It was a dark and stormy Monday morning, and I was not at all inclined to get out of bed.
But I knew what was waiting for me at Ride78 was far more inspiring than my soft pillow. Harder than rolling over to my other side. More interesting than my recurring dreams of James Franco. Well, more productive.
Christine Fletcher knows how to inspire a spin class, and can transport the most dedicated armchair athletes into Ironmen. So I made my way to La Bicicletta, her new home for sweating out toxins, and breathing in life.
I’m not going to lie: you’re not listening to the most dedicated spinner. I won’t be the last girl who fakes it when I’m told to add a few gears (hint: you can touch the lever but not move it, so to speak). But Chrissy’s calm demeanour packs just the right amount of Kool-Aid for me to pedal harder.
She eases into warm up and I’m convinced momentarily that hey, I’m in pretty good shape. I got this. Then the sweat that initially dotted the floor under my bike like a light drizzle turns into a dangerous and slippery river, and I’m not so sure anymore. At this point Chrissy notes most people are still in bed, which fills me with such smug self-righteousness that when she next tells me to add three gears, I actually do.
Spin class is a lot like life, easy to begin with, but then you’re pedalling for your life and crying for a merciful fifteen second rest. And in those fifteen seconds, there is an appreciation for the work. It’s a continual ebb and flow, where desire and dedication reap rewards. In the end, the ultimate achievement is in the doing.
Yeah, I did that. Probably before your alarm went off.
The hills were high, the flats were fast, and as for the time, it flew.
There is a class where cycling and souls collide. Since I mentioned class, I can hardly believe it; classes, especially of the fitness variety, not being my thing. But this was a class unlike any other. It inspired a wardrobe – I’ll get to that.
Close your eyes and imagine a hip hop concert, a yoga class, and a bicycle ride all mixed together in a sweaty stew. The bubbly mixture is simmering on the best burner on your stove, a pinch of salt away from Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica. If you smash your plate after you lick it clean, shards will hit the Pacific Ocean.
Like everything else in LA, this stew is gluten-free, and it fortifies your resolve while you sweat out negativity. Natch.
One-two-one-two-unh, says David, the leader of this SoulCycle class and guru. He has four candles burning around the pedestal that holds his bike. He is part dancer part drummer part cyclist on his chariot. His feet spin so fast he looks like the Roadrunner.
I didn’t know spinning required coordination. With David’s class, it does. One-two-one-two-unh.
David asks us to turn our knobs to the right, but he doesn’t like to call this turning up the resistance. He prefers turning up the courage. David challenges us to go deeper. I’m hyperventilating, but I’m under his spell. If this is a religion, sign me up. I’m a disciple of David. Oh, hang on…
No seriously, my arms are buckling under my one pound weights (don’t laugh), but I will. Not. Stop. Because David is two feet in front of me, off his bike and watching his perfect self in the mirror.
The playlist meanders from smooth hip hop remakes to Billy Jean and baby, we are sweating in the dark, the wine I drank the night before is seeping from my pores in pool of regret underneath my bike. Unbelievably, an acoustic version of Fleetwood Mac’s Dreams is followed by Philadelphia, and David tells us that when he heard this song this morning, as he held his baby, he burst into tears, because so many people don’t see the beauty in this world that is right in front of them.
Under normal circumstances, you might think, like I might, flakey. But in the mecca of SoulCycle it was touching.
And so I was moved to buy a t-shirt on the way out. Like when you’re leaving a concert, and you feel the need to commemorate the moment. Bottle the vibes and keep them for future whiffs.
Yeah, I got soul, and the t-shirt to prove it.
Taken in isolation, a 1500 meter swim isn’t hard. A 37 km bike ride is certainly not daunting. And a 10 km run? Please, I could do that in my sleep. Backwards.
So entering my first Olympic distance triathlon, I told myself, was nothing to write home about. (Sorry about that, mom.) It would be an interesting experiment, a way to celebrate my year of finally learning how to swim, Phelps style. (Because in my mind’s eye I swim just like him.) It would be – and I really thought this – easy.
And what better place to spend a few hours splashing around than Squamish? Fresh from the running Whistler Half Marathon in early June, I put the Squamish Triathlon on my race calendar for early July, enabling me to wallow away the remainder of summer nights reliving my triumph over copious glasses of Pinot Grigio, until it was time to cheer on my (crazy dedicated) friend Chrissy and her (crazy dedicated) buddy Steph in the #Ironman late August. You know, a real triathlon. The big show. At which point the celebration would kick up a notch.
