life balance

Alison Tetrick: How Being a ‘Robot Athlete’ Taught Me The Value of Balance

By Alison Tetrick,
CTS Contributing Editor

The juggle is real. Am I right, or am I right?

We wake up and pour ourselves that cup of ambition while watching yesterday’s to-do list drain onto another post-it note. The inbox overflows as you paddle through the rising tide. You longingly look at your bike on the other side of the room. Is it judging you? Your family needs you too. You need them. The pressure continues to build to be something for everyone. Do you stay at your desk and continue the hustle? Do you answer the phone when you are already kitted up and sneaking out for your lunch ride? When and how do you find time to add value to yourself and others? Good question. I will let you know when I find the answer to that one.  By that time we should have world peace figured out, too. So, because it’s going to be a while until we have concrete answers, here’s some personal advice from my own experiences that can perhaps help shift you into a better gear.

Life balance can be elusive at times, and it’s almost eye roll worthy to bring up, but the pursuit of balance is necessary. I am an entrepreneur and a marketing and branding professional. Along with my cycling aspirations and partnerships, I have client expectations that I need to exceed, and personal commitments and goals that I don’t want to ignore. Have you seen plate spinners at the circus? Our lives are like the plate spinners and the jugglers. Modern life is a circus in constant motion every day. If we ignore one thing, we feel everything will come crashing down.  And if we overcommit, then instead of being great at anything you end up mediocre at everything, which is infuriating. We want to achieve. We want to be proud of our work. We want to be fast on our bike. We want to have time to relax without guilt.  We want to have time with those we love and connect with them. How do we do it all? It isn’t easy. But it’s important to realize we are the ring masters of life’s daily circus, as well. We set the priorities.

I learned a very valuable lesson early in my career as a professional cyclist and it is still seared deep within me. Being a very driven “baby” athlete, I listened to sterile advice on how to focus and train for a target event. “This is how champions perform”, people told me. It involved removing all outside stimuli and being as selfish as you could be, in order to completely focus on success. Everything needed to revolve around me in order to win a bike race. I went to altitude training alone. I planned meals and recovery for one. I solely fixated on my training and preparation for the big race. I shut out my loved ones to lessen distraction. I became laser focused, and cold towards anyone who might cost me a fraction of a watt.

I was a robot athlete. If you have ever met me, you know this isn’t my natural expression. On one of the big days I had shut everyone out to prepare for, I crashed and was badly injured. When I came home in my puddle of defeat and damage, I reached out for support from my loved ones, for my broken body and my broken heart. I realized then how much I had hurt them with my process, as I had alienated myself from them and their needs. And for what? Even if I had won that day would it have been worth it?  No way.

This insight burned my insides and I vowed to never make it all about me, all about bikes, or all about singular focus again. If that was what it took to be a champion, count me out. This was not the type of champion I wanted to be. I promised myself I would make life balance a priority and always add value to those around me. And part of finding balance was adding meaningful work off the bike. If we define ourselves as just an athlete, derailment can easily come from injury. I wanted to be something more and vowed to attain just that. Every single day.

Life balance is not about clearing to-do lists, it is about maintaining connection and investing in relationships and your complete life, not just bikes, or your career, or even family. You don’t need to do it all, but you do need to be connected to it all. I went from a short stint as a laser focused robot athlete to what I call myself now: a laser focused pinball.

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We all like to talk about life balance. But how do we actually achieve it? Here are a few tips I have learned from doing it right and doing it oh so wrong that might help you find satisfaction in all aspects of your life.

