Episode 49 - How to keep your relationship alive through Ironman training build with Isiah McKimmie

How to keep your relationship alive through Ironman training build with Isiah McKimmie

Triathlon is a crazy sport. You’re up early, home late and when you juggle work, family, and household jobs, it can be easy to let your relationship slide. 

Particularly through the build of a key race like 70.3 or Ironman where training hours are high. 

Now this might seem completely left field for a triathlon nutrition podcast but bear with me! I’m here to help you, in any way I can. I’ve got the nutrition side covered (well mostly!) and I’m bringing in the big guns to help you in other areas. 

So often I see couples and families break down because of triathlon. It can put a huge strain on your relationship, particularly if your other half is not involved in the sport!

In this episode, I’m joined by Couples Therapist, Sexologist and Sex Therapist, Isiah McKimmie, who shares really practical, actionable tips you can use to stay connected with your partner and help your relationship thrive.

Anyone can benefit from these great tips from Isiah. Whether you’re doing an Ironman or simply trying to balance all of the things in life.


​​Connect with Isiah on Instagram

Website: www.isiah-mckimmie.com

Receive Isiah's FREE Guide to Strengthening Your Relationship: HERE

Learn more about the 5 Love Languages and take a free quiz: HERE

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Episode Transcription

Episode 49 - How to keep your relationship alive through ironman training build with Isiah McKimmie

Taryn Richardson  00:00
I have something completely left field for you today. But please bear with me. Today you're going to hear from Couples Therapist, Sexologist and Sex Therapist, Isiah McKimmie. And what I wanted her to come and join me on the podcast for, was to really give you some practical tips to help you survive and keep your relationship spark alive. When you're doing a big build into a race, say an Ironman or a long course event or something like that, where your whole time gets taken up with training. You might have a full-time job, you might have kids and then you throw one to four hours, even up to six hours of training on the weekend into a day, relationships tend to go on the backburner.

Taryn Richardson  00:42
And what I see is couples and families completely break down because of triathlon. One partner does the sport and the other doesn't and it puts a huge strain on relationships because there's this incongruency with expectations around what's actually involved in this crazy sport of triathlon. You're up early, you're home late, the whole sport takes up a lot of time when you've got to swim and bike and run, you might have a full-time job and there's just not many hours left in the day. Then weekends get taken up by maybe six-hour rides or long runs and there's race weekends away and training camps, etc, etc. So it's a very time-intensive sport.

Taryn Richardson  01:20
It's also why triathlon is a little bit incestuous. We spend a lot of time with our training buddies and that helps us to build strong relationships quickly because you see people overcome breakthroughs and push through mental and physical limits together so it's very easy to form really strong bonds with our training buddies. Now I've got the nutrition side of things sorted, but I wanted to bring in an expert to help you with this area. So we're taking a much more holistic approach to triathlon together. In this episode with Isiah is all about helping your relationship with your partner thrive.


Taryn Richardson  01:59
Welcome to the Triathlon Nutrition Academy podcast, the show designed to serve you up evidence-based sports nutrition advice from the experts. Hi, I'm your host Taryn, Accredited Practicing Dietitian, Advanced Sports Dietitian, and founder of Dietitian Approved. Listen as I break down the latest evidence to give you practical, easy-to-digest strategies to train hard, recover faster and perform at your best. You have so much potential, and I want to help you unlock that with the power of nutrition. Let's get into it. 


Taryn Richardson  02:36
Right welcome to the podcast Isiah. I am so excited to have you.

Isiah McKimmie  02:40
Thanks, Taryn. And I'm excited too.

Taryn Richardson  02:42
Definitely left field having a Relationship Counsellor, a Couples Therapist, Sexologist on a Triathlon Nutrition podcast. But there's definitely a method to the madness.

Isiah McKimmie  02:52
There is when you first kind of reached out to me or when my assistant (who's also your assistant) reached out to me to talk about it. I thought oh, this is an interesting conversation. But as you guys explained it to me it makes a lot of sense.

