October 10, 2008 - 6:00 AM
I sat down at the table and didn't even need to look at the menu.
I already knew what I wanted. I had been savoring the idea of it for weeks now and I was finally having my well-deserved victory breakfast with my good friend Maria.
"Be prepared," I told her. "My volume of food and the rate at which I eat it may leave you slightly disgusted."
This did not faze Maria, who is a pretty impressive mountain biker in her own right.
"Um, did you just meet me?" she replied.
So I piled it on. Well, piled it on for me. L.A. Cinnamon Bread French Toast and a side order of home fries, please.
I finished two pieces of french toast before Maria got through her one slice of grilled cinnamon bread.
"But you're still burning extra calories," she rationalized for me.
Only, I didn't need rationalization.
My two weeks of vacation from training are rapidly coming to a close and I'm enjoying every last moment of non-structure, including a slight gluttony in my diet.
Which leads me to one of the discoveries in my assignment from my coach.
She wanted me to think about three things I accomplished this year and three things I accomplished that I didn't expect.
Let's start with the easy ones.
What did I accomplish?
1. I learned how to swim. Seriously. Those who have been along this journey may recall that I started from scratch. I took beginner adult lessons at the Town of Tonawanda Aquatic Center. I literally started in November last year simply bobbing up and down along the side of the pool and getting comfortable floating on my back. Now I can do a 3,000-yard workout.
2. I learned to run. Seriously. Again. At this time last year I was going to the gym and doing intervals on the treadmill -- two minutes of running then five minutes of walking. When I ran for 10 straight minutes I immediately emailed friends and family to revel in my accomplishment. Now, I've run several 5Ks, a 15K and a half marathon.
3. I finished a triathlon. Technically, that was the goal. Actually I ended up finishing six sprint distance tris this summer. Suffice it to say I'm hooked.
Now, for three things I accomplished that I didn't expect:
1. I overcome some of my eating hangups. All right, so my mother still things I eat weird things. And granted, as a vegetarian who gets her protein from non-traditional sources, I probably do have some unusual diet habits. Generally speaking, I'm a pretty healthy eater. But during the course of training for my triathlons, I stopped counting calories. I knew what healthy foods were and I learned what my body needed and when. I learned how to listen to the cues my body was giving me. And I no longer became obsessed with the numbers -- only the feelings. It seems to have worked so far in the happy, healthy and strong departments while allowing me to enjoy that special french toast.
2. I learned that doubt comes at me all the time, but I can overcome it. There was some point in nearly every tri I did (usually in the swim) when I entertained the notion of a DNF. What would happen if I just called for a water rescue right now? Or called it a day after the swim? Or just took a nap on the run? Did it really matter to anyone what I did? Every race I was smack up against a fear -- and every time I was able to get through it. I was stronger than the bad thoughts in my head. And if I relaxed, I learned I could change my thoughts to something more positive or productive or calming. I learned that the pain was indeed temporary. And I've learned that any pain -- whether it's the wizard beating my abdominal area with a hockey stick during the end of a 5K or the emotional turmoil of lost love -- will make me stronger on the other side.
3. I made new friends. OK, granted, I expected to meet new people, but I didn't realize what great friends I would make and how much they would help pull me through tough times. Bob took me aside at my first triathlon at Keuka Lake when I was completely freaking out and gave me a very calming pep talk. Sergio made special trips to the Lake Erie swim site and sacrificed part of his own swim time to help me gain comfort and confidence in the open water. Laurie made me laugh on training runs and helped me keep my sense of humor. Carolyn motived me by being a rock star in the pool lane next to me and inspired my chocolate milk happy place. Mark was more concerned about my swim times than I ever was, but so matter-of-factly thought I could accept bigger and better challenges that it silenced much of my self doubt. Joe was so determined that I would close out my season with a half marathon that he gave up trying for his own PR (which he could have easily gotten) to see me through the 13.1 miles. Those are moments I'll never forget ... and moments I hope to pay forward.
Of course, there's also the shout-out to Mary, my coach, who endured my frantic text messages when I was convinced I was regressing in my run or failed to swim a complete lap. She soothed me when I was overanxious (despite her claim that she doesn't handle freak outs, her naming it a "freak out" to my face immediately put me in a better, more rational place) and celebrated my victories with me. I am grateful that she was there to guide me along this season as I muddled my way into defining myself as an athlete.