Time-Crunched Cyclist Parents’ Guide to Cycling Success
Balancing a career, home life, and training can be difficult. Adding children to the mix further increases the degree of difficulty (and joy). For Time-Crunched Cyclist Parents, creativity and flexibility are essential for success – defined as the ability to continue achieving your competitive or non-competitive sporting goals. CTS has coached Time-Crunched Cyclist Parents for decades and have compiled some of the best tips we’ve learned and utilized.
Get Focused Outside of Training
Time-Crunched Cyclist Parents have far less wiggle room when it comes to your daily schedule. Your “window of opportunity” isn’t as large or easy to shift around. Babies don’t care about your long day and the middle school basketball coach doesn’t want to hang out with your kid until your finish your intervals. Not only do you need to focus on carving out time for training, but we find successful parent-athletes also get more focused about their workdays and errands. The work must still be done, so distractions must be minimized to pry open a space in their schedule for training.
Get Efficient With Training
To be a successful Time-Crunched Cyclist Parent you need to be ruthlessly efficient because you have neither time nor energy to waste. Cut out the lallygagging and junk miles. Have a goal for every training session, warm up only as much as you need to, and bang out your intervals or whatever you’re doing for the day. Cool down and be done. A quality 60 minutes will do you more good than an “okay” 90 minutes.
What about those long, moderate Zone 2 rides? Well, 60, 90, or 120 minutes in Zone 2 contributes to basic aerobic development. For Time-Crunched Cyclists who complete shorter rides (60-90 minutes), we often recommend aiming for the higher end of Zone 2 in terms of power output or heart rate. If you’re using rating of perceived exertion, think of a 6/10 instead of a 5/10.
Get the Gear
If you haven’t already, get a power meter with a heart rate strap and a GPS head unit. Time-Crunched Cyclist Parents often have lots of household expenses, but investing in quality training tools helps you get more efficient. During workouts, data-collection devices increase your precision. Instead of intervals that are almost at the power output necessary to create a training stimulus, you’re able to dial in that intensity. If you are going to use multiple bikes (e.g. road, gravel, mtb) for training and competition, consider mountain bike power pedals, like these from SRM. They can be easily moved so you can collect training data across your n+1 stable of bikes.
Get Into Indoor Cycling
Being outdoors is one of the leading reasons many of our athletes participate in cycling. However, indoor cycling has never been more convenient, engaging, and versatile as it is now. As I discussed with my colleague, Adam Pulford, on a Time-Crunched Cyclist Podcast episode, indoor cycling expands training time availability for Time-Crunched Cyclist Parents. If you have small children, you can ride indoors while they nap or are occupied with their own activities nearby. Regardless of your children’s ages or whether you have children at all, indoor cycling makes riding early in the morning or late at night safer and more appealing. With smart trainers and smart bikes, you can follow a precise structured workout that will ensure you spend exactly the right amount of time at target power outputs.
When you’re focused, efficient, and have the tools to gather data, you must then use that data to move your training forward. First, make sure you download/upload the training data from your head unit (e.g. power meter or GPS unit). You would be surprised by the number of athletes who have devices on their handlebars that never get synced with training software. There are several data analysis softwares out there. CTS Coaches use TrainingPeaks and WKO5 with our cycling athletes. Popular training apps and devices used by our athletes include, but are not limited to, Strava, Zwift, MyFitnessPal for nutrition tracking, HRV4Training, and Oura Ring or Whoop wearable sensors. Our coaches use other devices, including continuous glucose monitors, sweat sodium sensors, and others in specific situations with individual athletes.
For the Time-Crunched Cyclist Parent who wants to save time and money by streamlining the devices and apps they use, I’d recommend TrainingPeaks for data analysis, Strava for social connection and gauging performance against previous efforts, plus Zwift or another indoor cycling app so you have interactive indoor cycling options. Note: Of the devices and apps mentioned, CTS has partnerships only with TrainingPeaks and Strava.
None of the tips above will matter at all unless you get real about your goals, priorities, and communication. To be a successful Time-Crunched Cyclist Parent your spouse/partner/co-parent must be on board and informed. You must understand that placing emphasis on your athletic training comes at a cost. You’re going to have to make compromises; you must give to get. Family comes first, so you’re also going to need to be flexible and okay with missing or rescheduling training sometimes.
Many of the most successful athletes in the world are parents. So are many of the top amateurs and masters athletes in your area. We’d love to hear from the experienced Time-Crunched Cyclist Parent out there in the comments section below. What’s the best piece of advice you’d give the new members of the club?
By Jim Rutberg,
CTS Pro Coach, co-author of “Ride Inside“, “The Time-Crunched Cyclist”, and “Training Essentials for Ultrarunning”
No longer Time Crunched due to retirement, but before that I was very compulsive about getting in my training, up at 3 AM, on the bike by 4 AM, then to work by 7 AM. It was so routine that I developed my own internal alarm (woke automatically between 2:30-3AM).
The internal clock has reset, but I’m still getting up before the sun comes up. I am still on a high volume training schedule but can start it much later. I was fortunate to have a supportive wife and family (though the kids were already out of the house by the time I started ramping it up).
I think the biggest part of the success (after my own “OCD”) was having a scheduled workout plan from my coaches (Thanks Rick and Jim!)
I’m a father of 4 daughters, a husband, a pediatrician and felt like I could have written the article because I have been following your advice for years!! I have 4 bikes (Road, Gravel, Mountain, Trainer) each with a power meter. I use Training peaks, Strava, and love to Zwift when needed. At age 45, maintaining a training schedule that is flexible is key. I am the “Time Crunched Cyclist”. However, using all of the above tools, let me finish the Dirty Kanza 200 just behind Chris Carmichael himself in 2013 at age 40 (before the sun set!!). I’m planning on competing in this for the 4th time this next year-2018. I hope Chris is reading this!! Chris do you remember me thanking you after crossing the line? We were both a little delirious.