Taryn Richardson  03:06
Yeah, a lot of triathletes, particularly for Ironman, which is a longer course racing, you know, you're out there for anywhere between age groupers, sort of nine hours up to 16 hours. There's a lot of training that goes into getting yourself ready to do an event like that. And a lot of things get put on the back burner when you're absorbed so much by training. There's lots of hours taken up every single day by multiple modalities of swimming, cycling, running, you probably have to hold down a full-time job as well. You might have family commitments. And so a relationship is something that definitely gets put on hold through an Ironman build. And I see it time and time again, either relationship fall apart completely.

Taryn Richardson  03:49
Or the other, kind of, flip side of the coin is a lot of triathletes are together, just like actors and actresses, you know how it works, right? You know, how the whole culture of triathlon works and what it's like doing the sport. And so people tend to gravitate together in a way. So what I wanted to get from you today is to help the listeners with some practical strategies for how to actually manage their relationship when they're incredibly time-poor, and they're doing lots of training hours, and their relationship becomes, you know, "I know that you'll be there at the end of this. Well, I hope you'll be there at the end of this". But maybe we could do things a little bit differently or do things a little bit better.

Isiah McKimmie  04:27
I'm really excited to be sharing some tools around this because it's something that comes up for a lot of couples, even when they're not trying to build a triathlon or Ironman into the mix. We're often so time-poor, especially when you have kids and so much else going on. So it's something that I'm … I'm really looking forward to sharing about.

Taryn Richardson  04:48
So firstly, what do you love most about being a Couples Therapist?

Isiah McKimmie  04:53
I love seeing the changes in couples. I mean, it's so incredibly rewarding to have two people come in who are fighting, have distance between them, might even have wanted to separate before they got to me. And then see them feeling more connected with each other, being able to support each other in each other's different life goals, but also feeling like they're a team headed in the same direction together. That's what makes this so worthwhile.

Taryn Richardson  05:21
Same as me, like, working with people with their nutrition - you see a huge evolution of how they feel and how much energy they have, and even more of a love for the sport, when you actually understand how to unlock your potential with nutrition - layering that in with training. So we can try and do that with our relationship, too, I think - there's no reason why you can't do both.

Isiah McKimmie  05:40
Absolutely. And I think that energy piece is a really important one. When we've got a cloud of worrying about our relationship or hearing our partner complain or knowing that there's distance, it actually takes up an enormous amount of emotional energy and something that can be in the back of our minds. But when we know our relationship is really solid. And when we have that support from our partner, it can change everything in our lives and can make a difference to people's training as well.

Taryn Richardson  06:08
So if somebody's preparing for a big race, and they've got their partner, their wife, their husband, whoever it is, that is going to be their number one support crew, what are some things that they could potentially do to help, you know, make sure that they know that, you know, they love them, and thank you for the support? But also to keep a bit of that spark and relationship there, instead of just switching it off until post-Ironman race?

Isiah McKimmie  06:33
There's a few key areas that I always have couples look at in their relationships. The first area is connection. And it does involve spending time together, being good friends, having respect for each other, that doesn't necessarily need to be a huge amount of time. But if couples can have rituals, ways of connecting, so that they still feel important to each other. Even if that's 15 minutes sitting down, at the end of the day, just being asked how's your day, what's happening for you, what's on your mind, and having space to share that, can make such a difference to our feelings of connection. We might have to schedule it when we don't have a whole lot of time or if you're trying to fit something in around training. Even if that time is scheduled, the fact that you're making time for 15 minutes to talk to each other can make a really big difference to how your partner feels about where they fit into everything.

Taryn Richardson  07:34
And time that's not talking about logistics as well, perhaps? Would that be right?

Isiah McKimmie  07:39
100%! Really finding out what's going on for the other person. And time when that's not also (when) you're loading the dishwasher or trying to cook dinner for the kids or watching TV because one of you is exhausted as well. Just a time where you give each other your attention. And again, it doesn't need to be a lot of time. But it does need to be regular time.

Taryn Richardson  08:01
Would you suggest it's a daily thing? Or would people's tanks be filled up with once a week?

Isiah McKimmie  08:07
Actually, it needs to be a daily thing. So even 15 minutes a day. It doesn't sound like much but when that adds up, it can really make a big difference. And at times when training is less intense, having something bigger, like a date night, or something you do that's really fun and playful together can also make a big difference.

Taryn Richardson  08:29
Okay, excellent. So maybe having a cup of herbal tea before you go to bed at 8:30 in the evening. Having breakfast together after you finish training or scheduling in a lunch phone call or something in the middle of your day - sometimes where you can find a 15-minute space to really connect with them.

