Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Old Resolutions for the New Year

When I was young, I used to dream of becoming a fitness aerobics instructor. I’m not sure why this was so appealing to me, but it was the only “when I grow up” scenario that seemed to be reoccurring amid the occasional daydreams of being a rock star, an actress, a princess, or a bus driver. (Our bus driver was always either singing Debbie Gibson at the top of her lungs, or stopping the bus to yell at us as she draped herself over the front seats, pointing a manicured fingernail toward the back of the bus where some high schooler tried to hold in a smirk until she was done. I think this made the bus into a rolling stage of sorts, and therefore appealing).

One of my first Barbie dolls came with her own stationary bike, and she was dressed in a teal leotard and pink belt. Jane Fonda and Kathy Smith regularly made appearances in my living room where my mom loyally did her workouts each morning. From a young age, the seeds were being planted to eventually find myself somehow tied to the fitness world.

If these seeds were planted during my elementary school years, middle school seemed to be the time when they would have surely been pulled out of the ground and deemed as duds. I wasn’t a svelte teenager, not even cute. I was overweight with pasty pale skin (often patchy, thanks to eczema), and routinely failed the mile-test in gym class. I was the stereotypical nerd who crushed on the popular boy, and believed I was being flirted with whenever slighted. The middle school years culminated with my being cut from the softball try-outs, a blow to my self-esteem for sure. At the time, A League of Their Own was a hit movie and the idea of being part of something that allowed one to merge fame and fitness in the same venue was mind-blowing to me. The coach suggested I try out for the track team, since the only thing about softball that I was able to grasp was how to run around the bases.

That summer I started to do a walking program that Kathy Smith came out with as a supplement to one of her VHS tapes. I walked miles upon miles around my town and started high school in the fall as a new person. I craved an outlet for my energy, and since I didn’t have any skills in sports on the field, I turned my attention to performance on the stage. I was a Gleek before there was ever a show to promote such a status, taking part in every music program my school had to offer. Chorus, band, girl’s chorus, swing choir, jazz band and the annual musical productions and NYSMA competitions were all part of my curriculum.

When spring came around, I decided to take the softball coach’s advice and I went for the track team. That first year was nothing great, but I started to find the same discipline in fitness that I’d cultivated in music and kicked things up a notch by running on the cross-country team the following fall. As a sprinter, I was never very good at running longer distances, but training with the team got me into the best shape of my life at the time. The next three years of track I enjoyed being part of a record-holding relay team in the 1600, and someone who regularly placed in the 100- and 200-meter dashes.

Throughout college and after graduation I continued to run to keep in shape, and to challenge myself against my own records. I sought alternative “stages” through my first few jobs, trying on hats in the advertising and publishing industries, which eventually made me realize I have a passion for writing. Over the years running and writing have started to become intertwined like a pair of best friends that are never apart. A steady pace over twenty miles of running would seamlessly flow into a steady stream of consciousness on paper, or vice versa. My mind seems to be connected to my feet and when one starts to go into gear, so does the other.

This became very apparent to me when I became a fitness instructor four years ago. I was a regular cardio junkie at the gym, taking step aerobics and weight-lifting classes, and doing spin classes to cross-train on days when I wasn’t running. The spinning instructor suggested I get certified in a new type of cycling fitness class called Group RIDE that Gold’s Gym was going to offer. I passed my certification test and started teaching my own class two times a week.

Becoming a fitness instructor has allowed me to wear almost every hat I’ve ever tried on (or pretended to try on). The 11-year-old girl who used to wear her swimming suit over tights and jump around the bedroom to “Like a Prayer” with a sweatband on beamed with pride as I took my place in front of the class for the first time. The up-and-coming track star that was buried beneath the softball-team-reject jumps with joy now that I can wear a microphone and share what I’ve learned about discipline and perseverance with the masses. And the writer in me glows with enthusiasm now that I’m a Contributing Columnist with the local paper offering weekly tips and advice in my very own column about triathlon training.

We dream about being many things when we are young. Armed with toys and imaginations and all the time in the world, we’re free to see a future that can’t hold us back. As we get older, the realities of life set in. Budgets, rules, limits. Self-esteem, insomnia, peer pressure. We learn the art of “the excuse,” and rationalizing why things must be the way they are. We forget that somewhere deep down, there was a dream. A seed that lies within the soul waiting to find light...waiting for us to till the land and tell the dream it’s okay to come out.

The new year is on the horizon, marking the end of another decade. All around the world people are thinking of resolutions, planting seeds to harvest in the new year. Making promises that they probably won’t keep much past March.

This year, consider going for one of those old seeds. One of the vintage dreams. Look inside your soul for something you used to save and cherish like a fine bottle of wine and open it. Twenty years ago I was playing with the Barbie and her stationary bike. Now I’m the blonde on the bike (sadly, sometimes in teal and pink). Ten years ago I was writing in my journal about wanting to be a writer. Now I’m a contributing columnist with a well-read spinster blog.

I’m realizing dreams I never thought I’d see come true, and things are unfolding and interlacing in ways that I never would have imagined. I’m encouraged by this especially after so many rough years both personally and professionally. I’ve been patient and persistent, yes. But most importantly – I never forgot the promises I made to the girl wearing her bathing suit over her tights. And I’m just getting started.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Pick-Up Lines – The New Pick-Me-Up?

Last night I went out to meet an old friend for drinks who, like so many friends these days, shared with me the story of his recent engagement. It’s the fifth piece of “super couple” news I’ve received in the past month. I chuckle to myself when I learn of these things, as it seems the movie of my life would have to include a crawl at the bottom of the screen to announce who is getting married, buying a house or having babies around me. In reality, it seems the other way around. The big screen is reserved for these all-important milestones while the other nooks and crannies of life carry on in the background.

After a couple glasses of wine, my friend excused himself to the restroom before we were going to leave. In what might have been one of the most awkward pick-up moments ever, a man approached me and asked if he could take my picture on Santa’s lap. (Santa, so you know, was visiting this particular bar to deliver another keg of Great Lakes Ale as part of the Beer Week event going on in town). Accompanied by some horrible country-pop holiday music playing in the background, I agreed to take the photo.

A flock of men gathered to take my picture with Santa on their smartphones, and my Chardonnay-laden giggle reminded me that the scene was getting ridiculous. I extracted myself from his red velour pants, feeling a mild static shock as I stood up. (In my mind, I “modeled through it” just the way Tyra would have told me to if I were on a shoot for America’s Next Top Model. Yes, I watch the show.)

My friend returned from the restroom just in time to see the flock of men disperse as Santa gave me a “high five.” Simultaneously, the man who approached me was now flanked by another, who began to talk about triathlon and how he wanted to change his fitness lifestyle. For me, this was a guaranteed conversation starter.

“Are you okay?” My friend asked. Based on what he’d just seen, it was a valid question.

I was aware that these guys (both 20 years older than me) had me in their crosshairs and were trying to pick me up – but I happen to have a pretty passionate sales pitch when it comes to getting people involved in triathlon, and I wasn’t about to let this opportunity slide. A little bit of wine mixed with a little bit of soul, and conversations like this become an amusement park of inquiry and persuasion.

My friend left, and there I stood with a pair of 50-year old cousins who bought me another glass of wine and stared at me curiously as our conversation took flight through a random assortment of topics. We went from triathlon to career goals, to stories about their ugly divorces (trending!) and children (one of their daughters was getting married – please refer to the crawl at the bottom of the screen).

