This is the third article on how triathlon training is like mission training.
Missions: Short Term
Most people are familiar with short term mission trips. If they have not done one themselves, they probably know someone who has gone on a one week or two week trip somewhere to do mission work. Construction projects, Habitat for Humanity, helping out at an orphanage, free medical clinics, and a multitude of other projects can be done in a one or two week trip. If you work full time or are in college, short term mission trips are very practical and doable. They are a lot of work. Planning and travel are intense, especially if you are managing a larger group that is going. You work hard and get as much done as possible in that week or two, and then head home. Most short term mission trips are life changing, and a lot of fun.
Triathlons: Short Course
In the world of Triathlon, there are many different lengths of courses. Sprint distance and Olympic distance are usually considered short courses, though for the average person they may seem long. The Olympic distance Triathlon course is pretty standard: 0.9 mile (1.5 km) swim, 25 mile (40 km) bike, and 6.2 mile (10 km) run. The Sprint distance can be anything less than the Olympic distance, but is usually in the neighborhood of a 300-750 meter swim, 10-17 mile (~20 km) bike, and a 3.1 mile (5 km) run. The Sprint distance is also the most common–there is probably at least one a year at one of your neighborhood pools. Almost anyone can enter these local triathlons and almost everyone does. You don’t need a fancy bike (or even a wetsuit if the water is warm enough). All you need to be able to do is swim, bike, and run and you can enter. These short course Triathlons are often a lot of fun and often done with friends. The Olympic distance triathlon often needs more training due to the longer distance, but both the Sprint and Olympic distance races are usually done hard and fast (or at least as fast as you can go over that distance).
Missions: Long Term
Long term missions are not as familiar to people. Perhaps you have a family member or know someone who has a family member that does long term missions. Perhaps that person has been in the mission field for five, ten or thirty years. You may know a little about that person or even receive a newsletter from them. But what does it really mean to do long term missions? Just like short term missions, there is a lot of planning and travel involved. Once you’ve moved to the place where you will be doing missions, though, the picture changes dramatically. You can’t simply work as hard as possible every day like you would for a short term mission–you would burn out quickly. You have a whole new language to learn, culture to adapt to, friends to make, and work to do…which is not short term. Endurance is the key, and the key to endurance is moderation. Working at about 60% of your maximum is a good rule of thumb. There will always be stressful days, but if you feel stressed out and exhausted at the end of every day, your long term missions may end prematurely. Learning to get along with others is also very important. On a short term mission trip, there may be people that annoy you. Though, you won’t see them after about a week or two, so tolerance is easier. If personal differences cause friction on a long term basis (month after month), often someone ends up leaving. Stay rested, stay healthy, work at 60% your maximum, and learn to get along with others are all keys to maintaining your endurance in long term missions. (Though these might not have been the first items to come to mind for most people.)
Triathlons: Long Course
After the short course triathlons come the long course: Half-Ironman and Ironman. Half-Ironman distance triathlons involve a 1.2 mile (2 km) swim, 56 mile (90 km) bike, and 13.1 mile (20 km) run. Ironman is double the distance with a 2.4 mile (4 km) swim, 112 mile (180 km) bike, and 26.2 mile (40 km) run. These are not easy races. Perhaps someone without training could attempt a Half-Iron or Ironman distance race, but it is not wise. Even those who do train often struggle with the swim part of the race. One does not enter the water swimming as hard as possible as you would become quickly exhausted and in danger of drowning. Even though the races are long, it does not mean you don’t bike or swim hard during parts of the race. Overall, though, you approach the race with moderation. My coach would say to approach the swim at 90% effort, bike at 95% effort, and run at 100% effort. This is effort that can be sustained over the course of the race, though. Overall, you are actually going at about 60% of your sprint pace, otherwise you would never make it. Once does not run a marathon over 26.2 miles at sprint pace (unless you are an elite Kenyan runner and even they can run faster in a sprint). Endurance is the key. Training with an endurance mindset is also very important. It is important to train hard, but it is more important to train smart. Ninety percent of training is at aerobic (not anaerobic) pace. If you are too exhausted to cut the lawn or take care of your kids after training for the day, you are doing too much. Proper nutrition, proper rest, good family support, and good healthcare are all important ingredients to successfully completing a long course triathlon. Most participants have jobs, and families, and lives outside of the triathlon they are training for. The fastest racers are not the 18 year-olds, but more in the 30-65 age range. Age tends to teach us moderation and endurance and how to listen to our bodies. There are even triathletes over 80 years old that are still racing the Ironman.
In going to Bangladesh, we will need endurance. The rainy season is often near 100% humidity and 80-90F (27-32C). Nights can be hard to sleep, especially when adjusting to the time difference between the USA and Bangladesh (12 hour time difference). The culture can be a very pushy culture (similar to New York), but pushiness could be expected from a country that has 170 million people living in a country smaller than the state of Wisconsin. Traditionally, missionaries do not last very long in Bangladesh. We hope to integrate with the culture there. Learning the language will take six to twelve months total (and probably longer). Having a good base in the language, though, will be important for integrating into the culture. Taking things one day at a time, taking care of the triplets, our own health, and free time will be extremely important. Making friends, finding a place to live, and starting work at Kailakuri will be done over time. Moving at 60% pace will be important. It is worth it, though. The people of Bangladesh are wonderful people. They love to sing and play music, and they are very generous with what little they have. They have learned how to endure their own living conditions, much like we learn how to endure and adapt to living in our own culture, day by day. We will need to learn from them, and learn how to be like them in order to survive. Long term missions in Bangladesh will be like a marathon. We cannot hit the ground running like in a sprint. Otherwise, we will burn out and drown before we’ve even started.