Excellent summary. I find incorporating the family is key. My kids ride bikes with me on my long runs. And coordinate with my spouse to ensure she is getting time for her activities as well. Come race day it is then a family celebration. I cannot emphasize the importance of my coach as well. We review all my obligations family and professional to adjust training accordingly. Lastly, I find just like in the race focus on what’s in front of you. If it’s time for work then that’s my focus, with the family then that’s my focus and when training make the most of that time, no wasted moments. End of day it’s something we all GET to do not HAVE to do.
I think we all agree that getting up super early is one of the best ways to be able to get the training done.
In my case that means waking up at 4:45 to be out the door at 5 AM. 15 minutes sounds like a short time to get ready and go, that is possible leaving everything ready the night before. Clothing, lights, food, water bottles and bike ready in the case of cycling so you can get some extra minutes of sleep in the morning.
The other advantage of doing that is less noise around the house when everyone is sleeping.
I also get a workout done during lunch time (run, swim or indoor interval bike training) . I have the possibility to have lunch on my desk, so I use the lunch time for training and then once done with that I come back to the office and I catch up on emails while I have my lunch in front of the computer.
Another opportunity to workout is when going with my kids to their sport lessons, rather than seating playing on the phone on the side of the rink (ice skate) (like most parents do), I use that time to do core workouts. If they have a longer training session I have taken the bike and trainer and set it by the rink so I can watch them (they love you being there) and get my workout done too.
So my daughter is 4,5 yrs. When the wife goes to Boot camp in the mornings on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, I stay home with the little one, get done for the day (PT at home). Tuesdays and Thursday mornings is mine and Saturday morning (the whole) is mine, then the wife spends QT with little one, and get to sleep as late as she wants to. I am now trying to get a gym session in during luch, emphasis on trying.
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Communicate with significant other. Important long ride on Saturday? Let them know a week in advance. Help the others who rely on you know the workouts/races that are critical to you and the ones that are nice to haves.
Plan out days in advance together. “I’m on bike from 6-8, will take kids from 8:30-12 so you get some time and afternoon together!”
++ on early mornings. Lights, trainers, whatever works best. Now if I could just get my 6 month old to sleep past 5am so I can have my mornings back!
Oh and coffee. Lots of coffee.
Get your training in EARLY. Like 5 AM early. Unfortunately, I have a difficult time doing this because I have to be at work at 6 AM. So I really need to get up at 4 AM to get in an hour before getting ready for work. I can’t commute to work because I’m a police officer and my cruiser sits in my driveway. But nobody misses you before 6-7 AM… the longer you wait to get in a ride or run, the more things that can crop up during the day to derail those plans. Something as simple as coming home from work with a migraine will eliminate any opportunity for training that day, unless you did your training workout before you went to work.
I just wrote an article for our local cycling magazine on this very topic. I would say that my biggest piece of advice is perspective. Parents, especially women, stop their sports because it takes time away from their kids. We need to remember a couple of things. 1. Make the time with your kids good time, being together, playing games, etc. If you can, hire out things you don’t need to do. 2. Our kids need to see us set goals, work hard to achieve them, fail and try again. Those are powerful lessons for our kids to see us teaching.
I looked for ways to include my kids into my training. All recovery rides were with them. If I had to do intervals, I’d ride out and back and use the recovery to be with the kids. It taught them independence. You are never that far away as they are moving as well(ok, he’s faster than me now and needs to come back to me).
I have found a benefit to training and being a parent. I am more present (focused) when I am with my family because I have consciously decided to take time for me and as a result I am way easier to be around- less restless. Also I am a more flexible human because the workouts are important but parenting is no compromise so recognizing that some workouts will suffer is not the end of the world. This turns what is an unconscious irritation into a conscious decision and I am better able to deal with the stress because I have made a conscious decision about priorities-decreases FLOPPY ( are family code for whining) behavior on my part.
This article is exactly where I am at right now. My daughter will be 2 in December and my wife works weird hours, so getting the miles and time in is tough to say the least. Several months ago I bought a smart trainer and a TrainerRoad subscription. What a good investment on my part (wife didn’t think so at first). The indoor trainer allows me to get a more concise, focused and targeted ride, all the while having to never leave the house, which in turn, keeps the wife and baby happy. Happy training y’all.
I try to workout early in the morning while everyone is asleep. Not my first choice but as you pointed out you have to compromise. Definitely agree with you about the power meter. Having a plan is key.
First, be flexible. You may have a hard interval session planned, but its not going to happen if you’ve been up all night with a sick child.
Whenever possible, get two birds with one stone. You can get long runs in and also get a toddler to nap if you take them along in a jogging stroller. Its not perfect training, but it helped me train for a marathon. I lap swam when our kids were taking swimming lessons at the Y.
You always need to take your children’s developmental stage into account. 5 and 6 year olds love to bike attached to mom or dad on a tag-a-long. 10 year olds want to bike on their own bike. Our middle son liked to ride his bike while I ran, but this only lasted one year. You have to constantly adapt your approach to their developmental stage.
Always think about safety. Don’t let small children get behind you when you are on an indoor trainer. Spokes can cut off fingers.
Probably one of the beast articles I’ve read around life-family-training balance. Thanks for posting this! Great read for all parent-athletes and a nice reminder to keep the main thing (family) the main thing. Well done.
Gongratulations for your article. It really helps thx.