At times they attempted to resume a flirtatious banter, but for the most part they seemed to be taking me seriously as someone who could help to change their lives (in the gym, not the bedroom). I felt like the pilot show for a sitcom – testing their interaction with me to see what they were all about. Losers just looking to score, or legitimately nice guys? I believe the latter is true.

I told them about my broken engagement and how I was in a new relationship that was going well; about Ironman; and my inability to follow recipes. They told me about being self-employed; their college days of competitive swimming; and characteristics about future in-laws that annoyed them. I was compared to sisters, “Wouldn’t Renee just LOVE her?” and privy to pre-supposed confessions such as, “If I come to your class, I’m probably going to fall in love with you.”

“Yes,” I said. “Yes, that’s probably true.”

Some women take offense to being hit on – I’m not one of those women. If it happens to be annoying, I walk away. If it’s engaging (not necessarily in a carnal way) I’m game for an exchange of dialogue.

Blame it on my penchant for reality television and dating shows. It’s challenging to present yourself to someone for the first time, while spontaneously coming up with what you perceive to be an effective blend of words, movement and wit to keep that person interested. Many people suck at it. I’ve walked away from them plenty of times.

For the record, the cousins were well-dressed, polite, and worth the engagement.

Some of my readers know that I work in advertising and “ghost write” some social media pieces for a promotional campaign we’re doing for Remington. As such, I’ve been spending considerable time talking about pick-up lines and coming up with tips for men to impress women. Since the promotion goes so well with this post, I’d like to share the following link to a list of, “The Top 10 Looks That Will Get You Nowhere With Women.” Then make sure you try out the game (click on PLAY THE GAME in the top right corner). You might be surprised how much fun the pick-up can be if you just go with it.

Ironic sidenote: After all of my babble about triathlon, I should mention that I still can’t score with Trainer Patrice in the game!

Enjoy: http://bit.ly/28Pc9l

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Happy Independiversary

One year ago, I was supposed to be married. I’m not sure if 10/24 is trapped in my heart because of what was going to happen that day, or if it’s from the time spent creating Save-the-Date cards and seeing those numbers in every font available on my computer. I was proud of my design. Proud, too, of the life I was embarking on. I was leaving the dating scene and stepping up to the prospect of “happily ever after.”

I tried to let the weekend come and go without indulging in any feelings about the milestone it could have been, but it’s hard to force emotional currents one way or the other. It felt like I was trying to pull the meaning off of 10/24 the same way I might have tried to peel a sticker from an apple.

If it’s not ready to come off and you continue to try, you’re likely to pull some skin away with it, too.

It’s not just the date itself that has been keeping me awake at night. About a month ago my ex-fiance called to tell me the tragic news that someone we had spent time with as a couple had unexpectedly passed away. Given that we’ve both moved on to new relationships, our correspondence has been limited to pleasantries and the occasional conversation about how things are going. Sharing the news of an untimely death was easily one of the most emotional exchanges we’d encountered together in more than a year. My immediate reaction was to be there for him, the way I would be there for any friend in that situation, but it was reminiscent of something more. Something that we used to be – partners in life’s hardest situations.

At some point, though, we couldn’t make it through one of those situations. We came upon an obstacle that was too large to ignore, and at the time we were unable to do anything about it except argue. And then fight. And then resent. It was no way to spend an engagement, and I couldn’t move forward with a wedding that was suddenly surrounded by so much doubt and pain.

Our wedding was postponed right around the time that I turned 30, and after several months of couples therapy, we decided to break things off. I will never forget the weekend I moved out. I have never cried so hard as I did packing my things to move on from the life I was so desperate to live, back into the life of the unknown. With the wedding canceled and a parade of empty boxes swallowing up my life as I knew it, the pressure “to make things work” was off and me and my ex were actually able to talk and laugh again. The combination was jarring. How could we feel so impossible week after week, but then find a sense of calm in one another on the day before I was moving out? One of life’s mysteries, I suppose.

What I’ve learned from all of this, is that even though we never married the way we’d planned, we’ve remained close within our hearts. I am connected to him in ways that are not immediately (or ever?) undone, and though I made the right decision to end the relationship, I shouldn’t expect to encounter would-be anniversary dates and emotional conversations about someone’s untimely passing without feeling some sense of that connection manifesting itself. What it means is that I almost married a good guy, but I didn’t go through with what might have been a great mistake. At times I wish that ours had been an abusive relationship, one with crystal clear reasons for why it was wrong and shouldn’t continue. What I had was a relationship that I didn’t feel passionately about. There were boundaries as to what could be comfortably expressed and shared – and my gut feeling told me that I couldn’t live that way.

The independent woman in me knew that it would be hard to walk away from a relationship that made me mostly happy, but it had be done. It’s not easy to do the right thing, and if you are independent, you know what’s right for you and are faced with hard decisions that test that self-commitment all the time. Being “independent” isn’t just about being able to do things on your own without relying on someone else. It’s about being strong in who you are, defending what you’re about and what you need to be happy. Marriage isn’t about “finding my other half,” because I don’t feel that I’m missing any portion of who I am, nor do I feel that I need to find someone to be the yin to my yang. I see marriage as the ultimate sharing of one’s soul – it’s not about anything that’s missing and needs to be found. Or about something that’s empty that needs to be filled. It’s about something that amplifies an energy that’s already there. For many reasons, my relationship with my ex fiancé did not work. One of them was because I felt my energy was stifled in some ways and I began to feel trapped in a life that wasn’t mine.

I made the decision to break things off and face the emotional tide that comes with ending one’s fairytale wedding. Hundreds of Save-the-Date cards were recycled. Teary cancellations with vendors took me off the radar as a bride-to-be, and the walls in our home became bare as my possessions piled up into moving boxes.

I stood in those rooms staring at the walls like a ghost from a past life. Some part of me would be lost in that house forever. Time passed and gradually things got easier, but never so easy as to forget what it felt like to face that fork in the road.

Go one way and be true to “society," go another and be true to myself.

I won’t say that it’s been an easy road – because more than a year after breaking my engagement, I’m writing this blog. But I will say that it feels good to know that I can weather the storm on my own and that despite the sadness I felt on my would-be anniversary day, I know that my heart is still in tact and I’m still moving forward. Even if there are times when I pause to look back.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Let Me Put a Spin on YOUR Subject

I'm always surprised to learn who reads this blog and why they enjoy it. With topics ranging from tampons and baby showers to triathlon and gay bars, it would appear that there is a post for everyone on this site.

I've been asked to provide a way for people to send in topics they'd like to see discussed in upcoming posts.

Whether you're a mom, a bride-to-be, a single woman in college or a curious male, I want to hear from you. The Spinster Chronicles is here to promote the awareness of a healthy lifestyle and to encourage society to recognize that this lifestyle comes in many shapes and sizes.

The Spinster Chronicles is coming up on its first year anniversary and its popularity has grown thanks in part to others who explore the topic of "singles in society" in the blogging community.

In particular I want to thank the writers from The Singlutionary, Singletude, and Onely for helping to promote my blog and generate awareness about "the spinster lifestyle" to the rest of the world.

I look forward to hearing from you and exploring your inquiries in future posts.

Follow me on Twitter at SpinningLeese (twitter.com/spinningleese)
, and feel free to send suggestions to: SpinningLeese@gmail.com.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Team Playtex: A Coach in Your Box!

The other day I helped myself to a tampon from the courtesy basket in the ladies bathroom. As I was extracting the feminine product from its packaging, I realized I was reading. There on the wrapper, was a small phrase:

“You’ve got the power!”

