Balancing a demanding training load with a busy schedule is a challenge for any athlete. Entrepreneur, mother, and professional mountain bike racer, Sonya Looney, shares how she fits training into her busy schedule without compromising the time and responsibilities that are important to her.

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Intentional Imbalance

Professional mountain bike racer, and 24-Hour world champion, Sonya Looney, has a lot going on. She’s a published author, keynote speaker, professional endurance athlete, podcast host, entrepreneur, plant-based advocate, and as of March—she’s also a mother.

Now the obvious question is, how does she balance it all? And where does she find time to train? Well, according to Sonya, she doesn’t “balance” everything, and finding time to train each day doesn’t always come so easily. But instead of trying to balance everything, Sonya uses prioritization, careful time management, active mindfulness, and plenty of flexibility to achieve what she calls intentional imbalance.

Sonya allocates her time based on her priorities and fits training into her day based on those priorities. When something important to her demands more time, she prioritizes her time accordingly, and when she runs into free time, she uses it wisely. Her time management strategy begins with an honest assessment of her priorities, and a realistic plan built around those priorities.

Setting Priorities

Sonya suggests that one of the first mistakes we make when setting priorities, is that we don’t set them honestly. In order for prioritization to play a role in your training, you need to be realistic about your priorities and honest about your values. Doing so can help you structure your time in a way that allows you to fit your training into your day, without sacrificing time spent on other important things.

For example, if training is important to you, but having a productive workday, or getting enough sleep are your true priorities, then cutting out sleep to train, and going to work feeling groggy won’t do you any favors. Getting things done in order of your priority is more likely to get you through all the important things you need to do.

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Sonya’s priorities are as follows – caring for her son Bradley, sleep, nutrition and relationships, training, and then work. As a mother with a young son Bradley is her top priority, and when he needs to be cared for, fed, or time with his mom, none of that can wait. But after caring for her son, her next priority is her own sleep.

You might be surprised to see that sleep is so far up on Sonya’s list of priorities, but when you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. Without quality sleep, Sonya can’t attend to the other responsibilities with the same level of energy and focus. A bad night’s rest might prevent Sonya from getting in a productive training session, or finishing all of her work for the day. 

This is also why nutrition, quality time with her husband, and training are high up on her list.  She explains that it can be difficult sometimes to put your needs above others, but ultimately caring for yourself first can help you show up as a better version of yourself for your other relationships and responsibilities. As she puts it, “you have to show up for yourself before you can take care of anyone else.”

“You have to show up for yourself before you can take care of anyone else.”

Sonya Looney

All of these priorities are important to Sonya, and only a small difference separates many of them. But putting them into context, and understanding how each one fits into her day, helps her show up for herself, show up for others, and manage her time not so that everything is balanced, but so that her time is allocated proportionately. 

Finding Time to Train

With that being said, Sonya also recognizes there’s a fair amount out of her control in her day to day. Even with her day planned out and time set aside to train, she doesn’t always get her full ride in.

Every day Sonya’s husband comes home at noon and watches Bradley so that Sonya can train. This plan leaves her with a perfect window to fit her training in, but with little margin for error. If the timing is off, and her son Bradley sleeps a little late or hasn’t finished eating, Sonya might not get out the door until later, which means she can only do a portion of her prescribed workout.

Managing these growing pains and frustrations can be as difficult as the planning itself. Sonya says that when running late, she might leave the house feeling frustrated that she didn’t get out the door on time or discouraged because she’s not going to be able to fit her full training ride in. When confronted with a setback, Sonya says she tries to focus on accepting those difficult emotions and that it’s okay to feel frustrated.

And while these things aren’t necessarily less frustrating, Sonya says that with a lot of work around her mindset, she’s been able to recognize how important it is to put things into context and be mindful about what she can’t control.

Thinking about things in terms of her big picture goals, and what she can and can’t control helps her maintain a healthy mindset towards her training, and helps her to continue showing up and doing the best she can with the legs and time that she has that day.

Training with Low Motivation

If you’re an athlete who struggles with limited energy or low motivation as opposed to limited time, Sonya knows what it’s like training with those limitations too. Sonya trained right up until her son was born, and during her pregnancy, she found that low motivation was what made training difficult. While she says that her pregnancy was “easy” in the sense that it was easy compared to how it could have gone, maintaining a consistent training schedule wasn’t. Most days, Sonya said it was tough to get motivated and get out on the bike, and the physical changes made it so that she wouldn’t be able to train at the same output she was able to before being pregnant.

What she did was adjust her expectations and shift her goals. She decided she wanted to continue to train six days a week, for as long as she could. But instead of training at the same volume and intensity, she would remove all interval training, lower her FTP, and only ride as long as she felt was right. This allowed her to do two essential things, maintain consistency, and continue to show up for herself.

Just Show Up

When motivation is low, Sonya’s rule is just to start the ride. Often motivation follows action. And if that motivation doesn’t show up, or she doesn’t feel well, she turns back and heads home. But more often than not, if she can get out the door and make it past her excuses, she can get a training session in. The simple act of getting dressed, going out, and starting the workout, is more powerful than athletes give it credit. There’s a million different excuses we can come up with to skip a training ride, but at the end of the day Sonya says “You have to be stronger then your excuses.”

“You have to be stronger than your excuses.”

Sonya Looney

This helps her maintain consistency, even on the off days. Sonya describes consistency as a process of building trust with yourself. When you say you’re going to do something and you don’t follow through with that commitment, you’re breaking that trust. 

Finding Your Intentional Imbalance

Whether you’re an athlete with a busy schedule, a parent, a person with a physically, or a mentally demanding job, taking Sonya’s approach to training and planning might work for you. Sonya will be the first person to tell you that doing more than one thing well isn’t easy, and with so many logistics and moving parts, things don’t always go to plan. But with the tools in her toolbox and personal strategies that work for her, Sonya’s been able to successfully train through her pregnancy and get faster during an especially busy time in life. 

Learn More From Sonya!

If you’d like to learn more about Sonya Looney and her experience with training, racing, pregnancy, and much more, you can check out her blog and her podcast here.

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