Isiah McKimmie  08:48
All of those things are what couples that I've worked with have done in the past. Some couples I know both decided to get up at four in the morning, so they would have that time together.

Taryn Richardson  08:57
That's love!!

Isiah McKimmie  08:59
Commitment, right? And other couples do fit it in once everything else is finished for the day just making it a regular ritual of connection.

Taryn Richardson  09:08
Okay, great. So connection is one of those things that is really important. What else can somebody do to keep their relationship alive?

Isiah McKimmie  09:16
The communication here is really important as well. So making sure that you're each on the same page and trying to understand each other's concerns and dreams and needs and wants and emotions. So very often we don't have the tools to communicate really harmoniously and effectively around things that might be a point of contention in the relationship. We don't necessarily have to solve the problem to change the way a couple communicates about this and changes their connection. So if you can hear that your partner has concerns, perhaps isn't feeling important and like a priority to you and is longing for more connection. And if you can really validate that and say, "I understand that this is hard for you", that's going to help them soften and be more understanding about the need and desire you have for increased training and time away from the family. So how you communicate about this makes a huge difference to the connection and harmony in a relationship.

Taryn Richardson  10:26
That's a really good point. Because you're not often looking for outcomes or solutions or results from your communication with your partner. You just want them to understand how you feel and empathise with you. Now I'm a female and my experiences with males - and I know that my husband's always like, well, you know, "Here's the problem, let's fix it, what's the solution?" And I'm like, I don't need a solution. I just want to talk about it. I just want you to understand how bloody tired I am and how hard this is. So that's a really nice point around reflecting back, like, "I know, this is hard". Is there any other questions that you could give people to potentially ask to their partner or some of those words or phrases like that, to help them fast track them through that process - for somebody that's new to communicating and connecting differently with their partner?

Isiah McKimmie  11:14
Yeah, I wish there was a fast track to better communication. It's one of those things that takes a lot of practice.

Taryn Richardson  11:19
We're triathletes we just want to do the best job we can. And win!

Isiah McKimmie  11:23
I love it, I love it. So "I hear.." is a really good starter. So "I hear..." - reflect back exactly what you've heard your partner. Say "That makes sense to me". Because that's like saying, you make sense to me, I understand you. You can also say something to them like, "Can you tell me more about how this makes you feel?" So there's an invitation for them to share more. You can also ask, "What would you like to see happen here?" - you're inviting them to share. And so often when people can ask that question, they say, "Oh, I don't know. Like, I think I just want to know that I'm still important to you", or "I think I just want to know that you really hear and understand me". Or they might even be able to offer you another solution. Like, "Okay, well, I'd like for, when this event is over, for us to do something really special". So that's a question that can help get some possible actions from your partner as well.

Taryn Richardson  12:25
Excellent, thank you for fast-tracking us.

Isiah McKimmie  12:27
But you have to have empathy, otherwise, you're not going to fast-track it. Because if you say any of those things, without real empathy for what your partner's experience might be around this, it's just going to take longer, so probably, it's actually empathy here, that's gonna fast track it for you.

Taryn Richardson  12:43
Okay so communicating on a daily basis, even if it's short. Just really connecting properly, you know, like eye contact, not scrolling through your phone while you're trying to have a chat or on the phone. Like maybe even if it's while you're brushing your teeth at the end of the night or having a shower together or you know, 10 minutes at the end of the day that you can share - undistracted, without screaming kids - and you know, not flicking through training peeps or Instagram while you're doing it.

Isiah McKimmie  13:10
Exactly giving each other attention. Being present with each other.

Taryn Richardson  13:14
Sounds easy, right?

Isiah McKimmie  13:15
Sounds easy. I know.

Taryn Richardson  13:17
Okay, so what other strategies can people start to think about? We've got those two, we can work on those with our partner. Is there anything else we can do to help keep that relationship spark alive?

Isiah McKimmie  13:28
So connection, communication, and sexual intimacy are the three really key areas and that doesn't necessarily mean having sex. But it does mean being playful with each other, having physical touch in there as well. And kind of keeping that romance between you two. So doing the kind of special things, keeping in mind that your partner is your lover, not just your co-parent, housemate or co-manager of a household.

