I have the t-shirt that's mentioned in the article....
Fit in Tucson by Jennifer Duffy: Their sport is their primary relationship
Arizona Daily Star
Tucson, Arizona Published: 03.13.2007
Alex Waters is married. To biking. Swimming. And running. He's like a good number of triathletes who spend much of their free time training for their sport, sometimes causing rifts in their love lives.
Waters has no problem admitting that.
"I make this analogy all the time," said the 21-year-old University of Arizona student. "The idea of being married to your sport is that this is something I'll be doing my entire life. I've never found anything I love as much as this sport."
Triathlons can require 10 to 20 hours a week of training, including morning and evening workouts. They also often demand lifestyle changes, like early bedtimes.
Waters would rather spend time biking, running or hitting the pool than he would taking women out to candlelit dinners and movies.
"I don't have time for dates. I try, but I haven't found anyone that's more important to me than that little piece of paper with my workout schedule on it," he said.
"It sounds insensitive, but I love this," he said, adding that he has dated women who want full-blown relationships but he hasn't committed because of his racing schedule.
He might be an extreme case, but other triathletes find it difficult to strike a balance between training and maintaining a relationship.
There's a joke in the triathlon community — and even a T-shirt that says: "If your relationship still works, you could be training harder" (if you're that type, the T-shirt and other apparel with that phrase are for sale at cafepress.com/gymskinz).
It's easy to get caught up in the good feelings from a rigorous training schedule, said Ari Kalechstein, a neuropsychologist and faculty member at UCLA.
There are tons of rewards for it: You look good and feel good from the endorphins and chemicals released in the body from exercise. It's also a big confidence boost.
"I think on a very practical level, it's so well-known that if you exercise well, then you're going to look good," he said. "And also the sense of satisfaction that you feel because you've accomplished a goal that relatively few people can accomplish."
But there's no reason training for an event like an Ironman triathlon should be mutually exclusive from having a romantic relationship, he said.
"There are all kinds of athletes who participate in highly competitive sports and manage to have relationships," he added. "I'd be suspicious of someone if they said they can't fall in love while they're training."
Dawn Elvick, a 36-year-old who competes in sprint and Olympic-distance triathlons, stressed that she wouldn't ever want to be so overtrained that she neglected a loved one, although she sees training cause conflicts among other triathletes and their partners.
She says it's important athletes find a balance between training and love in their lives, but acknowledged that it's easy for athletes to get so involved in working out that they don't seek out dating and relationships — that's even happened to her a bit.
If she meets someone interesting, then she'll consider rearranging her training schedule to make time for dating, but for now she competes to feel good about herself and to keep herself busy.
"It's absolutely emotionally fulfilling," she said. "It's purposeful, just like energy you would put into a relationship. Only instead, you're putting it into a goal."
Training for three sports — or even just one sport — boosts athletes' confidence and rounds out their life, she said.
"It's a big deal in terms of being yourself and becoming a better person. I don't feel like I have to go out and find somebody (for a romantic relationship)," Elvick said. "I like what I'm doing."
Adrienne Weede remembers feeling that way.
She used to live to do triathlons. Now that she's married, she works out with her husband, Tom Weede. Neither one of them commits to such serious training anymore.
"I remember when I was single, thinking I could spend the whole day on Saturday training. It was fun," said Weede, 31.
She met Tom while running, and they both were training for an Ironman (swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles, run 26.2 miles). After the race, they became romantically involved and scaled back their training to make time for each other.
"When I met Tom, there's this other interest and I want to spend time with him," she said. "That was the initial spark for not getting right back into the level of training I was doing, and that opened the door for other opportunities, like pursuing my career."
Her priorities shifted from training to work and relationships. She shocks herself when she thinks back to the days when she would go for an 80-mile bike ride and then a run.
"I can't believe I did that."
Waters, the UA student, loves that kind of a day.
He's already fretting about what life will be like when he graduates from college and has to balance his love with a full-time career.
"I have to plan what I'm doing after college so I can keep doing triathlons," said the visual communications major. "When I go somewhere after college, it will have to be a place where I can train, have a team and have time to train."
He doesn't know if he wants to have a family in the future or not, he said, but he knows that would subtract even more time from his training schedule.
"Triathlon is a time to focus in and cut myself off (from the world) and rely only on myself," Waters said.
"It's hard to do that and open yourself up to someone at the same time. It conflicts, and it's hard to do both."
For now it's just him, a pair of light running shoes, the pool and the bike.
● The Star's Jennifer Duffy writes about health, nutrition, fitness and how to live well in a fast-paced world. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4357.