If races were held on Wednesdays, the sport of triathlon wouldn’t have grown into what it is today. However, weekend races equate to normal business days for people working non-traditional schedules.
Age-groupers work. But the 9-to-5 grind translates to a different training schedule than the nurse on an overnight assignment or the farmer who scatters a field with sweat long before any bike ride begins.
Races constitute a minor stake when compared with the preparation and challenges associated with those not conforming to society’s common schedule. A job that exacts a physical toll or non-traditional hours doesn’t accommodate group swims, rides and runs.
The community aspect, perhaps one of the benefits most overlooked by those working normal hours, resonates most with people who miss the camaraderie of teammates.
Races can become mini vacations, but, as with any part of life, it’s about finding time for what you love.
Training & Tending
Roseann Dougherty packs six days of training into four.
Dougherty, an oncology nurse in Baltimore, works three 12-hour shifts in a week. She doesn’t train any of those days when she’s walking around from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
“It’s the same as a 56-mile ride energy-wise,” she says. “The challenge is rest days. You never feel like you’re really fresh. My recovery days are my work days.”
Jess Anderson, an emergency room nurse in Nashville, Tenn., says nursing is an occupational endurance event. A tough workout for her on the day after a shift can provide mental practice for pushing through fatigue in a race. She avoids run workouts during her noon to midnight working days because she says they only create frustration.
“My legs are just toast,” she says.
At the same time, triathlons deliver fitness levels and grit for a job that parallels the sport.
“It keeps me energetic and strong for this career that I have where I’m on my feet for 12 hours,” she says.
The biggest barrier for both women – training.
“I can’t do any of the group rides,” Dougherty says. “When you’re doing 70.3 and full Ironmans, it’s long training by yourself.”
Anderson puts it more bluntly.
“No training plans cater to people who work weekends,” she says. Morning workouts don’t work either because she arrives home so late.
When it comes time to apply that solo training to a race, both women have found support from co-workers.
“It’s an atypical reason most people need a switch,” Anderson says. “I find they’re almost more willing to help out.”
Dougherty says she has asked all 34 nurses in her unit for a swap at some point, but that all the career-related training troubles and necessary advanced planning make the race weekend even more special.
Faith & Fitness
“Being a pastor, I’m always on call,” says Rev. Julie Schendel, from Vinings United Methodist Church in Atlanta. “If there’s an emergency at the hospital, if I need to do a funeral, that’s not something I get a lot of notice for.”
Such regular uncertainty means Schendel must figure out, “when I can say no to the church and when I can say no to the training.”
She recently joined her current congregation, and the move has hampered training. Group rides in her area happen on Tuesday nights and Sunday mornings, both times when she works. As a result, she’s lost speed on the bike, which makes finding a group she can pace with even more difficult.
That scenario is a common theme among people with alternate work schedules.
“It’s so hard to find groups to ride with that aren’t on Sunday or Saturday,” says Rev. Scott Sharp, senior pastor at Central United Methodist Church in Albuquerque, N.M.
He first encountered the conflict between sports and church activities in college. That friction has only intensified with a full-time job.
“When I make a commitment to doing an event, I have to say to myself, ‘I’m going to train for 90 percent or more of this on my own,’” Sharp says. “It’s been really hard for me to race over the years. Mostly what I do is train, exercise and race very little.”
His last race was an Ironman is 2012, and after a recent surgery, he won’t be able to run until later this summer. Going forward, he plans to race shorter events for which the training time will prove more manageable.
Another triathlete pastor dealing with these types of complications is Scott Bennefield, associate pastor at New Covenant Church in Albuquerque, N. M. He currently works part time in the church, though he held a full-time position until two years ago.
He says Sunday races aren’t a deal breaker for competing in triathlons and fulfilling his role at the church.
“We had a local race – I went and did the race that morning, cleaned up at the gym and got there by the second service.”
For Bennefield, the sport provides a storyline for conversations in his job.
“It’s tough to actually talk about a life that’s disciplined if you don’t take care of the physical side, too.”
Like the nurses and his fellow religious workers, Bennefield maps his race calendar months or years in advance for large events such as Ironman Arizona this fall.
His church encourages him to contribute to the triathlon community as much as he does with parishioners, what Bennefield calls “the fusion of faith and fitness.”
“I use that word balance. Keeping things in balance is very important. There’s a sense that [a triathlon is] not totally removed from your life and what you’re doing on Sunday. As a pastor and a person, you’re representing the Lord in all you do.”
Schendel says scheduling practices and races requires diligence, but she returns to the sport every year because it makes her a more positive person in all aspects of her life.
Plus, the training hours yield a concrete counterpoint when compared to her job.
“With ministry,” she says, “it’s hard to measure exactly how much you’re changing lives. For the most part, you’re working as hard as you can and hoping some of it is sticking.”
Triathlons, on the other hand, make progress easy to track.
Vacation & Vegetables
Food is fuel for any athlete, but for David Sours, food is also a job.
He and his family own Public House Produce, a 14-acre mixed produce vegetable farm in Luray, Va.
An local event brought Sours into the sport. He rode mountain bikes in college, but had never run farther than one mile before he started triathlon training.
Sours now practices alongside his wife, brother and sister-in-law. He drives an hour to get to a pool during the winter, yet when the local lake opens for swimming, the warm weather brings both good training and good growing conditions.
He runs, rides and swims 10 hours each week and typically rests on Friday, when he preps for the weekend farmers markets.
“When you do a physical job,” he says, “some days you’re kind of beat down. You honestly need to tell yourself I’ve gotten my workout in already. But it’s not the same. It takes motivation to get up and get back out in the heat.”
During the hottest days of the summer, Sours can spend 10 hours or more in the fields.
“Say today we’re picking tomatoes in late July. It’s in the mid-90s. The humidity is high. We’ve picked, graded and packed anywhere from 1,500 to 2,000 pounds, and we’re picking that every other day.”
Sours squeezes race plans into the cycles of his crops. He and his family signed up for their first 70.3, the SAGA Outer Banks Triathlon, because of the September race date — after tomato season and before the pumpkin and winter squash harvest.
Similar to the earth he tills, triathlons serve as a foundation for well-being.
“The greatest gift triathlon has provided is the training and the clarity of mind – that’s the part I’ve become addicted to.”