The concept of balance is simple, yet difficult to achieve in reality. Most of us struggle on a day to day basis to balance work, exercise, family… and a social life if we are lucky. What about me? I struggle to balance work commitments, training for Ironman triathlons, taking care of the house (ie. doing the household chores), spending time with family and hanging out with friends. Oh and of course, maintaining the LDR with the boyfriend. Thank goodness I have no kids or pets at the moment though.

We all have 24 hours a day and we always complain that it’s not enough, but trust me, even if the day stretches to 48 hours, it will still be insufficient for us because we will just keep on taking more. I know the keyword is to prioritise and to give your attention to what’s most important and urgent. The thing is, sometimes everything seems important! LOL.

So, we will always be struggling to find balance in life; be it work-life balance or exercise-food balance… right?

One of my biggest challenges when I started training for my first Ironman 70.3 race was finding that balance between having a life and training. I signed up for my first 70.3 on impulse. My head space was so muddled then. I got cheated on and I wanted to prove that I could do it too. In hindsight it’s kinda silly (not to mention embarrassing) that that was my motivation for doing Ironman. It has changed since, of course.

Back then, I poured everything into training. It provided a form of escape from the overwhelming emotions and I wanted to do well so badly. Training was my topmost priority and everything else came second to it. I scheduled everything around training and most of the time I was feeling so tired that I didn’t want to do anything except lie at home and sleep.

My family and friends understood the commitment, seeing it was my way of coping. It was ok that I stopped hanging out with them, it was ok that training precedes family dinners, it was ok that I didn’t want to go on holidays because it would disrupt my training… it was seemingly ok THEN.

The Ironman 70.3 Thailand 2016 race came and went. My parents, sister and two friends came along to support me. I finished it under six hours, bawled at the finish line and felt (deceivingly) empowered. I was determined to go on and do more and keep training and make this my life.

And then reality slaps you in the face with a wake-up call.

You know there is a fine line between obsession and dedication right? When you overdo things, you either end up injured or burnt out or quitting the sport. Thankfully for me I didn’t get any injuries (PHEW), but I got burnt out.

The next race I signed up for was the Ironman 70.3 Vietnam 2017 and it was a good six months after the Thailand race, so I had time to train up and build. I continued the obsession and training continued to be the most important thing in my life. Thus, going into the Vietnam race, I had expectations of myself. I tried not to let it get to me, but the pressure of these expectations along with the scorching race conditions sent me buckling under.

I wasn’t prepared for the heat, I messed up my nutrition and when I saw that I couldn’t hit the target times I set for myself, I started to let go of the race. Then as it got even hotter, the suffering worsened and I just gave up. After I crossed the finish line I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I felt like I had let everyone down and it was a horrible, horrible feeling.

I got over that though – learnt that we have to adapt to race conditions and throw target times out of the window, learnt that nothing goes to plan most of the time, learnt that I need to manage my nutrition better especially in hot races.

But that also served as a wake-up call in life.

You see, I had put everything into training – my time, my effort, my money. And I expected to get so much out of it, like I did at the first race in Thailand. But let’s face it, I’m not a full-time athlete, I’m not going to the Olympic Games, I’m just doing this as a serious hobby.

While it is a significant part of my life, it shouldn’t dictate my life. It shouldn’t be my entire life. After you fly home, people are gonna forget about the race. No one is going to care about the details except you. No one is going to remember what happened exactly.

I didn’t see this immediately though.

After the Vietnam race, I continued to train and then I started to get bored of training. I was dragging my feet to training, I lost my mojo. I was fast approaching burnout. And that was where I held this conversation about priorities. Someone told me that while it is highly admirable to be able to commit all these hours to the sport, I had no balance. I had no life.

So I took out a pen and paper and wrote down all my priorities, and tried to rank them. Previously I conveniently disregarded everything else, but like what someone else also told me, I need to prioritise work because if there’s no work, there’ll be no money for me to continue this serious hobby of mine. SO TRUE.

I began to lighten up about training – and slowly worked at getting the scale into equilibrium. My next race was the Ironman 70.3 Indonesia 2017 and I planned two trips after that – one to Finland and one to Japan. FINALLY I wasn’t travelling for races only.

With a changing mindset, I went into the race without giving myself any pressure. I didn’t set any target times and I just did what I could. And then I miraculously secured a third place. That was a confidence booster indeed and it also re-affirmed the fact that sometimes, the less tight you hold on to something, the more it will stay. In other words, you don’t have to hold onto something too tightly. Just chillax!

I went to Finland for a week and to Japan for another week after that. I couldn’t train as much as I would like to, but it was fine. I didn’t feel guilty! And I honestly felt SO MUCH BETTER.

Right now, I still have a training schedule that I commit to, but I’m not as obsessed as I used to be… because I want to have a life too. I go out with my friends, I see my family often, I go on trips WITHOUT TRAINING (omg so refreshing to not have to sweat!). And I also have less pressure on myself, because this is a hobby after all. #realitycheck I set my goals yes, I work hard at training yes, but I have nothing to prove to anyone and it is most important to just enjoy the process. Otherwise you might end up quitting altogether!

So the point of this entire post is to remind you to align your priorities properly and be careful not to get sucked into one priority too much. It took me a while to understand and adopt this mindset, but now that I have, I feel a lot better physically and emotionally. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to strive in your sport and working hard at your dreams, but everything comes at a cost. And for me, I’m not a full-time athlete and I want to enjoy the sport. Your family and friends are important too; one day you might stop the sport, but don’t take for granted that they will still be there.