Come again? A task that normally takes 30 seconds turned into a good five minutes as I sat in my stall pondering the meaning of a motivational phrase on my tampon.
Back at my desk, a quick Google search revealed its source: Playtex. The new “Sport Tampons” are made from special materials designed to give women confidence when their bodies are in motion so they can be stronger athletes. Popeye had spinach, we have Playtex.

It’s not that I take offense to the idea, I just think it’s stupid. But with my curiosity piqued, I bought my very own box of Sporty Tampons to see what other messages Playtex thought I would enjoy – after all, as an avid triathlete and spinning instructor, I am their target audience.

Some choice phrases from my primary research:

-Be passionate
-Life is short…get in the game!

-Practice your victory speech!

My victory speech?

“Hello everyone…” (Pause to tap microphone). “Is this on?” (Nod to tech support). “Thank you. I would like everyone to know, I couldn’t have gotten this tampon in without the help of my pointer finger."

Let’s look at “Be passionate.” What the hell does that mean? I’m not sure I care to be passionate when it’s that time of the month. And furthermore, I’m not sure Playtex is the brand that I need to hear from if I change my mind. Are we going to see vibrating tampons on the market soon, to go with the vibrating razors and mascara wands already out there? Ridiculous.

“Life is short…get in the game” Oh, Playtex. Why?

We are smart women who do not fancy the vagina as some kind of alternate media channel for your sporty branding campaign. You could have come up with something more useful than generic iterations of, “Go Team!” At least with a Snapple cap I end up with a useful piece of trivia to share.

Let’s talk about the box itself. We have a carefree woman in lime green, vamping on a backdrop of pink. I love it when feminine hygiene products go for this look. As if having one’s period is so fabulous that you can’t help but dance, it’s so wonderful when it arrives!

I only ever feel this way when I’m late and I’m treated to a day or so of inner “Holy crap” monologues where I imagine becoming the mother of a child I didn’t plan on. In that case, I would benefit from tampons with messages like, “You so can’t wait to use me,” or, “Enjoy those skinny jeans while you still can!”

What if you’re not sporty? Can this be like the Carebears with a genre for everyone? Is there a Playtex Goth? Playtex Fat Ass? (Perhaps the wrapper could double as a coupon for a free Happy Meal – everyone’s spirits being so high and all).

What about Playtex Spinster? I can see the phrases now:

-Tick, tock.

-Did you feed your cat?
-Life is short…you have no game!”

In television the term, “jump the shark,” is used when a show has gotten so ridiculous that the plot and characters have reached their peak and everything goes downhill.

Playtex, you’ve jumped the shark.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Showers for the Women of 2009

You know the feeling. An envelope arrives in the mail – it isn’t a bill and it has handwriting on the front. Sometimes it’s oddly shaped. It’s not a holiday and it isn’t your birthday.

Crap. It’s going to be a shower invitation, isn’t it.

For the most part, the mere mention of a pending shower leaves women groaning and men shrugging their shoulders. Once upon a time, these parties were thrown to support the bride- or mother-to-be as she embarked upon new experiences in life. The shower provided her with the things she would need in her new role as wife or mom by furnishing an empty apartment or nursery with the basics for domestic success. Gifts and well wishes were bestowed upon her as the women in her life celebrated her upcoming journey, wishing her the best of luck.

Nowadays, it isn’t uncommon for couples to register for gaming systems, camping gear, sporting equipment and luxury appliances – hardly the necessities, and usually the kind of fare that one would wait to purchase until a bit of disposable income becomes available. The spirit of the shower suggests that people should come up with money to buy items on the registry and include gift receipts in case the presents aren’t quite what the person wanted. It seems to me that people register for things they would like to have but shouldn’t spend money on, so that shower attendees can spend their money on these things instead. This leaves people like me coughing up a sum of money to go in on a high-end hammock while I turn down a dinner invitation with friends because I’m strapped for cash. Add up the money I’ve spent on showers over the past decade, and I probably could have gone on a tropical vacation by now.

Does this seem in line with the original intention of the shower?

I can recall several times in the past 10 years where I’ve had to be conservative with money in order to pay for my own rent, living expenses and maybe a few movie rentals in the mix for some leisure time, and yet still have to come up with additional funds to go in on shower gifts that are oftentimes of the “non-essential” variety (while my budget dictates that I must steer clear of non-essential items for myself).

The point of this post isn’t to say that I wasn’t happy for my friends or that I didn’t want to support these important milestones, the point I’m trying to make is that these showers have become as commercialized as the holiday season. But unlike the holidays, showers are limited to an exclusive group – women who will wed or birth. What an archaic way to “celebrate” the woman.

As any reader of this blog knows, the women of 2009 are embarking on all kinds of adventures in their lives, and could use support in ways June Cleaver never imagined. The women of 2009 have challenges that have evolved from maintaining a healthy marriage and raising a family. I’m not trying to downplay the importance of being a wife or a mom, I’m simply trying to call attention to the fact that women have a lot of options these days when it comes to their path in life – why is our society so determined to only celebrate the ones that involve marriage and procreation? What makes those accomplishments worthy of a “shower” over anything else that a woman can commit to or produce?

In the movie Back to the Future, there is a scene where Marty nervously suggests to Doc that they must find a longer stretch of highway to give the DeLorian enough road to reach 88 MPH so they may travel through time. Doc famously replies:

“Roads? Where we’re going we don’t need roads.

Or Onesies. Or potholders.

Behold, showers for the Women of 2009.

The Promotion Shower

Otherwise known as the “You Kick Ass at Your Job” Shower

I’m still waiting for the day when we can celebrate the career woman. When a woman gets promoted, she may need certain things to hold her place on the next rung of the corporate ladder. Her registry boasts inspiring artwork for her office walls, sassy wardrobe updates to keep her fashion forward, and a good bottle of wine to take the edge off after a stressful day.

Traditional showers recognize women being promoted in society – going form Miss to Mrs. to Mom claims several aisles at Target, where the shelves are stocked with celebratory messages from Hallmark all because a woman has decided to commit herself to a single man for the rest of time and start a family. What about the woman who commits herself to her career? To bettering society through hard work, innovation, creativity and finely-tuned skill sets?

It’s time that we give the Career Woman the credit she deserves and start celebrating a woman’s success in the board room, not just the bedroom.

The Divorce Shower

Otherwise known as the “Thank God You’re Done with Him” Shower

I’ve seen what happens when someone goes through a divorce and it seems to me that those people need more help starting their new lives than newlyweds do. When you consider that it’s become the norm for a shower registry to include things like the Nintendo Wii, it’s pretty clear that the idea of the shower to help people start their lives together has gone beyond the normal necessities of domestic life (and one could even argue that putting a gaming system in the home might stifle much-needed communication and serve as a catalyst to ultimately end the marriage). Meanwhile there’s a divorcee out there struggling to come up with enough money to buy groceries – forget about home décor and entertainment needs.

Divorce isn’t always bad and for some people it should be celebrated. Conversely, marriage between two people sometimes is bad and we’ll celebrate it anyway.

Women will stay in relationships that are terrible for them. Cheating or abusive husbands guilt their partners into believing they deserve what they’re getting and women will stay in the marriage because they know how hard it will be to move on alone. Her self-esteem, safety net, family stability – all of these things will suffer when a woman decides to end her marriage and move on with her life. Add to that the financial burden of paying attorney fees and relying on a much leaner income to support one’s self, and you have a woman that actually needs someone to buy her bathroom towels and place settings.