  • Write it down: This is an old-fashioned classic. Get out the pen and paper and write some things down. Goals, to-do lists, your schedule for the day, dreams, and, up next – your personal mission and vision statements. Besides, what’s more gratifying then crossing off a task on a to-do list? Am I the only one that has written down a task I already completed just for the satisfaction of checking it off the list?
  • Mission and Values: Every year, I check in on my mission and values. What is important to me, and what do I want to do with this one beautiful life? When faced with a new project, event, or proposal, I return to the mission and values I have written down and see if it aligns with those, along with my business goals and my family commitments. Your mission and values are constantly evolving, but with tangible guidelines written down, you can see if you should add something to your plate or not. This helps me stay true to what matters most.
  • Prioritize: You have time for the things you make time for. It’s like when the guy you are interested in apologizes that he didn’t have time to call you. No, he just didn’t make time. He didn’t work out. It’s all about priorities. You make time to hop on the trainer and get your workout done. (Besides, Zwift is great for conference calls.) You can make time for that new gig and go to your daughter’s softball game. On a daily basis I write out how I intend to spend my time to make sure those really important things get done, and to make sure I leave myself some time to let the creative energy fly.
  • Efficiency: Pedal with purpose. Work with purpose. And learn when you’re going to crack. We all crack, we bonk, we pull the plug on efforts, but it’s rarely a surprise when it happens. Plan your efforts, whether it’s with work or training or even a loved one, so you focus fully as long as you can and then pivot before you blow up. Be as efficient as possible to give yourself free time to play. My CTS coach, Adam Pulford, really helps me with efficient training. Coming from professional racing, I love riding over 20 hours a week, but sometimes work gets really busy. He guides me with efficient workouts and tells me I need to do “just enough to win”. I use that advice quite often. Don’t think you have to train all day to get the results you want. Efficiency on and off the bike go a long way. I still have so much to learn in this space. Every time I get on my bike, I want to pedal with purpose. Or when I log in to my email, I want to have purpose. And when I spend time with loved ones, I love to not be connected to my devices so I can give those people my full attention. Purpose and efficiency go hand-in-hand.
  • Recess: After all this talk about lists and organization, let the dog eat your homework. In fact, feed the dog your homework. Throw the plan out the window and have fun. Will something terrible happen if you play hooky for an afternoon and ride out for oysters on the bay? Do it. Want to annoy your coach and shred some gravel, even though your gravel bike doesn’t have a power meter and you rode 3 hours too long? By all means. Are you feeling the flow with work and just feel like even your 90-minute interval workout needs to wait until tomorrow so you can be the most productive worker bee ever? Coach can handle it and so can you. Sorry coach (and clients), but often we are most productive, creative, and energetic after letting our wild fly. Life isn’t scripted. Go play.
  • Grace: Always save time and space for grace. For you and for others. Didn’t crush your workout? It’s ok. Too many typos in your latest deck? No one is perfect. Snapped at your partner? Apologize and communicate, while understanding why you are stressed, and realize they’re probably stressed too. You are enough. I need that reminder every day.

It’s not easy, and it certainly ain’t pretty, but some structure, some focus, the ability to pivot, and knowing what’s most important to you, will help us all keep striving for satisfaction. Life is a circus, so let’s juggle, or spin some plates. Just don’t forget to make time for YOU.

Long-time CTS Athlete Alison Tetrick will be contributing posts to the Trainright Blog, telling stories and sharing lessons learned during her career racing at the highest levels of road and gravel cycling. In addition to consulting for many outdoor brands, Alison has launched AMT Bandanas, a line of one-of-a-kind bandanas that bring to life why we ride and enjoy the outdoors. Proceeds from the sales of the bandanas go towards creating scholarship opportunities to bring more women and diversity into the sport of cycling.

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Comments 9

  1. Yup. That is who I was, the Terminator of water polo and triathlons of the 1980s. I competed in water polo for six years and one a triathlon in 1986 after training for 9 years. I was born in 1967. I had to learn how to become human in the 1980s. Humans are inconsistent by definition and Buddhism helped me to gain insight in to others.
    My cyborg mentality was self destructive as my health failed and may have died in 1988. I self studied health and nutrition including the Bermuda Triangle, UFOs and aliens(I had experiences). I’m able to adapt to a broader range of life’s obstacles including driving crazy people around the STRIP, yes Las Vegas NV. in a taxi. Talking to passengers has become therapeutic for my recovery as a broken Olympic caliber water polo player and triathlete. I was the ultimate CYBORG. Be human athletes. Remember to keep everyone around you happy. They need your help because of your healthy looks.

  2. Allison – this is an excellent article. There is a well articulated message in this memoir…..well, that’s what I’m going to call it. So happy to see balance come to the front. We have often thought that college cycling is a perfect opportunity to practice this, but honestly, many of those who get high grades while racing at a very high level some times miss this and run into a very challenging moment in time after an accident or life changing event. The derailment can be very difficult. You’ve written this beautifully and experientially. I plan to share this with our student cyclists in hopes they can see a connection….I think many will.

  3. Thank you Alison for this tremendous amount of truth !! Applying your tips either for sport or life make us find a best version of ourselves 🧡👏🏻👏🏻

  4. Wow Alison! Very well written article! I’ve been “sort of” doing this for years, but have never put it into words. I always thought, by doing so much, I’m only managing to be mediocre at everything. But, that isn’t entirely true.
    It’s been a while since I’ve written anything down, so thank you for the reminder. It does work.
    And, to maintain, the discipline of “spinning plates”, I couldn’t agree with you more in that cheat days are invaluable.
    Thank you for taking the time to inspire!

  5. Alison,

    It’s taken me 65 years getting to the point that you have as such a youngster, and your philosophy doesn’t just pertain to athletics, but life in general. My focus was mostly job related, and it took a long slow burnout and semi-retirement to get to the good place where I am today. Training on the bike and cycling were my stress relievers, but between the job and training, it was a rigid schedule with little time for family and other endeavors. Fortunately, I had tremendous family support and I’m on the right track now.

    Well done!


    1. Great to hear, Dave! Thanks for the message. Every day is a chance to learn and make time for the important things in life!

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