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A Trio of Tri Stories: Part 3

June 9, 2011

There’s something very Trinitarian about a triathlon. Perhaps that’s why I’m getting so addicted. There have definitely been many times when I’ve had to cry out in prayer to get through a particularly tough workout, and many other times where I was able to use that long swim or ride to ponder some of scripture’s tougher texts, or life’s greater mysteries. When else do you get long periods of near silence to ponder our great God? Unless we are very intentional about creating those moments, they can be very hard to come by.

If I had to equate each leg of the race with a person of the three-in-one Godhead, I think it would go like this: the swim reminds me of the Spirit, the wind of God sweeping over the face of the waters before the formless void was organized. We don’t quite become the water that we swim in, but it does sustain us as we glide through it and nourish us as we drink it (unchlorinated, of course), much like the Spirit sustains and nourishes. The bike would have to be God the Creator. Nothing else could appear so simple at first glance but at closer look seem so complicated and intricately woven together. Each of the earth’s multiple systems working simultaneously to keep the others advancing, much like the gears, shifters, and brake system on the bike work together to keep pushing you up and over hills and safely down again. The run I would compare to none other than Christ and his teachings. Again, so simple in concept but so hard to follow through with at times. Running…putting one foot in front of the other, over and over, faster and faster. Yet it is the discipline I struggle with most, because other than myself (and a good pair of shoes) there is no equipment to make it easier; simply practice, perseverance, and some deep internal willpower to keep training. Love one another…pretty easy to interpret, but to truly and honestly love someone with a Christ-like love takes a lot of hard work, patience, and something inside that is deeper than any of us can quite understand.

So the love of the sport has been growing on me as I’ve found it to be much more than exercise or a weight-loss plan. I have come to understand it as a discipline for self-care, a chance for spiritual worship, and an outreach tool for building relationships and making disciples. So allow me to share 5 of my favorite moments from these last few months…

5. During our first transition practice, I quickly realized I was very mediocre compared to others in our group. During the bike ride, I quickly lost sight of everyone in front of me, and then turned to look behind me and saw no one in sight. So I had plenty of time to think on my own as I peddled those miles, but on this particularly stressful week, thinking was not a good idea. By the time I got to the last run, I almost had a meltdown. I wanted to start crying, but instantly realized I needed all the oxygen I could get to breathe through this run, so the crying had to stop. At this point I was tired, stressed about work, concerned about some personal relationships, and really frustrated with my training progress. I promise this is a favorite moment, because halfway through the run I see my trainer, running back with someone else, then turn around to finish the run with me. I can’t tell you how much it means to be on your last bit of energy, then have someone turn around to finish the race with you. Just having someone to run beside you gives that extra encouragement, and you suddenly feel stronger. It doesn’t make the pain any less painful, but it helps to know you are not alone. I vented my frustration to her, but she quickly reminded me of how far I had come. Three months before I would not have been able to cover the distances I had just accomplished. Hearing it put into perspective helped a lot.

4. Several months later, it was my chance to return the favor. Recognizing that there are all levels of speed and strength in our group, I remembered what it meant to have someone turn around and finish a run with me (because let’s face it, it happened many times). The time came when I finished ahead of someone, and being able to turn around and finish the run with them was my small way of giving thanks and giving back. It may seem like the goal of a triathlon is to finish the race quickly and leave everyone else in your dust, but this group is different. Those who are better than us encourage us and pull us forward, but then we turn behind us and it’s our turn to encourage and pull. Life shouldn’t just be about the finish line, because the party is pretty lonely if you’re finishing by yourself.

3. Speaking of finish lines…toward the end of race day, after a hellish long run, I was finally on the last tenth of a mile. I saw the finish line. I could hear the crowds cheering. And I got stuck behind three men who were running side by side by side (poor race etiquette). They were going slower than I wanted and taking up the whole path. I heard someone yelling, “Come on ladies, get around those men!” So I did. Jumping around them I got to the front and was able to sprint all the way to the finish line. I had completed my first triathlon with all that I had. And it felt good.

2. On race day morning my bike traveled in someone else’s truck so my car could carry other bikes and fit more people. When I was reunited with my bike in the transition area, I noticed something new. My first loaner bike had the “I think I can” sticker on it. My new bike was adorned with a new sticker on the handlebars: “I know I can. I know I can. Philippians 4:13.” True inspiration, because I knew how far I had come, I knew that I could do it, and I knew that I certainly could not do it alone. Looking down at the handlebars during the ride gave me renewed strength, energy, and passion to finish the race.

1. Perhaps my favorite moment of this entire race came before it even started. Our group was milling around on the beach getting ready for the swim start. Someone in the group suddenly asked me if we could have a prayer. Since we had started almost all of our practices with a devotional or prayer, doing so before the race only seemed appropriate. I was glad to be asked, and our group of 20 or so gathered around in a circle, holding hands, in the middle of the crowds on the beach. When someone outside our group saw that we were about to pray, she quickly joined in and said, “Oh, I’ve got to get some of that!” Then turned to her friend (who was halfway across the beach) and yelled “Ternisha! Get over here and get some prayer!” So we had others join us too, and we joined hands and prayed thanksgiving for getting us this far, asked for safety, courage, and determination to finish the race, and the assurance that we were not alone. I was so proud of this group for sticking by each other’s sides, for growing closer with each other and closer with the Lord. I was even more proud to see how each of them became a witness to others, those they were close to and those they didn’t even know. Having someone see us praying on the beach and knowing that they need to be a part of that…that’s what it’s all about.

So the journey has been incredible, and it is really only just the beginning. To answer those FAQ’s: How did I do? My goal was to finish under 1:45:00. My actual finish time was 1:33:41. I finished 7th in my age group. When’s my next race? I have a 5K next week at Annual Conference, and I’ve signed up for the Half Ironman at the end of September. The insanity continues. How can I get involved? I’m glad you asked. We’re already taking names for people who want to be involved in next year’s training group and accomplish their first tri too. You too can be a triathlete. All you have to do is try.

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