It’s time that we give the Divorcee the credit she deserves and start celebrating a woman’s courage to get out of a bad situation and start her life anew.

The Serious Illness Shower

Otherwise known as the “You’re Going to Kick Cancer’s Ass, and We Know It” Shower

It’s been said before that laughter is the best medicine. The power of positive thinking and a good attitude are unparalleled in the medical field. When faced with the news of a serious illness like breast cancer, what better time is there to celebrate a woman’s strength and support her through the upcoming events that will unfold? Her registry might include accent pieces to spruce up a hospital room, or a box of herbal teas to sooth the mind before lengthy doctor visits. She may register for a collection of books or DVDs that would help her to pass time through the days that she’s too tired to leave the house. Maybe she’s looking to take up a new hobby to help her relax and has had her eye on a set of knitting needles and brightly colored spools of yarn.

It’s time that we give the woman battling a serious illness the credit she deserves and start celebrating her ability to overcome life-threatening obstacles.

The New Adventure Shower

Otherwise known as the “Holy Crap, I can’t Believe You’re Going to do That!” Shower

Women who are about to be married or start a family are supported with showers largely because they are going into something new and the shower is a way to prepare them both physically (with tools and materials) and mentally (with warm wishes and inspiring messages).

It’s now nearly ten years into the second millennium and women have greatly expanded the “new experience” list. Husbands and babies have taken a back seat to any number of adventures including some of the ones the women in my life have embarked on:

• Joining the military and being deployed

• Traveling and living abroad for large periods of time

• Moving across the country with no known connections

• Starting a business

• Committing to a significant goal that requires a change in lifestyle and support from others (going to rehab for an addiction, losing 100 lbs, training for an Ironman or marathon, etc.)

It’s time that we give the adventurous woman the credit she deserves and start celebrating the idea that a significant life change isn't limited to just marriages and births.

The Homeowner Shower

Otherwise known as the “When Shit Breaks, You’re Going to Have to Fix it Now” Shower

So when a woman is to marry or become a mom, we give her lingerie and bottles, right? These are traditional shower gifts for the bride or mom-to-be. What about the woman that is about to become a first-time homeowner?

In the past few years, I know of four single women who each became new homeowners. When a single woman buys her own home, the traditional (and sexist) idea that the man will fix whatever breaks no longer applies. And there isn’t a landlord to take care of any issues either. I can’t think of a better occasion to throw a shower than to celebrate a woman who is purchasing her own home. After perusing the local hardware store, it’s clear to me that the expense of caring for a home and its corresponding lawn is not cheap (or easy).

The registry for this woman can go for miles – weed wacker, garden hose, push mower, paint brushes, hedge trimmer, garden equipment, etc.

Sure, society offers the “housewarming party” and it’s a nice way to christen the space with warm company and a good inventory of new wine, but this will help the single woman with her home about as much as a block of cheese will help a new mom with her infant.

It’s time that we give the single woman buying her first home the credit she deserves and start celebrating her independence to do something on her own that has traditionally been reserved for couples and families.

The New Pet Shower

Otherwise known as the “Throw Me a Bone, Raising a Pet is Hard, Too!” Shower

Just as some women seek out a husband for companionship (and truth be told, I’ve heard of women having children for the same reason), others seek out a pet. Though a pet’s first word may never amount to more than a bark or a purr (or the word of your choosing should you decide to get a parrot) it’s still something under your care that you are responsible for. A pet may not require midnight feedings or healthy conversations about your feelings, but it is a new relationship nonetheless and one that isn’t always easy to deal with.

There are as many books on the market for how to successfully raise a pet as there are for raising children. Pets require care and discipline just as children do. They are living things that become members of the family – yet women who are pet owners are seldom recognized (or supported) as people who are integral in raising their furry family. Why not throw a shower for the woman who just adopted from the local pet shelter? Or the woman who finally decided she was in a good position to get the Labrador retriever she’s always wanted? The registry is obvious: sub in the water dish, Kong toys, over-sized pillow bed and trendy collar for the sippy cups, mobiles, burping clothes and diaper bag.

It’s time that we give the new pet owner the same respect we give the new mom and celebrate the fact that the families of some women are comprised of cats and dogs, rather than a husband and children.

If this is all beginning to sound ridiculous, then I believe I’m successfully making my point. I could not have written this post without the confirmation from many friends and peers that my sentiments are shared.

To the married women reading this, it’s important to realize that I and other single women don’t dislike the idea of the shower – and we don’t dislike you! We dislike the discrimination in the way that ALL women are expected to buy-in to the shower celebration, but only those who are getting married or having children are eligible to have these society-inspired celebrations.

It might seem ridiculous to be expected to get a gift for a woman who is moving to a new city, purchasing a home, battling cancer, buying a dog or being promoted within her career. For us single women, it feels equally ridiculous to be expected to purchase a gift for a woman just because she has decided to get married or have a baby.

We are the women of 2009, and we all deserve recognition, support, and fanfare for the adventures we choose to embark on. I say we either start celebrating those adventures in all of their iterations, or stop the trend of baby and bridal showers altogether.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A New Low Provides the Ultimate High

Over the weekend I was at the New York State Fair, and I paid three dollars to let a carnie guess my age – a game that would reward me with the crappy toy of my choice should he guess wrong by more than two years. He was on a winning streak until I approached him, confident with my new haircut and overall spunky aura that I still might exude a bit of “twenty-something” about me. I stood before him sipping my draft beer from an oversized plastic cup, with a hip cocked to the side to make sure my Le Sportsac fanny pack was on full display (more on that later). He jotted down his guess on a piece of paper and scanned the crowd for feedback on the number. Some onlookers smirked, but I couldn’t tell if it was because the number was too high or too low.

Then he presented it to me. 27. (Insert ultimate party of the soul here).

Maybe it was the Saranac buzz I had going on, or the fact that I’d just eaten a deep-fried Oreo cookie, but seeing any number that began with a “2” was good enough. The fact that he guessed 27 was particularly exciting.

Twenty-seven was the year I met my ex-fiancé, the year that I believed all of the stress and pain of investing in terrible relationships would come to an end because I’d finally met “the one.” Two and a half years later, it broke my heart to realize that despite how much we cared for each other, it just wasn’t working. With six months to go until I hit 30, I fought with myself to remain positive that turning 30 and being newly single on the heels of a broken engagement was no big deal. Obviously this blog proves that it’s not always easy to be positive about matters of the heart and one’s life plan.

Thirty hasn’t turned out to be as awful as I was anticipating. Everyone told me that this important third decade of your life is the time when people would start to accept you as a true grown-up. One became a vessel of smart decisions armed with a “cut the crap” attitude that ensured a more fulfilling life. Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but it does seem that this year has been one of particular growth for me in terms of career and personal relationships. I’m growing out of the girl I’m used to being and into the woman I’ve always wanted to become.

The idea that I am somehow 27 again is very liberating (even if only in the mind of a bull-shitting con artist hawking his hut of tsotchkes). I felt like I was getting a do-over, like I really was 27 and spending a day at the fair with a new man, in a new relationship. I don’t regret that I spent two and-a-half years with my ex-fiancé only to call it quits before the ultimate commitment, but I do feel bitter at times that I still haven’t gotten it right by the age of 30. Who doesn’t look back and consider other avenues in hindsight? Who doesn’t say “What if?”

Some days I think that turning back the clock and making better decisions is exactly what I need, even though that’s impossible and I am who I am today because of the decisions I’ve made – good and bad.