Typical me, I under-trained and paid the price. But you just never know until you try. So. Now I know.
Still, a very cool and gratifying experience, if heavy on set up time (and supposedly training time, who knew?). I balked when the website requested athletes be on site at 7 am despite a 9:30 am start, to set up transitions. My sleep requirements go way past the beauty, and verge on the sanity, so this threw me off. Unlike running races, there is no fall-out-of-bed-get-yo-ass-to-the-start.
And transitions remained a rather murky concept to me – what did I really need for each one? Towels, food, iPhone to text for help? I hated the thought of needing something I hadn’t thought to leave myself. What if I was bored out of my mind and craved music for my run? What if I needed a cheeseburger after the bike? Or a bed to rest in? What then?
I managed to figure it out by simply attaching myself to a couple that seriously looked the triathlete part (sculpted cheekbones and Oakley’s) and were so in love with each other that they didn’t notice me skulking around them the entire time. And beside them at each transition. Stalking has its advantages. I watched them hawk-eyed as they hung their bikes and carefully laid out a tiny towel on which to put their accessories. (Me: folded my beach towel to look tiny and placed socks and gels inside my shoes, just like the beautiful couple, then stealthily put my sandwich I’d prepared to the bottom of my bag before anyone noticed.)
There seemed to be a discrepancy as to wear a wetsuit or not, but when the charming ones donned theirs, I donned mine. I could use this duo in my everyday life. Decisions have never been so easy.
A fellow swimmer didn’t crack a smile when I asked him if he’d mind zipping me up – hard on my ego, but then those swim caps aren’t for everyone – but redeemed himself my giving me a few tips. And then I realized he was gay, so redemption all around! He encouraged me to get in that water and warm up so the start will be less biting, and to swim wide of the buoy markers to avoid the traffic jam. Noted.
My game plan was to hang back and swim wide of the chaos, in my own little world. And so I did, zigzagging myself towards buoys (sighting still not my strong point), and by the time I’d reached the second of the three turns, I started to get into my groove. Basically, just in time to get out of the water. Which would be the theme for the day.
So I made some mistakes. People flew out of transitions like they were on fire while I debated eating my Cliff bar. I had to stop and ask the crowd for directions on the bike, and asked a competitor, how many laps are we doing again? By the time I started the run (what were my words, in my sleep, backwards?), the relief I expected to feel (finally, my sport, this one I can do!) never came. Instead, just point me to the finish line please, I want this to be over.
And so with 1 km to go, and my legs finally beneath me and my stride lengthened at long last, I missed a pesky rock on the trail and took one on the chin. Literally. Sailed through the air and landed on my chin in front of two volunteers, shocking them out of their engaging conversation, in my best Jack Tripper imitation.
So there was that.
But also, there was this: Accomplishment. Pride. Sweat. Happiness. Triumph.
And the best part was that my two biggest cheerleaders, my girls (my oldest away with friends so MIA), were there every step of the way, and were more excited than myself when I finished.
Success, and love.
It’s June, and I’m tired.
Tired of making lunches and putting grapes into plastic containers that are returned at the end of the day unopened, or worse, at the end of the week as a mold experiment. Tired of washing an endless cycle of water bottles. Tired of cleaning out knapsacks with crumpled bits of paper I was supposed to read last week. Tired of nagging my kids to do their homework, put away their rain boots, and for the love of Miss Carroll, hang up their school bags.
The routines and good intentions of September melt into puddles of torment by June, and I need school to end already so I can fantasize about summer.
But aside from the rivulets of hell that June represents to parents nationwide, June also means local strawberries, and local strawberries, for me, can mean only one thing. Strawberry shortcake. Because what’s life if you can’t take something perfectly healthy and make it into something naughty?
Aha. Stop right there. Strawberry shortcake need not be naughty. Nope, nada, nien. Substitute the whip cream or ice cream for vanilla flavoured Greek yogurt and voila, a healthy dessert is born. I discovered this when I opened the empty ice cream container that was in our freezer, and was determined that my strawberry hulling would not be in vain. Who does that? Who among you puts an empty container back in the freezer?
I’m not known for my culinary genius, so when I make a rare discovery in the kitchen, I need to get out the megaphone. And it fits within my criteria of five minute turn-around, leaving me time to dream about swinging in a hammock this summer. Like that’s going to happen.
Whole Lot of Protein Strawberry Shortcake: Feeds 4 and takes 4 minutes, unless you mistake your thumb for a strawberry, which I may or may not have done.
