This article was written by guest contributor Emily Passini. An endurance athlete, Emily has competed in numerous triathlons from sprint to half-Ironman distance. Read more about her training and triathlon journey on her blog.

The life of an endurance athlete is hectic. Your schedule and your life are built around finding the time to fit in all of your training. If you’re not a professional athlete who has the luxury of training as your full-time job, you’re probably like the rest of us weekend warriors trying to squeeze in the swimming, biking, and running on top of work, family and other personal obligations and responsibilities. Let me tell you from experience: It isn’t easy!

I’ve been an avid runner for 11 years, and I fell in love with triathlons nearly three years ago. The sport has become my lifeline and escape from the hustle and bustle of my work as a public affairs and government relations consultant in our nation’s capital.

Finding the perfect balance between work, family, and training in our over-caffeinated, high-speed society is more than a challenge. So how do we make all of the pieces of our lives fit together without sacrificing or ignoring one part over another? It’s tricky, but most definitely doable. All it takes is some careful planning and prioritization.

1. Plan ahead and write it down. Confession: There is nothing that gives me greater pleasure in life than uploading my training schedule into a color-coded Excel spreadsheet. It brings me such joy to work backwards from race day figuring out how many miles and hours of training I need to log in each week to hit my goals. I leave these spreadsheets on my refrigerator and on my office wall. They are a constant reminder of what I need to be doing every single day. If those workouts are staring you in the face you are far less likely to skip them. Plus, if you plan your training several weeks in advance, it allows you to work around other commitments in your life.

2. Have a goal. I’m an extremely Type-A, competitive person, therefore I am always striving to swim, bike, and run faster and harder than I did in my previous race. I am consistently raising the bar for myself. Having a goal keeps you on your toes, and it prevents you from hitting a plateau in your training. As you head into 2012, identify a new goal for yourself. It will keep you energized and focused.

3. Keep it fun. The moment that training and working out becomes a chore, you will lose interest and begin making excuses to not lace up your shoes or hit the gym. It has always been my philosophy that training and working out should be fun, so make sure you choose a sport or an activity that puts a smile on your face.

4. It’s about quality, not quantity. When I trained for my first half-Iroman distance triathlon last spring and summer, I was working out six days a week usually twice a day. I was logging over 12 hours a week of training. It was tough, and it most definitely took its toll on other aspects of my life. One thing I learned through that experience was the importance of quality workouts. If you have a limited amount of time to devote to training each week, you should make each of your workouts count. Hammer out your track sessions to build power. Focus on technique in the pool to ensure a more efficient stroke. Worry less about what the clock says, and focus more on the overall goal.

5. Listen to your body. One thing my triathlon coach preaches is the importance of rest days and listening to your body. Rest days are critical for both physical and mental recovery. We all need a day when we can catch up on our sleep and simply relax, so don’t forget to include this time in your training calendar. Resting will keep your batteries charged and your stress levels in check.

What are your biggest training challenges? And how do you overcome them?