Proud of my newfound “youth,” I fastened my prize – a hot pink Koosh ball – to the belt of my fanny pack and proceeded to sashay myself around the fair with my plastic trophy on full display.

Let me expand on the matter of the fanny pack.

The New York State Fair is not the first place one thinks of when fashion comes to mind. Not good fashion, anyway. Enter through the welcome gates and behold the cornucopia of naked beer guts, feathered bangs, bedazzled Tweety-bird shirts, and “those should only be worn in your living room” sweatpants. It is for this reason that I have no qualms about donning the fanny pack when I go to the fair. It’s not that I see myself suddenly fitting into a world of fashion “No’s” – it’s more like Halloween. Sometimes it’s fun to dress the way you shouldn’t. I’ve simply opted for a fanny pack rather than neon pink thigh-highs (yes, I own a pair).

It isn’t a normal fanny pack, either. Think Carrie Bradshaw (Sex in the City) circa Season 4 wearing the Gucci logo belt bag (aka designer fanny pack). It is a fashionable way for women who need free hands to tote their things around without having to worry about the slipping strap of a purse upon the shoulder, or the “I’m about to get on a school bus” backpack. I should mention that the only time I feel this need for freed up hands is when I know I will be embarking on a day of drinking. But I digress.

In the case of the New York State Fair, I always have one hand occupied by a wine slushy or a beer, but the other is frequently ushering fried goods to my mouth. Who needs the hassle of managing a bag in the middle of all that?

By 9:30PM that evening, I was starting to feel my twenties slip away and reality was setting in…intoxicated at 30 comes with certain symptoms that I simply don’t recall from the previous decade. For starters, I was getting tired – and I was beginning to envy the people wearing their sweatpants while I continued to parade around in uncomfortable shoes and tight jeans. The fried food-a-thon that was making its way through my system in a tide of Sangria-infused Budweiser was also not feeling so great. At 27 I might have been looking for the next cab downtown to continue carrying on into the wee hours of the morning. At 30 I was jonesing for my Clarin’s Brightening Night Cream.

Before the end of the night, I decided that the Koosh ball would not be coming home with me. Though I’m amused with the idea of going back in time, I didn’t find it compelling enough to bring home a mushy piece of plastic that by that point had to have been crawling with germs. I removed it from my belt bag and handed it to the wise-cracking motorcycle man who was checking IDs at the beer tent by the Dinosaur BBQ (a popular biker bar serving food at the fair). He took the Koosh in his hands and gave it a little squeeze.

“Yep, I’ve hooked up with her already,” he said with a chuckle through his graying, unkempt beard. He tossed the ball to his friend, working the next line over. “Here, play with that!” he shouted to the man – another leather-clad dude with a tapestry of tattoos on his arm. One squeeze, and he hurled it back in our direction.

“This will be hours of fun,” he said, and I made my way past him to get one more drink…my second run at 27 now reduced to a single boob in the hands of a biker in the beer line.

The next morning I woke up with a headache and a craving for healthy food. Stripped of my fanny pack and plastic trophy, I was back to my usual self again – 30 and fabulous, and ready for a Sunday of domestic bliss. Some quality time with my boyfriend, a Swiffer, a home-cooked meal and a foreign film were just what the doctor ordered. Gallivanting about in a fanny pack with a time-machine Koosh ball and a beer could never match the high of being happy with who you are in the moment.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Spinster, Interrupted

Lately I’ve been feeling free of my usual cynicism and have been passing days, weeks even, in a content mood. This month actually marks the one-year anniversary of my “independence” as it was last August that I moved out of my ex-fiance’s house and spent my first night in the new apartment.

I’ll never forget the feelings I had when I stood atop the stairs before my new home, cradling a box filled with books, spatulas and picture frames in the crook of my arm while I fumbled with my keys to unlock the door for the first time. I entered my apartment and was greeted by a large glass bong on the kitchen counter that was left behind by the former tenants.

I immediately started sobbing.

The drug paraphernalia triggered the unease in my system that I had been trying desperately to bury with thoughts of my future and moving on. I’ve never been into drugs, and seeing this instrument in the first scene of my new life conjured up images of the ex-boyfriend I dated before I got engaged. Ours was an abusive, unhealthy relationship wherein marijuana frequently took center stage (he was the feature act, I was the audience) and I couldn’t help but wonder as I set down my things, “Will I once again be faced with a parade of losers and jerks as I trade in my engagement ring for the single life?” I suddenly felt like Sandra Dee in a Rizzo world. The promise of security and stability was gone, and in its place was this clear glass omen of disaster.

That would be the first of many times I would sob alone in my apartment. For a while it seemed to occur on a regular basis at least once a week. It didn’t help that my wedding dress was being stored in one of the closets, still untailored (and never tried on) zipped in its bag like a corpse in the darkness. A quick visit to the closet to retrieve a new Swiffer pad could easily end up causing that week’s meltdown.

But things got better over time. Six months went by and I had settled into my new digs and a routine that involved spending time with friends and having fun. I read books, I tried new recipes. I watched foreign films and ate hummus.

My family remained supportive, giving my personal life a sense of calm despite the rocky road I was traveling, and I was getting consistently good feedback at work. Things weren’t bad at all. Now a full year later, I really feel like I’ve come out of the rebound phase and am fully reclaiming the happy, positive me.

With so much of my self-identity tied up in triathlon and training, I started to slump back into a state of depression in the spring when I realized that getting over my broken engagement took its toll on my body. I wasn’t as fit as in years past and the “fun” part of my new lifestyle had me drinking and eating a bit more than usual. Despite the fact that I was performing in my races with about five extra pounds in tow, I ended up doing great in the events that mattered to me. Since my last race in July, I’ve ridden the high of my awesome finish right into August where more good things have started to happen.

Something cosmic seems to be taking place within me where finally everything is falling into place. My new relationship has been challenging me in healthy ways, causing me to let go of some of the anger and stress I’ve been carrying around, and breaking down walls between us that I don’t think I’ve ever been able to remove in relationships past.

My ex-fiance is also dating someone new and it seems that we’ve both managed to move past our own failed story into something that is better for us. I met her briefly while in Lake Placid to volunteer for Ironman this year, and for a split second I thought of how awkward it was to see him in that context.

Lake Placid is saturated with my hopes and dreams. Three years ago it was the place I slept alone in my car the night before I registered for my first Ironman, while my ex returned to Syracuse to work the next morning. Last year it was the place where I completed my first Ironman while at the same time my relationship was falling apart. This year it was the place I came with the new man in my life to sign up for Ironman next year. And now my ex-fiance who never had any interest in participating in an Ironman event ever before was there holding hands with a woman who looks as though she stepped out of an LL Bean catalog. The mental assessment occurred in less than a minute and was as refreshing as the first sip of a cold beer on a scorching day. It appeared we were both moving on and happy.

The tough thing about breaking up with someone you don’t hate in a small town is that you will likely run into them a lot when the relationship is over – this is even more true when you’re involved in something like triathlon which shrinks the community down to an even smaller size. To see my ex moving on with his life, and for him to see me moving on with mine felt healthy and provided a sort of closure that I needed to really pull away from that period of my life.

My job has continued to go well and I feel that I’m where I’m meant to be, despite the fact I never saw myself working in new business development for an advertising agency. We're moving into a brand new building in December that will be designed with all the contemporary flare you’d imagine an advertising agency to have – like the way they portray creative places to look in movies and TV shows. In my fantasy of the new office, I think of Amanda and Mark from Ugly Betty visiting my cube to scold me for my choice of shoes (likely the pink Crocs that nobody seems to enjoy but me).

