40 miles from my house, and meet her there. Then I’d shower and dress for dinner and throw the bike in the back of my wife’s car for the ride home.”
—Sport: Open-water swim, marathon
Heck, compared to his wife, Hitchings is a slacker. Jenny is an elite master’s athlete who runs sub-three-hour marathon times and puts in 70 to 80 miles a week.
“The most I’ll do a week is 40,” says Hitchings, whose wife does not work full-time. “For people who have full-time jobs, that’s enough.”
It was enough for Hitchings to qualify for the week’s Boston Marathon along with Jenny. Well, maybe a little behind, since Jenny has earned a starting spot in the elite women’s race.
But still, not bad for a guy who mostly runs marathons (Boston will be his fourth) to get ready for open-water swimming season, which runs from June through September.
“I train with a pretty dedicated group who meets at Lake Natoma when the water gets a little warmer and go 2 to 2 1/ 2 miles,” Hitchings says. “It’s really important to have a group. It makes it a lot better to jump in the cold water on a Sunday morning when you’ve got a core group with a sense of humor.”
Hitchings says he found it harder to work out when he was younger and working as an associate at a major San Francisco law firm. But he’s at the point in his career when he can block out time at lunch to swim or run with friends.
“It’s only five minutes by car from my office to Lake Natoma, and Discovery Park is close for lunch runs,” he says. “But if I have a work meeting, that takes preference, of course.”
As does family time. Hitchings has two daughters, Molly, 15, and Maggie, 12, who both play sports and need homework help and attention.
In one breath, Hitchings says he might “retire from long-distance running” after Boston. But in the next breath, he says, “I’d like to do a full Ironman [triathlon] when I’m 50. My oldest daughter will be in college, my youngest will be finishing high school. I’ll be able to put the time in.”
—Profession: Broadcast journalist
For the longest time, Fitzpatrick, a Channel 3 morning news anchor, felt her proudest athletic feat was finishing a full Ironman triathlon in 2002. That, however, was eclipsed two years ago when Fitzpatrick ran throughout her entire pregnancy.
“On the day I gave birth, I ran six miles,” she says. “My doctors weren’t crazy about it.”
Fitzpatrick is still pounding the pavement, but now she’s apt to have 2-year-old Collin strapped into a baby jogger. He’s something of a personal trainer.
“He’ll yell, ‘Faster, Mommy, faster,’ and when we’re on the trail, ‘Pass them, Mommy,’ “ Fitzpatrick says. “It’s bad form. But maybe he got it from me.”
For a self-described “laid-back” person, Fitzpatrick remains driven. But before marriage and motherhood, she was focused almost solely on work and working out.
Her routine then: Awaken at 3 a.m., arrive at Channel 3 at 4, do the morning show, field report for a few hours, nap for an hour at 2 p.m., then work out for three hours — five on weekends.
Her routine now is pretty much the same, except the nap is replaced by playing with her son. She’ll also take him with her on her run. And even while working for KCRA, she’ll sometimes run during downtime.
“In the back of my car, at all times, I have running shoes, five pairs of shorts and shirts and a couple of visors,” she says. “I sneak in every minute I can, because when I’m home I want to be there for him.”
She’s not exaggerating. Recently, serving on jury duty, Fitzpatrick went on a seven-mile run during the lunch break but miscalculated time and ended up getting called to the jury box still sweating.
Sure, Whitehead notches 5,000 miles a year on his bicycle pedometer. Sure, he thinks nothing of going for 20-mile “early bird” rides while most people are groping for the snooze bar.
But he’s no athlete, he says, not at all competitive.
“Workout? I don’t use that word,” he says. “I just ride all over the place for fun and transportation.
“Look, you can spend your Saturday driving over to Napa wine tasting or spend your Saturday biking there — and you get to eat more cookies biking.”
Spoken like a true bike-lover. Yet, not everybody in town has finished 15 double centuries. And not everyone has Whitehead’s work week.
“It is insane,” he concedes.
Monday mornings, at 6 a.m., he rides for an hour and half with his Davis Bike Club buddies in California. Then he drives to the Lawrence Livermore Lab and stays in a small apartment (“a crash pad in Dublin”) through Thursday.
Tuesday through Thursday mornings find him riding on the Iron Horse Trail, which winds through California’s Contra Costa and Alameda counties.
He’s back in Davis on Thursday night, does the “early bird 20” on Friday morning before taking his son, Will, 10, to school — on a tandem bike, of course. Then, after doing household errands, Whitehead often will put in long rides in the afternoon before his son returns.
Weekends, he and his wife, Anne Huber, also a cyclist, take Will with them on their rides.
“It’s a family thing, not a competitive thing,” he says. “It’s just the way you live.”
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