1 pint of local strawberries
1 packet of tea biscuits (Whole Foods makes them better than me)
500 ml 0% vanilla flavoured Greek yogurt
Clean and chop strawberries avoiding thumbs, spoon over halved biscuits, top with yogurt, and thank me tomorrow. Off to buy my hammock.
You are either a lover or a fighter. A leader or a follower. A liberal or a conservative. A runner or a swimmer. Put your hands down, triathletes. I know what you’re thinking, you can be a little bit of both. And yes you can, but you will have a bias. One that comes more naturally. Preferably one that doesn’t make you feel like you are drowning.
I’m a runner; not so much a swimmer. On land, I strike out comfortably, breathing in every four steps, and out every four steps, and reduce this to three or perhaps two breaths on hills. In, out, in, out, shoulders down, arms loose, feet quick. It’s a beautiful feeling, any day I run in is better than one I don’t, it’s cheaper than therapy, and it allows me to eat copious amounts of fries and chocolate. I’m a runner, born and bred. When I go out for a walk I am tired and whiny after five minutes, but I can run for miles, some days hours, without a problem. I may be a runner but I am definitely not a walker. Go figure.
But things are breaking down and my quadriceps and IT Bands aren’t what they used to be, so sometimes, in the summer months, I’m a biker. Biking has its own share of challenges, for instance the likelihood of dying on the fender of cement truck. I choose my biking days and routes carefully, and with the inclement weather we have in the Pacific Northwest these can be few and far between.
So the elephant in my room for the last few years, if not lifetime, has been swimming. Ugh, the chlorine, the cold water, the flattering skull cap look, not to mention the monotony, the boredom, the breathlessness, the other swimmers at your heels. Jesus. I’d rather walk.
But I remember the swimmers of my youth – Jacqui, Jenny, and Jamie, I’m looking at you. Damn they were fit. They kicked my cross-country ass to the curbside race after race, although I think the only time they ran was in the actual race; their training was in the pool.
So when a friend cajoled me into joining a masters swimming group (she said something like, I’ll bet you a bottle of wine you can’t do this, and I was like, oh no you didn’t), I was hesitant, but only momentarily. The writing was on the wall, and the white wine is now in my fridge. I got in the pool and kicked and splashed my way to the end. And back again. Repeat, times like a thousand.
It wasn’t pretty, I could see by the look on the coach’s face, a mix between Sweet Jesus where did this one come from and why is this woman drowning in my pool? But I got through the warmup, and though I was ready to call it a day by then, I managed to do some, if not all, of the workout that followed. Oh, the accomplishment; it was equivalent to achieving a PB in a half-marathon. I high-fived my lane mates while they looked at me quizzically, and my arm muscles wept with the joy of being called upon.
Now, twice a week, for an hour and a half, I stare at the line on the bottom of the pool and think about rolling and reaching. The water is cold for only a fraction of a second before the work required to stay afloat warms me. The coach writes cryptic notes on the whiteboard, like 8 x 50 f/c @ 60/65/70, and the only message I can decipher is that f/c is front crawl. When my fellow swimmers ask me what I want to do the 50’s in, I explain I just want to finish them without drowning, time is irrelevant. I have three speeds; slow, slower, and sinking. We swim about 3 kilometers each workout, which I figure is the equivalent to swimming the English Channel.
But I’m doing it, and I’ve never felt better. In the end I crawl onto the deck and thank God and Buddha and Shakespeare that although I came close to hyperventilating and drowning in my own snot, I made it to the edge just in time. I marvel mostly because not only did I do the workout, but that I even got in the pool to begin with. My back feels stretched, my IT bands are smiling, quadriceps spent, and the rest of the day, I feel my blood coursing smoothly through my body. When I listen closely, I can hear it say: thank you thank you thank you.
This notoriously cheap and tasty dish, loved by undergraduates and toddlers everywhere besides Berkeley, has re-branded itself, smacking the word SMART across its boxes, in addition to a promise to provide a helping of either vegetables, fiber or omega 3. I’m naturally drawn to all things cheap, easy, and tasty, but then add words SMART and well, you had me at cheap.
Kraft Dinner is a formidable favorite of mine left over from my student days, when hitting two food groups in one meal for 99 cents was only trumped by the cheap beer at J.J. Rossi’s every Tuesday night. And to this day, KD (as it is affectionately known to all who consume it) is a runaway favorite when nursing a hangover. Try it, and thank me later.