I’ve been given a lot more responsibility and am excited to take on new challenges. And I feel that my personal relationship is giving me more responsibilities also. Being with someone that you are able to have an even exchange of emotion with causes you to be more accountable with each other. I know that in my new relationship my emotions will be taken seriously – and that means that I take his more seriously also. Emotions are no longer chalked up to “drama” and random fits of boredom, but are regarded as delicate conversations that should be paid attention to.

I’ve found myself growing stronger in my relationships with friends. When I started my new job two years ago, I was given a “buddy” to help me get acclimated to the organization. In our first meeting, I discovered she was a former beauty pageant queen, cheerleader and sorority girl. Those might be the top three types of women that I detest the most. My “buddy” is now one of my closest, most treasured friends. I’ve made many friends this year that live off the beaten path when it comes to what women our age “should” be doing at this point in our lives.
It’s like the show Lost – we were all on a plane minding our own business until it crashed and we’ve grown our own community with a lifestyle that we’re comfortable with, not be to sabotaged by the way “the others” live, who are content with suburbia environs, raising families and celebrating life as per societal norms.

With my new friends, I seldom have time to stop and think about the status of my life as a mom or a wife. It feels okay to nurture plants instead of children, to own an expensive bike rather than an expensive ring. To invest my time in making my spin class inspiring rather than matching table linens to floral arrangements at a wedding reception.

Part of my struggle in the past was trying to save relationships with people that I’ve grown apart from. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that failed friendships with some people are nobody’s fault. I don’t begrudge my married friends for starting families and enjoying the life we all thought we’d be living one day when we were in third grade. My path went in another direction from all of that and it’s hard to make plans and have conversations with someone that is never in sync with you. It’s especially hard when you realize that people won’t even try – I am the one that isn’t connecting the dots in the “when I grow up” playbook we all memorized in grade school, so it often feels like I am responsible for thinking of ways we can best relate to one another from our different lifestyles.

I’ve let it go.

It feels great to be realigned with people that I can identify with – both in person and in the blog world where I have connected with many fellow spinsters who chase the cursor across the screen with similar thoughts to my own. It’s nice to know that I’m not the only one who feels like giving our society a big middle finger for continuing to promote celebrations only for women who have married or are having children.

Sometimes I feel guilty maintaining a blog about being a spinster while I’ve begun to enjoy a more serious relationship that is helping to carry me further away from my anger and bitterness and back into a place where I am happy and feel whole.
But being a spinster, for me, was never about the act of being in a relationship or not. It’s about married versus unmarried, traditional versus unconventional. It’s about women following their hearts and passions into places that make sense to them rather than to society. It’s about celebrating successes and milestones in the context of every woman’s life – not just the ones who are becoming a “Mrs” or a mom.

One year ago I was all too aware of what a let-down I was to society. Barraged by the “you’re still young” comments and patted on the back with the “maybe next times,” and ignored by some of the people I thought I was close to as my “ almost married” life started to unravel.

Today my body aches from starting back up with strength training. It is the only pain I am aware of at the moment. There is a peace inside of me that has been absent for a long time.

My weekends are packed with plans to visit friends, see museums, try new restaurants and explore new places with my boyfriend. I don’t have to time worry about what I “should” be doing.

As days go by, my life continues to be full in so many ways and things aren’t as bad as they once seemed, and I’m not crazy because of how I choose to live my life. As for the namesake of this post, I will leave you with one of my favorite quotes:

Was I ever crazy? Maybe. Or maybe life is... Crazy isn't being broken or swallowing a dark secret. It's you or me amplified.

-Girl, Interrupted

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Walk a Mile (or 70.3) In My Shoes

I wanted to write a post that departs a bit from the “spinster” theme, lest you think that I spend all of my time complaining about society and singles.

Recently I completed my racing season with one of my greatest athletic accomplishments to date and it was a total surprise. Despite a really rocky season with tough training and sub-par finishing times in all of my runs, I improved my performance at the Musselman half Ironman race by 15 minutes. The Musselman totals 70.3 miles – 1.2 miles swimming, 56 miles biking, and 13.1 miles running. I’ve done this race twice before.

In 2006 it was the longest triathlon I’d ever completed in 6 hours and 20 minutes. The following year I shaved 12 minutes off that time finishing in 6 hours and 8 minutes. In 2008 I didn’t do the Musselman because I did the full Ironman race in Lake Placid (2.4 miles swimming, 112 miles biking, 26.2 miles running). This year I decided that in lieu of doing another Ironman I would instead try to break 6 hours in the half Ironman. It was a goal that I was excited about in January when my training began, but I came to loathe in June when I realized that I just wasn’t running well and many of my usual races were completed in disappointingly slow times.

During the 5 hours and 53 minutes that I was on the course at Musselman last month, many things came and went in my mind. Yes, getting a new personal best in a race is awesome – but that isn’t what made it one of my best race experiences. Anyone who knows me well has heard me “metaphorize” training as a template for life in general. It is important to set goals, outline a path to those goals and then pull from your experience in the world to overcome obstacles down that path. Every goal you set and achieve gives you the experience to reach a little further than you did before. There is no easy way to an Ironman finish line – just like there is no easy way to most things sought in life.

And nothing happens overnight.
In middle school I was unable to do the mile test in gym class (you had to be able to run a mile on the track in 12 minutes). So who would have thought that I would end up here?

A runner. A triathlete. A spinning instructor. An Ironman finisher.

Goals are set and accomplished, paving the way for new goals thereafter. They have been scattered along my path in life like a trail of breadcrumbs continuing to lead me to new and exciting places. I learn something new about myself in every race.

Here is what the last 70.3 miles taught me.

Rely on Your Weaknesses, Not Just Your Strengths
Most people approach the sport of triathlon with a dominant “strength.” Many were cyclists or runners before they were triathletes, and while they become proficient at all three disciplines of the sport, they rely on their dominant skill set for the best possible time. For me this has always been running.

My game plan for a triathlon is to be comfortable during the swim and get through it at a moderate pace. On the bike I like to go right to the edge of being aggressive – sometimes crossing the line and hammering it for a few miles, but always backing off the pace to conserve my legs for the run. Having gone from being a sprinter, to a half-miler, to a sub 22-minute 5K runner to a finisher of several marathons, I am used to running while miserable and I’ve always relied on that ability to make up time in my races.

Sunday’s race derailed from my usual game plan. As I stood waist-deep in the water before the air horn sounded to begin the swim, I didn’t think too much about what I wanted out of the day. My goal of finishing in 6 hours seemed really out of the question given how lousy I’d been running for the past few months. I decided to get through each mile feeling comfortable and having fun. If I wasn’t going to get any personal records that day, why not just enjoy myself?

Midway through the swim, I realized that I was doing pretty well. I wasn’t getting tired and I was with a small pack of swimmers in my age group that had caught up to some of the straggling swimmers from the wave that started before us (four minutes earlier). By the time I got out of the water and through Transition 1 (where you go from the swim part of the race to the bike part), I was clipped in my pedals with only 41 minutes on the clock. I recalled my last swim time in this race to be 50 minutes, so I was immediately aware that I was already competing against my previous best times.

This presented a new mindset about the day’s events. I wasn’t anticipating to feel this good, despite how much my swimming had improved this season. Now on the bike, I knew I would feel good for the whole 56 miles because many of my longer training rides were longer than 50 miles and I always felt great the whole time and afterward. None of that changed the fact that my running still sucked – I hadn’t even gotten under an 8-minute mile until very late in the season and I barely count it since the average was something like 7:54 minutes-per-mile.