Taryn Richardson  13:58
I resonate with all of those at the minute having a one year old and a three year old.

Isiah McKimmie  14:03
It's tough to keep that part of the relationship alive, particularly.

Taryn Richardson  14:07
Okay, so any tips for a really tired Ironman athlete that just wants to fall in a heap at the end of the day and go to sleep.

Isiah McKimmie  14:14
Yeah, so we do have to prioritise what's important to us. And I absolutely understand that training and the events are really important, but I'm going to make the assumption that your partner is also really important to you. And so if you can get into these kinds of rituals, where something feels like a habit that's going to be helpful, and letting your partner know that perhaps this week or next week or for a few weeks, you might not have as much of that time. But also letting them know that there'll be time afterwards as well.

Isiah McKimmie  14:49
It's really possible for two people to have really different kinds of interests and priorities in life and still have a really connected relationship. But they have to be connected and talking really well together, so they feel like they can support each other in the dreams and goals that each of them has outside of the relationship. And it's still important that we feel like a priority to our partners, even if they've got other things that they need to include in their day. We still have to feel like we are important to them and that we're made a priority, at least at certain times.

Taryn Richardson  15:27
It's those little things that really add up, though too, don't they? And I guess it would depend on what you enjoy, or what you like. You know, if you're somebody that likes that physical touch, and you're not getting that, then you're going to feel really different to somebody that gets that all the time, but doesn't actually really enjoy that.

Isiah McKimmie  15:44
Exactly. So showing your partner connection in a way that they really value is so important as well. And you're right, it's the little things that really add up - our relationships are made and broken in the small moments. So doing lots of small things often can make an enormous difference to your sense of connection. And the way that you work together as a team.

Taryn Richardson  16:10
Is it worth having that conversation with your partner around what actually makes them feel loved and feel connected with you?

Isiah McKimmie  16:17
So important to understand what it is that they're wanting - what it is they need, and again, to come back and try to understand the emotions that they have, when they're not getting that.

Taryn Richardson  16:29
Before it gets to the point of yelling?

Isiah McKimmie  16:30
Ideally, yes. Find those small moments with your partner. When they feel like you're also listening to them, they're going to feel like they can be more supportive and find ways to talk about it. I can't tell you how to love your partner - they can tell you how they most feel loved and what they really need.

Taryn Richardson  16:50
It's really interesting because you see couples that are really like gift-giving, or somebody that purchases lots of stuff. And if that's not the way that you feel connected, then that's going to be a complete waste of time and effort and money. And it could be the tiny little things that actually make the biggest difference for you and your relationship.

Isiah McKimmie  17:10
Even just paying attention to your partner, when they walk into the room or responding to them. When they say something instead of being consumed by whatever it is that they're looking at makes a really big difference. It doesn't necessarily have to be grand gestures of things. Just having your partner know that you're interested in them and their needs and that you want to show them love in a way that works for them - that's going to start to make a difference.

Taryn Richardson  17:40
That's really good advice. Do you believe in the love languages?

Isiah McKimmie  17:44
I do. I have a lot of couples who find them really, really useful as a way of kind of understanding the different ways that they like to feel loved and the ways they like to give love as well.

Taryn Richardson  17:56
Could you run me through what the five love languages are then - for people that don't know what they are?

Isiah McKimmie  18:00
Yeah, so The Five Love Languages: We've got Acts of Service - where you do things for the other person to make their life easier. We have Quality Time - which is being really present with someone. Gift Giving. Words of Affirmation - where you let the person know how much they mean for you  - the things you appreciate. And Value and Physical Touch. So that's where you let someone know through touching them how much they mean to you. It's how you show love by just even a really simple touch on the arm at times.

Taryn Richardson  18:33
It'd be really interesting for people to understand what their Love Language is, but then also have their partner do that. So that those little tiny things that they could be doing when they're really time poor and really tired - to make the most difference to their relationship. Because there's no point buying somebody gifts every week to you know, get them through to Ironman if they're not into that gift-giving.

Isiah McKimmie  18:56
And you can do all of the things, but again, if there isn't that emotional connection and understanding there, the relationship isn't going to keep growing and stay connected. Over time, you'll end up more disconnected. Yes, we have to do the things - spend time, potentially give gifts or touch. The emotional component really has to be there as well.

