Its 4:30am and the alarm clock is buzzing in Heather La Freniere's home. She has to get up and get moving, even though the sun won't bother rising for another couple of hours.
Even though La Freniere is an executive vice president for Gibraltar Business Capital, it's not the reason she forces herself out of bed at this painful hour. She does it because, in addition to being a hard working, full-time employee, she's also an enthusiastic sports competitor outside of the office.
This mother of three needs to get running, cycling or swimming, at least two hours everyday before work so she can be ready for her next big race, which these days is usually an Ironman distance triathlon.
She's not a professional athlete. She's one of a growing number of people these days being called "executive athletes" or sometimes "corporate competitors," which describes someone who works full time, often in a demanding job and likes to balance it with a lot of demanding training for the big races.
These are weekend warriors to the extreme. They run marathons, compete in triathlons, weightlifting tournaments, swim meets, ride in hundred mile bike races across the desert and even take on the Ironman distances around the world, all while working long hours for their careers.
A new specialized industry of coaches who focus on the type of training needed for someone who wants to go like a pro, but part time, has cropped up all over the country. There are all kinds of new and improved training programs for those unavailable during daylight hours.
"People who work long hours have to think differently than those who are full time athletes," said a retired military gunnery sergeant who goes by the name "Coach Qwik" as he helps executive athletes get into shape. "They can't devote all their time to training, so although its not easy, they have to find ways everyday to get in training around their work schedule."
"Its a sacrifice," admitted accountant Tim Costi. "In the weeks leading up to big races I don't see a lot of my wife and kids. Hopefully, I make up for that at another time," he said.
Construction industry analyst Peter Armstrong has found a way to combine work and workouts, despite the fact that he labors at least 50 hours a week and often has to globe-trot for his job without much notice. He sneaks in about 10 to 12 hours a week of triathlon training. Often that training has to happen in random locations, like when he was assigned to a project in Dubai for three months. "I'll take my bike with me or find a local pool to swim at," he said.
Attorney Robert Herbst easily puts in a 60-plus hour week as general counsel for HomeServe USA in Stamford Connecticut, and like most executives, travels for his job, but he somehow squeezes in time to prep for weightlifting tournaments both locally and abroad. His tip for making it all happen: "Make training an irrevocable commitment. No matter how tired and distracted you are at the end of a long day, train anyway," he says.
"There's always a way," insists Coach Qwik. "If you're at a hotel, go to the hotel gym. Bring along stretch bands and do exercises in your room." No excuses, because finding time for training while on-the-road is a necessity. Otherwise it might never happen.
Travel to compete somewhere is also a big part of it. Sportsmen say it adds to the adventure when you're hiking or biking or otherwise competing someplace where you haven't previously been. It gives adventure minded people the chance to combine two loves: athletics and travel. The trend toward traveling and training has given rise to companies like AthleticMindedTraveler.com, designed just to help busy road warriors find hotels that have the best gyms or pools or running paths nearby. Companies like Boston-based Marathon Tours and Travel combines sight-seeing trips with competitions all over the world.
Some may wonder why a person who already works long hours and travels for the job would also add hours of activities to their schedule. "It seems like it would be torture," mused one non active co-worker. But it seems to be just the opposite. The training helps busy executives deal with the long working hours. Armstrong concurs. "We all are more productive and balanced when exercise is part of the regular routine."
Working out can be a stress reliever. It gives a person something else to think about while sitting in long meetings or on another long flight. "One way to take control of the stress in your life is through physical activity. Being active can boost your feel-good endorphins and distract you from daily worries," according to the Mayo Clinic website.
"After a fast-paced game of racquetball or several laps in the pool, you'll often find that you've forgotten the day's irritations and concentrated only on your body's movements…the resulting energy and optimism can help you remain calm and clear in everything that you do."
One expert athlete, U.S. Olympian Jeff Galloway, agrees. "Exercise… turns on brain circuits, improves attitude and increases vitality. Studies show that the time spent in exercise results in greater productivity at work," he said. Galloway, who has written several books and developed training programs for those who want to make athletics a greater part of their lives, offers tips for busy people who want to find time in their overburdened schedules, such as waking up earlier, schedule training as one of your daily appointments and focusing on your goal by registering for a race.
Another good suggestion from several long time jocks, keep an extra pair of athletic shoes, clean exercise clothes and healthy non-perishable snacks in your suitcase at all times so you don't forget to pack them when you have to take-off on that next business trip.
La Freniere, who just completed the Ironman Coeur d’Alene in Idaho, sums it up: "It’s about desire and planning. You can be overwhelmed when you look at training for an Ironman or marathon or whatever your sport of choice is, however if you take it one day at a time and prioritize, you can do it."
La Freniere, who has a very understanding husband because he's also a triathlete and coach with Chicago Endurance Sports, cautions to, "engage your support system before embarking on these time-consuming endeavors." Its all about keeping it balanced.