I had a decision to make. Did I want to continue on with my “joy ride” sense of the morning or did I want to try and make something out of this race? I rationalized that the run was going to be tough for me no matter if I got off the bike with tired legs or fresh legs. I‘ve shown up to plenty of races this year feeling hydrated, zippy and ready to move only to find myself falling apart at paces faster than 9-minutes-per-mile, so there was no way I could make something out of the running leg of this race. Unable to resist the urge to find some success in the morning, I decided that since the swim was over with and a strong run was out of the question, it was go-time on the bike.

I’d only ridden about 6 miles when I made the executive decision to “hammer” the entire bike course with absolutely no worries for what my legs would be feeling like when I got off. For the next 50 miles I kept myself in the aero position, got in the big chain ring and pummeled the road with a cadence that I’d never dared to whip out at a race before. I ended up with a bike time of 3:04 hours and an average speed of 18.3 MPH – definitely one of my best bike legs to date.

When I dismounted to head into Transition 2 (where you go from the bike part of the race to the run), I expected to feel shooting pains through my quads, but there was nothing. I racked my bike and got into my sneakers inside of two minutes and was on my way to the run – just 13.1 miles to go before I could call it a day.

Ultimately, the decision to pursue something with what I would normally consider one of my “weaker” abilities would end up being the reason I was able to meet my goal of breaking 6 hours in this race. If my season had been going the way it normally does, with strong running and fast mile splits throughout the spring, I never would have pushed myself that way on the bike. Now I know that I’m capable of pushing in both areas and that will help me to improve even more in years to come.

My “weakness” provided me with an opportunity, and now I’ll rely on the bike again to lop even more time off this race.

Build Your Mental Arsenal
I began the run with only one thing on my mind: MUST pee. Priority one was getting into the port-a-potty located just after the first mile on the course. Luckily I was in and out and burned away only a minute or two with the nonsense of going to the bathroom.

I was surprised to feel “fresh” on the run after riding aggressively on the bike. Even so, I decided not to make any calculations about a possible run pace yet and to just run however I felt most comfortable. I’ve been fooled by seemingly fresh legs before in long-course races and I wasn’t about to tempt fate by actively pushing the limits of my hamstrings with 10 miles to go.
It was still early.

While I was running, I thought of past race experiences that challenged me to a level of near-quit status. Certainly the Ironman from the previous year came to mind – where I sobbed in Transition 1 as I carefully extracted my numb foot from a wet Pearl Izumi bike shoe and guided it dutifully into the running sneaker.

“I can’t even stand up without pain in my legs – how am I supposed to finish a marathon now?” I remember saying through tears to the volunteer who helped me.

I recall thinking about my whole “I know how to run miserable” mantra and decided that at the very least, I owed it to myself and my $525 registration fee to get out there and try one mile before quitting Ironman. Inexplicably, a second wind came (more like a 19th wind, really) and I felt great for the first 13 miles. The second 13 miles were another story...but I made it to the finish!

There were many other times when I’ve suffered in races, and I let those struggles flash through my mind like a sort of film strip of my athletic "perseverance" as I was about to die with each stride forward.

I recalled images of vomit at the finish line during 800 repeats in college. An image of my own pee running down my leg because I was in too much pain to stop and squat during the run for my first ever Musselman. Flash to the image of my left hamstring during the New York City Marathon in 2005 – with two miles to go to the finish, I recall my leg slowly seizing up into a deep, painful cramp. I picture the muscle tightening like an angry fist beneath the surface of my skin doing everything it can to slow my run to a jog, my jog to a walk, my walk to a DNF (that stands for “Did Not Finish” and in the athlete world it’s akin to Harry Potter saying “Lord Voldemort” at Hogwarts).

But I never quit – not after I puked on the track, or peed on my own leg, or willed my gimpy leg to give me just two more miles through whispered F-bombs in Central Park. Not after 112 wet and chilling miles on my bike with numb feet.

These experiences are my “mental arsenal” and they are probably more important for a successful race than any tempo run, time trial or swim drill out there. If you train properly for a race, then you already know you’re showing up to the starting line with the physical fitness for a good performance. Training, rest, nutrition – these are all essential for success. But without a focused mind and a good attitude, you won’t complete the mission.

Think of it this way…You can have the best recipe for bread on the planet – but if you don’t add the yeast, it won’t rise. You’re left with a bowl of well-intentioned ingredients that can’t quite synchronize to bring you “bread.” Your mental arsenal is like yeast. When you know where you’ve been and what you’re capable of, you can rise to the occasion no matter how demanding the occasion may be.

I tapped into this mental arsenal in the last few miles of the Musselman this summer. I was struggling with only three miles to go and was definitely on track to break 6 hours if I could maintain my efforts just…a…little…longer. As anyone who does long-course races will tell you, “just a little longer” seems like time that is measured out in days rather than minutes. When the body starts to deplete and fatigue, the mind is the only thing that will move it forward. I owe my new PR in the Musselman to my mental arsenal, no doubt about it.

Stick to the Plan

The first few miles of the race I was in it to have fun – no worries about anything except for finishing. By the time I was five miles away from the finish line, not only was I sure I would break 6 hours, but I started to get a little arrogant in thinking that I could even run aggressively and pick off some of the women in my age group. (Our ages are marked on the back of our legs so you can tell who is in your age group when you’re on the course).

Around mile 9, a woman passed me with a 34 on her calf. Her stride wasn’t much faster than mine and I could have kept up with her for a while. My usual plan of attack on the run is to run next to someone and match their stride with the smallest little lead – just enough for them to keep up with me and consider pushing past me, but not too much to make them think I won’t let it happen. After a few miles, the person either has to decide to move ahead of you and take a clear lead, or they fall behind you because you’ve drained them of their spirit. It’s rare that they will stay close to you for too long because it starts to feel like an invasion of personal space that needs to be dealt with.

Since I still had four miles to go, I hung back and let the woman pass me. My reasoning was that I was definitely on track to break 6 hours, which was the original goal. I knew that my time wasn’t good enough to place me in the Top 3 of my age group, so picking off women in my age group at this point would have only been for my ego. Risking my possible sub-six-hour time for the momentary thrill of moving up in the age-group rankings seemed like a dumb idea. I had to remember what this race was supposed to be about and be thankful that my body was cooperating with me.

I was tested again in the very last mile of the race – a mile that I cobbled together with the very scraps of my soul as I mustered the strength to move my legs forward. I was really feeling depleted and beaten up by then. Another women passed me with a hefty kick. As she moved ahead of me I read the black marker on her calf – 31. She continued to lengthen the gap between us. It was only about 800 meters from her to the finish line. On a better day I could have trashed her with an all-out sprint to the finish, something I’m normally strong enough to activate in the last two miles of a race. But on this day I knew better than to tempt fate. As she whooshed by, I felt my body naturally pick up the pace to match her speed and my right quad immediately responded with a jolt of nerves that said, “Um, that’s not happening today.”

I took this as a sign that I was smart to stick to my plan way back at mile 9, and that if I had decided to start editing my goals at that point, I would have probably missed the opportunity to finish under 6 hours (pushing my pace to pass people and keep them behind me would have resulted in my having to walk the last few miles of the race, sabotaging the pace I needed to complete the run on time).

So what does this all mean out of the water, off the bike and away from the running shoes?

To me, it comes down to the simple adage, “live and learn.”

If I wasn’t forced to try things differently in this race, I don’t know that I would have willingly pushed it on the bike or ignored my urge to pass people on the run.