Taryn Richardson  19:19
True, very true. I can put a link in the show notes for people to do the Five Love Languages quiz. It's something I've done and found really valuable - because I learned I'm the acts of service one - like just the tiny, little things make me really feel more connected with my partner and that's like bringing me a coffee in bed on a Sunday morning. It's just like, Oh, thank you.

Isiah McKimmie  19:41
That's right. It doesn't take much, so much of the time.

Taryn Richardson  19:44
Yep, tiny, tiny, tiny! But then I also got him to do it as well. And understanding how he feels connected with me is so valuable. And it doesn't take a lot of time to do the quiz but it also doesn't take a lot of time to do the tiny little things to keep your relationship spark more alive. It doesn't have to be a date night every week. It doesn't have to be hours of long conversations like you said before. It's like 15 minutes just connected - conversation around "How are you?" like  "How actually, are you?" Not talking about the logistics of who's picking up the kids? And what's for dinner? And when were you gonna do the shopping and all that sort of boring adulting stuff?

Isiah McKimmie  20:21
Exactly. Those rituals of connection whatever time of the day, however, the two of you choose to do it, keep you connected -  even when there's so much else going on.

Taryn Richardson  20:31
Perfect. So the three pillars: connection, communication and intimacy. That's right (Isiah).  Not difficult. But a little bit of thinking and making a bit more of a habit will help you survive Ironman build, and still have your partner there by your side, to hang you your recovery drink at the finish line. If that's what you want!

Isiah McKimmie  20:52
Exactly. To be there, cheering you on - part of your support team.

Taryn Richardson  20:56
Thank you so much. Can I ask you before you go, what sort of couples do you work with?

Isiah McKimmie  21:00
I mean, I work with couples of all different ages, professions, and backgrounds. Most of the couples I work with usually feel like they've got everything else in their life figured out. But there's this one area of relationships or something to do with sex that they just can't figure out on their own. It's often that they're having recurring arguments, that they feel distance creeping in between them, that they're struggling with sex or mismatched desire, not enjoying themselves in the bedroom as much as they think they could. So I give them the tools and support to fill in that last area of their life that they feel they need to work on.

Taryn Richardson  21:41
Great. Sounds like high-achieving adults there.

Isiah McKimmie  21:44
They're really high achieving. I think we so often think that in order to take steps around your relationship, there has to be something wrong. But the kind of couples I work with normally want to do well in every single area. And so they're often quite proactive around their relationships as well. And they're not afraid to reach out and get support.

Taryn Richardson  22:04
Sounds like triathletes through and through. Do you work with any triathletes, or you just don't know?

Isiah McKimmie  22:09
I've certainly worked with professional sportsmen and ex-professional sportsmen. I've worked with a lot of couples who have pretty significant hobbies as well and couples where there are kind of differences in what they seem really interested in. I'm not sure if I've had any triathletes yet, although my brother does triathlon and Ironman, so I've also kind of seen things from that perspective.

Taryn Richardson  22:33
Excellent. And where do people find you if they want more great relationship tips.

Isiah McKimmie  22:37
So I share a lot on Instagram where I'm @isiahmckimmie.sexologist - there's a lot of free tips and information there. Also my website isiah-mckimmie.com has some free resources - some ways that couples can feel connected in less than 15 minutes a day. And there's also information about doing therapy and coaching with me, which is all done online.

Taryn Richardson  23:01
Perfect. Well, thank you so much for insight into how to keep a relationship alive from your perspective. It's excellent. Thank you so much.

Isiah McKimmie  23:09
Thanks so much Taryn.

Taryn Richardson  23:13
Thanks for joining me for this episode of the Triathlon Nutrition Academy podcast. I would love to hear from you. If you have any questions or want to share with me what you've learned. Email me at [email protected]. You could also spread the word by leaving me a review and taking a screenshot of you listening to the show. Don't forget to tag me on social media at @dietitian.approved so I can give you a shout out too. If you want to learn more about what we do, head to dietitianapproved.com. And if you want to learn more about the Triathlon Nutrition Academy program, head to dietitianapproved.com/academy. Thanks for joining me and I look forward to helping you smash it in the fourth leg - nutrition!

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