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One of the questions I’m asked most commonly these days is ‘What do you do with all your free time?’ Before I became a full time athlete I imagined I’d have so much spare time that I’d get bored. I’d figured I’d read highbrow novels, experiment with healthy recipes, go to the cinema and generally have time to enjoy all the bits of ‘normal life’ that you miss out on if you’re trying to combine high-level triathlon with a job.
Yet as it turns out I don’t seem to have much free time. In fact if anything I would say my life feels just as busy as it was when I was working. Of course I train a bit more but not massively more; on average I still only train around 28 hours a week. Which got me wondering – what on earth do I do all day?

Back in November I went back to visit the hospital I used to work in and when my former boss asked me this very question I didn’t really have an answer. ‘Mmmm, I seem to have a lot of admin’ I mumbled. Not really the enriching and life-fulfilling answer I should have been able to give him. Now medics love a good audit (we don’t really, we hate them, but we seem to spend far too much of our professional lives doing them), so I thought it would be interesting to audit my time to see where it went. So for 3 weeks I recorded what I was doing for each hour of the day and then decided whether it was ‘triathlon related’ or ‘non-triathlon related’. For the record I didn’t include eating (if I had my results would have gone up dramatically; I eat often and I eat a lot) and I didn’t include napping (though arguably this is part of a professional athlete’s job I definitely got a blank look when I tried to explain this to my boss!)

So here’s what I discovered.

  • In total, I spent 64 hours a week on triathlon related activities.
  • I didn’t have any days off triathlon. My shortest day was 6 hours (and that was a crazy training day so I was probably too knackered to do anything else).
  • While I was training 30 hours a week (a little bit more than normal because I wasn’t running at the time so was spending a bit more time on the bike), my actual time spent training when I included all the faff associated with it (commuting, changing, showering etc) was 43 hours.
  • I spent 10 hours a week on computer admin (blogs, sponsor stuff, planning races, flights, social media, accounts etc) and 4 hours a week on non-computer admin (bike maintenance, interviews, talks etc).
  • 7 hours of the week was taken up by stretching, rehab/prehab exercises, massage, physiotherapy.

So on average triathlon takes up more than 9 hours of my life, 7 days a week. I guess it’s not surprising I feel busy. Being a professional athlete really is as time consuming, if not significantly more so, than most full time jobs. In fact, if we were constrained by the European working time directive, which reduces the working week to an average of 48 hours, professional triathletes wouldn’t be able to survive. Unlike ‘proper jobs’ we don’t get regular holidays and we can’t leave our job in the office. There is no magic off switch, certainly not for me. I reckon I have two weeks of the year (just after Kona) where I don’t think about triathlon. The rest of the time, just as it was when I was working, my ‘easy’ training weeks, which often fit around races, are the weeks where I try to fit in sponsorship work. And without sponsorship, existing as a full time athlete would simply not be viable.

I don’t think I had a clue what life as a full time athlete would be like. My housemate continues to be surprised at my day-to-day existence, and not just at the volume of training I do. He sees the little things I have to do day in day out to stay healthy; the calf raises, the foam rolling, the stretching, the ultrasound. He sees the amount I eat both at meals and snacks and is amazed that a tub of peanut butter that is full in the morning is quite often empty by the evening. He sees the boxes of kit that arrive each week and sees the stress I go through each time I sort though said kit before a race. And he sees me laugh out loud at the random messages I get from people I don’t know through (most are lovely but a few are distinctly odd).

Right now I wouldn’t have it any other way. But every now and then I’ll be riding along and will reflect on the uniqueness of my life as it stands at the moment. Honestly I don’t think I’ll really appreciate just how special it is until it’s over. But for the time being, at least now I have some kind of answer I can give to my medical colleagues when they ask me how I spend my time.

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