Sister Madonna Buder, the so-called Iron Nun, didn't start running until her late 40s. She took up triathlons in her 50s. Now 80-plus, she has since completed more than 333 triathlons worldwide, including dozens of 130.6-mile Ironman races.

A few years ago, the gifted sister took a breather from racing to tackle yet another ambitious goal: Writing a memoir about her experiences as the Lycra-clad Catholic nun who breaks all manner of worldwide triathlon records.

Authored in tandem with Karin Evans, a professional journalist, "The Grace to Race" makes for a fast, easy read. Filled with stories of catastrophic bike crashes and other harrowing tales from the race course, the book will delight other committed runners, cyclists and triathletes who might like comparing their own broken bones and finishing times with Sister Madonna's.

One of the book's more delicate qualities concerns its handling of the Catholic Church. Sister Madonna spends zero ink questioning church hierarchy. She does, however, confess to the frustrations she felt as an itinerant young nun, always at the mercy of the church's cross-continental transfers. At one point she wrestles with the propriety of donning a bathing suit, and later with skimpy running attire. Then she simply erases her doctrinal doubts by using her races as excuses to fund-raise for her favorite charities.

The book probably won't inspire any couch potatoes, because Sister Madonna seldom reflects upon the emotional, physical and spiritual meaning of triathlon. Plus, the book contains enough bike-related accidents and deaths to scare any beginner off cycling.

Her detailed accounts of the various events she completed include tales of dehydration and equipment mishaps, not to mention the occasional triumph. A media darling and triathlon celebrity, Sister Madonna also uses the book to name-check the many "angels" who provided her with encouragement and other assistance along the way. Sure, she gripes a little about travel hassles and the rudeness of other competitors. Mostly she is content to catalogue her God-given athletic talents -- something she thinks everyone should do.


By Sister Madonna Buder with Karin Evans, Simon & Schuster, 256 pages, $25; available now.

Christy DeSmith • 612-673-1754