From the New York Times:

Guy Adami has experienced the thrill of trading millions of dollars in precious metals in a matter of seconds on Wall Street in the 1990s, and analyzing the financial crisis each afternoon as a panelist on the live CNBC program “Fast Money.”

But he says none of those experiences compare with the rush he felt on a sun-dappled Sunday morning in late May in Red Bank, N.J., when he crossed the finish line of his first triathlon. It was at a so-called sprint distance — a half-mile swim, followed by a 13-mile bike ride and then a 3.2-mile run — which Mr. Adami, 48, completed in just under two hours, finishing 116th in a field of 160.

Just signing up for that race was no small accomplishment for Mr. Adami, who, not six months earlier, had been leading the sedentary existence of a trader and carrying a flabby 235 pounds on his 6-foot-3 frame. But as a volunteer placed a medal around his neck, Mr. Adami had little time to celebrate. A far more daunting challenge loomed: on Aug. 11, he will join nearly 3,000 other weekend warriors as they seek to endure, and complete, the first Ironman-distance triathlon to be staged in the New York metropolitan region.

The reader who passed this piece on to me, says:

While I am sure this is not limited to the professional class, I would like to note that this is one of those totems the professional classes in our culture give profound bows to. If you’re a lawyer or broker in a major firm, and need to go home at 4pm to get your kid because your wife can’t, such a thing may be tolerated (because it has to be) but it will not engender respect. Leave a 4pm because you’re training for a triathlon? That is both tolerated and deeply respected.

In the late afternoon, one sees along hilly parks near wealthy suburbs (at least here in the Boston area) the telltale signs of expensive cars with bike racks and fancy bikes. Marathoners and swimmers have less gear, obviously. I say that as some who is in the pool 6 days a week at 5:15AM to swim 2000 yards for an hour each day. But, you see, I am corpulent, so there’s no ego gratification from this exercise (quite the opposite); not even endorphins (I don’t get those from exercise; doesn’t run in my family). Swimmers tend to be somewhat sociable folk; you have to be if you are sharing lanes as one typically must outside highly competitive climes. It’s always fun when newbie triathletes-in-training who are not swimmer show up in the pool – you can always tell, because there are these very fit runners/cyclists who are not used to being frustrated. Regular gimps have much more patience.

The pain and struggle of a triathletic and similar training is what is confused with ascetic agon in our culture. However, ascetics are supposed to learn that their ego cannot be transcended by ascetic struggle; only healed, eventually, by grace. It’s so easy to become egoistic in trying to overcome the ego.

I know we have at least one Ironman competitor in this blog’s readership. What do you say to all this?

I am far too lazy and undisciplined to be an Ironman competitor, but I do admire ascetics — precisely because I am lazy and undisciplined. Only twice in my life have I held to an ascetic discipline for a length of time. Before I was Orthodox, I took up praying the Jesus Prayer on a prayer rope for a number of weeks. I was faithful to the prayer discipline, and saw real spiritual progress. Me being me, I fell off the wagon.

The last six months or so I was in Philadelphia, I was faithful to the gym at the YMCA. I became more fit than I’ve ever been as an adult. Then I moved to Louisiana, and backslid, though I haven’t gone totally to pot, thanks to an elliptical training machine I bought.

In both instances, I was amazed by the sense of achievement I had by doing something hard. Mind you, the last thing one is supposed to be proud of when doing a prayer discipline is a sense of “achievement.” Any good done in my soul was the result of grace. But what that meditative prayer discipline did for me was to quiet my restless mind and open the door for grace. I learned from experience, not just from reading it in a book, that the only way to deep communion with God is through contemplative prayer. It is the hardest thing for me to do!

I have been disciplined enough to have written a 100,000 word book in six months, all the while doing this blog. But that is easy for me; it’s in my nature. What is hard is quieting my mind and focusing on prayer. What is hard is being faithful to a routine of physical exercise. If the book is any good, I will be celebrated for the work I did, and some may marvel by how quickly I did it. But it doesn’t give me remotely the sense that getting over my ego enough to stick with a serious regimen of disciplined prayer, and sticking with a serious regiment of disciplined exercise, did.

I keep thinking: tomorrow I’ll return to the prayer rope. Tomorrow I’ll start with daily exercise. Tomorrow never comes.

This is why I admire the Ironmen. Still, I take Liam’s point. No man who is an Ironman regarding disciplined, sacrificial care for the quotidian needs of his family will be celebrated by our professional culture or merit a story in a major newspaper. And that is a serious fault.