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Ultramarathoner, adventure racer and endurance sports journalist Adam Chase goes head-to-head with Triathlete editor-at-large Holly Bennett as to the risks and rewards of dating in and out of our sport.
I was once a triathlete. Now I’m a recovered triathlete. The process of recovery included switching my athletic focus first to ultra running, then to adventure racing, and now it is merely a hodgepodge of activity. And it amused me to see the consternation on the faces of my athlete friends as they struggled with the changes. It was as though I had changed my name and they couldn’t handle the new one, like when Prince became the Artist Formerly Known As or when your yoga friends assume pseudo-Indian identities.
People change. Someone could easily evolve from swimmer to triathlete to mountain biker over the course of a post-collegiate athletic career. This only parallels the personal and professional changes we undergo as individuals over these dynamic years in life, which is why we shouldn’t attach our relationship’s identity to our sport. Relationships are hard enough to navigate but they can hit crisis mode quite easily when they rely on a shared sport, especially when one person suffers an injury, forcing a change in disciplines and challenging life as the couple knew it.
Besides the cross-training and fitness benefits gained by pushing yourself to try to keep up with a lover from another sport, dating outside your sport serves to introduce you to new communities. I had an ex-girlfriend who was a pro-cyclist and she taught me to never, ever half-wheel her and, in turn, she learned not to half-step me. I dated a climber who taught me to use my legs and I just wished she shaved hers. A romance with a Nordic skier left me with a lower resting heart rate and knowing to wear my beanie low with the sunglasses on the outside.
While it is a great pleasure to do the activities you love most with the person you adore, that doesn’t require that you do everything together. If your sport is yours and your partner’s sport remains his or hers, you can support one another and then cross train and explore new disciplines together. What is really important is that your partner understands and enables your passion. What a treat it is to have someone waiting for you at the finish line, especially when you can reciprocate. It may be hard to date a non-athlete but having a “cross-amour” with whom you don’t compete is a recipe for harmonic convergence. You can “get” one another’s selfish athlete lifestyles while being selfless to one another.
If one partner is a triathlete and the other a paddler, they could share gym workouts and winter sports and when the snow melts and the rivers flow, share the day’s adventure stories as pillow talk.
Is it wise or wistfully ignorant for triathletes to couple up? As one who’s “been there, done that” in a variety of scenarios, I feel qualified to add my two cents.
I once dated a guy I would hardly call an athlete. Sure, he had a naturally fit physique and the talent to thrive in almost any endeavor. Yet he was enamored with fast and furious efforts such as ski racing – endurance was a foreign language to him. He’d go months at a time without so much as breaking a sweat. When we had an actual argument about how to ideally spend a Sunday morning (his choice was to sleep until ten, then lounge over eggs benedict and mimosas; I preferred to be finishing my 12-mile run by the time he even stirred) I knew we had to break up.
Still, I’m gun-shy of the idea of romance with certain triathletes – the over-the-top Type A’s. This, coming from the girl whose first trip to the Ironman World Championship was on my honeymoon, two weeks tacked on at the end of my husband’s race. But back then I was a wide-eyed newbie to the triathlon world, loving every minute of our sporting life, without a speck of resentment when we sacrificed evenings out to early training alarms. Years later we divorced, but contrary to what many assumed it had nothing to do with the sport’s hold on my husband. We had grown solidly in synch on the swim, bike and run front; it was the rest of our connection that waned.
There are, for sure, triathletes that fit the bill of balance – folks who value fitness, but who are not so singularly swept up as to sign off from other sorts of fun. That’s the kind of man I admire most – one with whom I can attempt new activities together, while still nurturing a shared three-sport love. A few years back, my boyfriend (also a triathlete) and I entered a snowshoe relay race. Were we ever certain our endurance experience would clinch the win! Odds were in our favor, with only one other team in the mixed division. Well, that team consisted of a pro snowshoe athlete and a one-time Olympic Nordic skier. We may have missed the win, but we still made the podium, and more importantly, we made it together.
For me it’s a must that my mate is an athlete, one who sees fitness as a firm fixture of his lifestyle. And while I slightly prefer a triathlete to a mere single sport man, he’s got to have a good grip on balance. I’d urge any singles out there to proceed with caution when considering a potential triathlete partner. Steer clear of the red flags of obsession.
For example, if you’re gettin’ busy with a guy and uncover an M-Dot tattoo, heed that as a warning. If it’s faded, give him the benefit of the doubt – his early Ironman fetish may now be less of a fixation. But if it’s fresh ink, run. Or if you’re at the pool and he’s laser-focused on his latest swim split, yet blind to the fact that your body is clad in nothing but a bikini, you’ve got a problem. Cut your losses and try taking up with that sexy cyclist you met on your Saturday ride. At least you’ll have something in common, not the least of which is nicely shaved legs.
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