But MOST importantly, it is liked by all three of my children, and that has only ever happened with chocolate and root beer, naturally making me suspicious of its nutritional content. Since it takes about 3 minutes to whip up a lunch of KD, from a time management aspect alone I want to love the stuff. I could really use a break from my children complaining about the healthy food I give them – There are too many seeds in this bread! Why doesn’t this peanut butter taste like peanut butter? Can’t you put sugar instead of a banana in my smoothie?
I get a fair bit of flack every day for toiling over their meals. It is crazy to want to provide your kids with a healthy diet, after all. Drives. Me. Insane.
So sue me – I got a bit excited by the SMART marketing. I purposely avoided reading the labels – I suspected the fine print would only reveal a dish that was still, for the most part, unhealthy. I even got creative and bought all three different boxes and combined them into one dish, so my kids would get a serving of vegetables, fiber, and omega 3 in one, painfully orange, highly processed blob.
No surprise, they loved it. Licked their bowls clean. Why don’t you make this for us all the time?
Unable to stand the suspense any longer, I grabbed the box and read the fine print. The vegetable serving they promise amounts to half a serving of vegetables (my ten-year old is supposed to have 6 servings a day), and it comes by way of a cauliflower powder. It’s hard to imagine, all chemistry aside, how many nutrients can be left of the cauliflower once it has been processed into a fine blend of dust and mixed with processed cheese.
As I peeled carrots, I told them sadly, KD would remain in the “seldom consumed” category. Damn you, Kraft Dinner, I really wanted to invite you into my life again. Parting is such sweet sorrow – so, until the next hangover.
By my third pregnancy, my back protested. No more of this baby business, it told me by way of searing pain.
Instead of being a vessel that sent signals to my limbs and brain, my spinal cord became a rod of fire that roared whenever I was on my feet. And since my other children were four and two, that was a lot. No sympathy from the toddler corner.
I tried to grin and bear it, but that usually manifested as swearing like a truck driver and screaming at my kids.
Since I’m a sucker for punishment but not pain, this would be my last baby; the last kick at the can, the last time my stomach would bump into corners and catch my breakfast crumbs. This caused me the tiniest bit of melancholy, I did like feeling those knees ripple across my stomach and that whole creating life concept.
So I decided, against my better judgment, to have pregnancy photos taken. You know, the black and white classy ones with your private parts artfully shadowed.Then I stumbled across one of those promotions where the photographer would practically pay you to have your photos done: the proofs were free, the 8 x 10’s were free, you just gave her your email address so she could harass you for the rest of your life. Surely this was serendipity.
It seemed like a good idea at the time. (In case you are now gripped with fear that you will scroll down and scream, I haven’t posted any of these photos below.)
I hasten to remind you that Demi Moore had these same photos done and she looked pretty damn good. After that, pregnant women were waddling into photography studios in droves, so this is not an isolated incident of vanity.
As the date for my debut shoot approached, the temperatures skyrocketed. A hot summer day when you are eight months pregnant is akin to a day in hell. So I spent the weekend submerged in a glacial lake while my husband and children frolicked on the beach.
Monday morning I woke up with what looked like large mosquito bites all over my body. By noon the size of these bites rivaled ping pong balls, and by dinner they were seething with pus. I looked like an overstuffed egg roll with leprosy.
And those little beauty marks weren’t just innocently and quietly oozing away, they were also itching to high heaven. I was so busy trying not to scratch the little buggers that I even forgot about my back pain.
My doctor told me I had swimmer’s itch, but she consipicuously leaned away from me in horror the entire appointment.
I called the photographer to explain my case, hoping we could delay the shoot, but she could only put it off for a day, and then she was going on holiday. I wouldn’t be pregnant by the time she returned, so I was stuck with Wednesday.
On a positive note, my welts had stopped oozing by this point but remained scattered over my torso in an angry, scabbed-over state. It only looked like I had misplaced acne.
The photographer recoiled in horror when I dropped my robe. I laughed nervously and said something about the powers of PhotoShop, but she explained that while it was a useful tool, it couldn’t work miracles.
I have those photos in a shoebox somewhere. To give credit where credit is due, the photographer came up with the idea of draping a white sheet over my belly, thereby disguising my pockmarked skin whilst leaving its bulging outline. (I’m pretty sure she incinerated the sheet and disinfected her studio after I left.)
I stumbled across them the other day while chasing an agile spider. Whereas Demi Moore had looked beautiful, victorious, and a bit defiant in her Vanity Fair pictures, the look in my tired eyes only said please take the damn picture so I can return to my itching.
What have you done that causes you endless embarrassment in retrospect?