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Juggling Work, Family, Training, Racing
The Early Morning Anaerobic Group
June 19, 2003 - By Jamie Mannion, M.D.

Marathoner Joan Benoit Samuelson listed her tips for balancing training and family (she' an avid nordic skier in the winter and helps coach her son's nordic ski team). Her number one tip was...get it done early in the morning.

Thirteen years ago I started the EMAG group here in LaCrosse, Wisconsin - the Early Morning Anaerobic Group. We have evolved from three biker/skiers to a group of 20 who meet regularly at 5:00 or 5:30 most mornings to rollerski, ski, bike, or run.

It has worked out well for those of us with busy work and family lives. You might want to give it a try.

I usually train 1 to 1.5 hours per session during the week. If time allows, 2 hour sessions on occasional/rare weekend days. We all use NiteRider or similar lights, rear flashers, and light clothing. There is relatively little traffic at 5 am, and even when I have an opportunity for daylight rollerskiing, I much prefer the early morning option because of traffic concerns.

Our bike rides are anaerobic torture tests two days a week, with a more civil paced on other days. We have a 21 mile loop that includes two of the bigger hills in the area (we're talking about 600-700 foot bluff roads). We ride a conversational pace the first two to three miles, a blistering pace line for several miles, and attack a long rising hill that separates the fit from the not so fit. We sprint for a city limit sign and ride a conversational pace until all the riders have reconvened. We then have a strong pace line until the next long hill. It is threshold effort: single file, speechless riding up the long gradual climb. The fittest are driving the pace in the front with all others praying they can hang on. Then comes a huge steep wall that splits things up again. We all reconvene and once the last rider is up and recovered we hammer several miles across several moderate rollers that tends to splinter the group a bit once again. Sprint for another city limit sign and enjoy a nice serpentine 40mph descent. Shoot the breeze a bit at the finish and off to home, shower, drive the kids to school and off to work.

Our rollerski group is about 10 regulars and we have a variety of routes depending on the groups makeup and desire. Lots of hill work. We have all changed over to v2 Aeros since we can climb and descend safely with the speed reducers.

Skiing for me is in the local woods, 4 minutes from my home. It is a small but challenging 5 to 10k series of trails - all skied in the predawn hours. We all show up at a variety of times from 4:30 to 5:30am and hook up with one another by seeing each others lights shining on the trails and adjacent golf course.

I am no ski god. I am 45 years old, have 3 very active kids with lots of activities, a very busy medical practice, and a wife who is really great and with whom I love to spend time. She is NOT an endurance athlete but is very athletic. She does not appreciate me spending a lot of time in self-absorbed training. Last year I skied only on our local trails and the Birkie. I was able to finish 250ish on bare bones training. No skiing, biking, running, or rollerskiing more than 2 hours, with most outings around 1.5 hours. It works. Many of our group regularly place in or win local and regional events despite training far fewer hours than our younger friends without the family factor. Hey, it works for us!

I use a Total Trainer ($320 E-bay) that replaced my Total Gym. I use it at approximately 9 or 10 at night for 20 to 30 minutes, 3 nights a week, or on weekend days. No trips to the gym, minimal time away from my great wife and kids.

Maybe if I had more time, I could train a few long sessions and move up 50 or more spots in the Birkie, but it certainly would not be worth the cost in time away from family. Who would care if I was in the elite wave? Virtually no one!! I have a nice harmonious mix of fitness, competition, and athletic challenge. I usually do 3 ski, 3 bike, and 4 or 5 running races a year. Most are within 50 miles of home. It's a good life.

I have lived the life of trying to eek out more and more opportunity to train. My wife disliked it, I felt guilty, and it was a source of tension in our relationship. EMAG has helped a great deal. Lights are out about 10:00 or 10:30, but we sleep in a bit most weekend mornings. My wife is even exercising at 6:00 most mornings.

Training then going directly to work? Bicycling Magazine had tips for commuters. They suggested having a change of clothes at the office, a supply of baby wipes for pit, groin, and other sweaty areas, and a touch of cologne to be presentable to coworkers.

Good luck!! And hope you find that balance between a good marriage and a great, life-enhancing sport.