The experience has inspired me to play with my strategies and abilities in future races to see what comes of it. And true to my aforementioned metaphor, I’m planning to apply these same principals to my life off the race course, too. Call it “Transition 3” – where you go from the “live” part of the race, to the “learn” part of life.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Elephant in the Room, in the Running Shoes

The other night I was at the gym waiting with a group of people outside of the spinning room to teach a class. A couple of us were talking about a 15K race that happened over the weekend, comparing notes on the course and how we did. A guy overheard our conversation and decided to join in, since he too was a runner. He glanced at me in my spinning outfit – a black tank and shorts that did nothing to conceal my collection of tan lines (more like faded sunburn lines), and chuckled as he proclaimed, “Well obviously you’ve been outside training, you have the lines to prove it!” I smiled, about to politely excuse myself from the conversation to prepare for class, when he began to say something else.

“You know, it’s nice to see a runner like you that isn’t all long and lean. You always see those tall thin runners and then there’s you.”

From the look on his face I could tell that he meant this to be complimentary, and it was in its own way, but his horribly dysfunctional delivery resulted in some degree of “offended” on my part.

“Yes…I’m certainly no gazelle gliding miles upon miles over the land with ease.” I replied. As I heard myself saying this, I simultaneously recalled all of the times that my father has said that I’m “scrappy” in reference to the fact that I am 5’3” and 138 pounds of muscle. I may not be svelte, but I don’t show up to races to look pretty. I show up to kick some ass. Now I was feeling like I wanted to kick this guy’s ass. He would get his when class began.

I didn’t think the conversation could get much worse, but it did.

“So you’re married?” The guy asked.
“No, no…not me,” I said.

“Really? I could have sworn that you were,” he looked off in the distance, squinting his eyes while trying to concentrate on how he knew this.

I thought that maybe he was confused because I was engaged before and he may not have heard through the grapevine that the wedding was called off. Even though the class I was teaching that night was not my own, the gym is a small place where news travels fast and this had happened more than a year ago.

“Well, I was engaged but we called the wedding off.” I told him. He looked at me, still confused that his intel was wrong.
“Wow, well I just assumed that you were married and had children,” he replied.

I paused on that statement, unsure what he meant by it. Just a few weeks ago I had been carded at a convenience store while purchasing a case of Corona. When I showed the woman my ID, she gasped in shock to learn that I was 30. Her and her son could have sworn I was just 19 and I was asked to show alternate forms of ID to prove them wrong. Now I was standing in front of a guy that must have assumed that I was “at that age” that I should be married with children, despite the fact that all of my fingers were bare and nothing about me says “maternal.”

“No, no children here. I’m only 30!” I said this as if everyone knows that 30 is still young and there was plenty of time to have children if that’s what I wanted one day, but I forgot that I was in upstate New York where it seems that many women want to be done having children by 30.

I could see from the man’s face that my response was confusing him, which made sense since he mentioned he had two teen-aged daughters and I would guess that he himself was in his early 40s. By my calculations, he probably started making a family in his early 20s. In my early 20s I was living in Manhattan and unknowingly dating an attractive Irish lad from the IRA. Ah, the good days.

Deciding to add an element of humor to our dialogue, which was clearly becoming awkward, I offered my sentiments on myself as a mom.

“I think I’m much too selfish to have children right now. I have a lot of things I want to do before I have to devote my time to raising kids.” I laughed as I said this, batting my hand lightly on his shoulder as I tried to lighten the mood.

“Yes, well, it’s good that you have things you like, you know…” He trailed off with his words, but his facial expression and tone said the rest. This guy seemed to be speaking with me as if I were some candidate for the Make a Wish Foundation, and soon my opportunity to be a mom would wither up and die with my 30-year-old ovaries – but no matter, even if I could never be a mom, I would have plenty of time to do crossword puzzles and shoe shop.

“I’ll be an aunt soon,” I said.

I have no idea why I said that, but I think that some part of me felt like I had to prove to this guy that I was cognizant of the circle of life – that I was human and capable of showing some enthusiasm for babies and birth despite the fact that I was not yet experiencing these things with my own body.

One of the things I like to do to remind myself that I still have time to be a mom is read US Weekly and learn about the celebrities that are pregnant. They always put the person’s age in parenthesis after their name and lately that age has been well over 30 – moms that are 35, or even 38! The shame.

On that note, we started to walk into the spinning room and I went to set up my bike and prep the music for class. The conversation left me feeling confused and angry. How did any of that even come up? It was like a “your life sucks” bomb was being dropped on me from out of nowhere. What’s worse is that I had arrived to the gym feeling really great. I got home from work and was able to start laundry, vacuum, dust, take the garbage out, and figure out what I’d make for dinner later on all within an hour. Who was this guy to come in and dilute my “multi-tasking” high?

Fueled by irritation, I punished the class with challenging cadences and frequent increases in resistance, favoring a drill sergeant interpretation of each track over my usual motivational tone. My legs were sore from the race I completed the day before, but I needed to work hard as my soul was sore from yet another conversation about my shortcomings as a 30-year-old woman. The self-pity was short-lived because the exercise high always trumps all and by the end of the workout I was relaxed and feeling very good. The lactic acid from Sunday’s 15K left my legs and I was easily hammering through each song on my workout mix. Everyone was energized and responding well to my coaching, and the guy that was talking to me in the hallway was barely reaching pace in the last 20 minutes of the workout.

“I’ll show you long and lean,” I thought to myself as sweat coursed over my brow, through my eyes, around my nose and over my lips like white-water rapids.

We hit the last song for cool down and proceeded to the floor for stretching. By then, I had totally separated myself from the earlier conversation in the hallway. As class came to an end, I thanked everyone for coming and started to pack up my things to leave. My mood skyrocketed when I remembered that I’d completed all of my chores before getting to the gym so all that was required of me when I got home was the consumption of a cold glass of wine and hitting “play” on my DVR to watch “So You Think You Can Dance.”

In my peripheral vision I saw the man come toward me.

He wrapped his towel around his neck and stood over me as I jammed my water bottle into my gym bag.

“I was thinking…I hope I didn’t offend you before when we were talking, I didn’t mean to say that you were overweight or anything…” he seemed genuinely concerned. “Obviously you are in great shape and I didn’t mean for it to sound like you should be skinny to be a good runner.”

I knew his intention was never to offend, and he didn’t realize that my issues with the conversation had more to do with his reactions to my being single and childless at 30, than with my ability to run while carrying a few extra pounds. So I gave him the reaction he needed to feel better about it all.

“Are you kidding me? Don’t worry about a thing – I was flattered by what you said!” I plastered the most gracious smile on my face that you’ve ever seen. It was as if someone had just mistaken me for a movie star (albeit a sweaty one).

“Really, it was such a nice thing to hear! Who wants to be long and lean?” I continued on for full effect, shrugging my shoulders at the very idea of having zero body fat to worry about.

While there was a part of me that was slightly taken aback by the notion that I am somehow not a real runner because I am not tall and skinny, that was never the part of the conversation that pushed my buttons. What really got to me was the idea that I’m somehow not a real woman without a husband and a baby and that this guy didn’t even realize that his comments conveyed that loud and clear. It’s like the elephant in the room, in the sneakers. I’m this obviously present woman living my life the way I want to. I’m not committed to a marriage; I’m not responsible for children. I’m not what you’d expect a marathon-running, Ironman-finishing woman to look like, but I’m not what you’d expect in many areas. And why should I be?