Athlete Insight - How to Kick Ass When You Have an Insane Job and Can Never Sleep - with Joe Marcantano


I should start by saying that this title isn’t my creation, it was suggested by Coach Sam.  I thought for a long time about how to write this blog.  I wasn’t sure if it should be about my job, my training, some combination of the two, or just “kicking ass” in general.  I ultimately decided to break this up into three parts; insane job, sleep, and kicking ass.  But as I wrote this, I was concerned it would sound like a list of excuses detailing why I’m not “fast.”  That’s not what I’m going for here, and as you read this, hopefully you’ll see that it isn’t the message I’m trying to send. 

To start, let’s create a little context.

“Insane Job”

For those of you who don’t know, I’m a Police Officer.  I work for the City of St. Louis and am currently assigned to District 5 (the northwestern section of the City).  My schedule currently alternates between shifts of 7am - 3pm and 3pm - 11pm, swapping back and forth every three weeks (which is not helpful for my sleep, but more on that later).  The shifts are scheduled as 8 hours, but 10 hour days are common, 12 hour days aren’t really rare, and 14 hour days happen.  I work as many as 9 days in a row, usually with 2 or 3 days off between my work weeks. Which means I hardly ever get a "normal weekend". 

The working conditions aren’t exactly ideal either.  I wear approximately 35 pounds of gear, most of which is on my belt, placing the majority of that weight squarely on my hips.  Let’s just say that I’m probably single handily putting my chiropractor’s child through college. 

Finally, there is the stress of the job.  As you can imagine, no one calls the police on their best days and rarely are people glad to see me.  If I’m lucky, I can usually talk people into what I need them to do.  Sometimes though, there is nothing I can say that will talk someone into handcuffs which means there is always a possibility of injury (as an example, a broken bone in my hand sidelined my swimming and outdoor bike riding last year). 

Sounds insane, right?  It is.  I don’t want this to sound like I dislike my job.  For the most part, I love it.  I have my moments where I consider leaving, and if the perfect opportunity came up, I might, but for the foreseeable future, this is my life.  Ready to do a bike and run on each end of a 14 hour work day?  No?  Me neither! 



We all know sleep is important.  We’ve heard our coaches preach it, and more and more studies come out everyday stressing the importance of sleep in a triathlete's life.  It’s when our body heals up from the day’s training so we can go out and do it again. 

Thanks to that rotating sleep work schedule, court appearances that get scheduled at the least opportune times, and general sleeplessness brought on by stress, sleep often eludes me.  Several conversations about this with Coach Sam, along with a lot of trial and error, have led me to come up with a general guideline for workouts versus sleep. 

Coach Sam once suggested that I start writing down my heart rate in the morning when I get up, before I get out of bed.  She wanted me to just pay attention to it and look for trends.  After a few weeks, trends started to emerge.  Thanks to this, I know if I wake up with a heart rate of 55 or below, I’m good to go and can attack whatever life (or Coach Sam) throws at me.  If my HR is over 65, I’m probably still good to go, but I expect that tough workouts are going to be just a little bit harder.  Over 70, training will be a real struggle and it may be best to just get a few more hours of sleep and see if I can fit the workout in later on in the week.


“Kicking Ass”

When Coach Sam suggested this, I wasn’t sure it was a great idea.  As I’m sure she’d tell you, I struggle to get all of my workouts in.  It’s actually rare that I get them all done.  It’s really common for me to shuffle them around to get as many in as possible.  Am I really the authority on “kicking ass?”  After spending a pretty good amount of time thinking about this (and maybe over-thinking it), I realized that Kicking Ass isn’t defined by how many workouts you check off each week. 

Kicking Ass is defined by “did you give it your all?” This can mean for some that giving it your all does align with getting all the work in, but that is not true for all of us.  Life, work, family, all of these things WILL get in the way of your training.  We aren’t professional athletes, we have other obligations.  Coach Sam and I have had several conversations about my race goals and how my work impacts those goals.  I know that if I had another job that allowed for more reasonable hours, less stress, etc, I would probably be a better athlete, but I’m not, and that’s OK. 

Kicking Ass is about handling your life, enjoying your training, and having a blast on race day.  It’s about enjoying the training days you spend with your friends and teammates, cheering them on, and enjoying the sport.  Triathlon is supposed to be fun!  I’m not going to win many age group awards, but damnit, I’m going to have a blast out there. 

Now, how to bring everything together?  How does one work a crazy job, on little sleep and still kick ass?  It’s actually pretty easy.  It’s easy because everyone gets to decide what “Kicking Ass” means to them.  That’s what we all do when we talk with our coaches about our goals for the season, or when we complete a workout.  We are defining ass kicking. 

You’ve just read how I define it.  Sure, I set time goals for myself for every race, but that isn’t related to whether I kicked ass.  I’ve had races with awful times that I was ecstatic about and PR’s I was disappointed in, but those having nothing to do with whether I had fun.  Sometimes you just need to turn off your watch, ignore your finish time, and go kick some ass.