Separation of church and triathlon

The more I’ve gotten involved in triathlon I’ve often wondered how many triathletes are really involved with their church.

I grew up a minister’s son and attended church regularly until I was about 12. I stopped going for a number of years until my son was born and my wife and I decided it would be important for our family to make church a regular thing again. A few years later I entered my first triathlon and the inner conflict began.

My first race was a middle distance race, just shorter than an international distance, followed by a few sprint and international distance races. My 2nd year I did my first half ironman and immediately gravitated to the longer races. By year four I did Ironman Lake Placid and the “going long” bug continues, I’m planning on signing up for IM Lake Placid again this summer.

As soon as the jump to long course races was made my weekends had a pretty regular routine and their initials were LSD (Long Slow Distance for those who have not had the pleasure of one of these weekends). Both Saturday and Sunday included some mix of a long run, a long bike, or a long brick. I’m like most people and have a full time job that limits my training time during the week and requires an emphasis on putting the long hours in on weekends. This made going to church with my family a tough thing to do on a regular basis.

We tried to start going to our late service at 11am but on my really long days of 4-5 hours on the bike, I couldn’t even get out early enough to get back in time to go. Or, if I did make it back I just wanted to put my feet up on the couch, not go to church.

As you can tell, this has created a constant internal conflict between triathlon and church. However, while there is a conflict it has also been a great learning experience for me that has forced me to do some internal discussions about what I believed and what was important. I think that going through internal struggles like this is a good thing and helps us develop in a lot of ways.

We go to a Unitarian Universalist church, which I really like because it is a very liberal religion, is welcoming of all people and at the same time is accepting of all different kinds of worship. This church is an appropriate choice for how I have reconciled this internal conflict.

Church for me, besides a place that I felt my son could learn some important lessons about how he fits into the world, is a place for me to ponder the same thing and to remember how grateful for what I have in my life. The great and strange thing is that I can say the same thing about my training. In fact, and maybe it is all the oxygen and endorphins floating through my system, but there are occasions where I have experienced more emotion while out for a run or a bike ride than I ever have while sitting and listening to a sermon in church.

I find that sometimes I get overwhelmed by gratitude and thankful for what I have that I actually get a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye while running! I also think that as deep as you have to dig to finish a long distance race sometimes draws out a pretty raw look at what you believe about yourself and your place in the world. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be out there!

I’d be curious to find out how other church going triathletes handle their Sunday morning conflict. Maybe we can form our own church!

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