Friday, April 06, 2007

Don’t Cry Over Spilt Coffee

It’s been a rough week.

Winter has returned to Chicagoland with blustery winds and chilly temperatures. Today’s high – a crisp 32 degrees with wind chills in the low 20’s. For Easter Sunday, there is a chance of snow.

For triathletes that have been trapped in their basement riding or running atop a treadmill for the better part of the past six months, this is not what we would like to see. We want to be free – we want to run without 10 lbs of gear and ride with both wheels rolling. We want to test a winter’s worth of strength training, gear grinding, and indoor run intervals.

But not yet. Instead, all week we’ve lugged out our balaclavas, tights, and toe warmers to brave the un-April like elements.

For most of the winter, this was ok. I was mentally tough, pushing through it, thinking that every obstacle was making me tougher, stronger, harder to beat. I had been thinking and feeling that way since November.

But April isn’t supposed to be like this. It’s not that physically we need a break, it’s just that mentally we're on the edge. Trust me, I’ve been talking to some of the nation’s top triathletes that live in this area – SOME IN MY OWN HOME – and we’re all feeling the same thing. We are weary of the winter, we are ready to be warm. We are ready to let it all out.

This morning, I woke up dreading the day before me. Dreading work, dreading the biting wind, dreading the duathlon brick that faced me on my schedule.

I stood in the bathroom after my shower in silent protest of the day ahead, grumpy and punchy about what seemed like a to-do list of things I most certainly did not want to do.

Today is the day, I thought to myself, today I will crack. It’s been a long time coming. It’s been a long winter of solid training and sucking it up. But today, April 6th, today would be the day. And someone was going to hear about it.

I turned to the obvious – my husband.

I rattled on and on about being in a foul mood – more so than usual. I complained about the weather, about the workout, about work, I may have even said some unkind words about coffee who has always been much more than my fair-weather friend.

And as I sat bitching and moaning in my own world of whiny uselessness, I looked over to see Chris laying on the made bed, curled in a fetal position, and looking my way.

“What’s your story?” I asked, surprising myself that I had stepped out of my own selfish world of pity and dismay to even recognize that he was still in the room.


“My knee hurts,” he said. Say no more, I thought. It’s April 6th, the day is dreary, it’s cold, it’s Friday, and neither one of us wanted to do a damn thing today. Certainly not a duathlon brick, not now, not later, maybe not even ever. His knee hurt, my left leg hurt, we were both in what seemed like a world of physical, mental, emotional pain. It was just one of those days.

After a few more minutes of bitching and moaning in perfect pitiful symphony, we decided to do the one thing that would clear it right up – coffee.

We drove to Caribou, past the construction that has completely enveloped a 1 mile radius around our house. Everything is surrounded by orange barricades and wooden horses, flashing lights, a real traffic mess. Sometimes I feel trapped by my life, days like this I am literally trapped in my life and the barricades, lights, and trucks are living proof.

But at least I had my husband in tow and at least we were going for coffee. We arrived at Caribou and quickly ordered 16 ounces of please dear god perk and pick me up NOW.

I went to pour cream in my coffee when the unthinkable, undesirable, unimaginable happened – my glove – MY FLEECE GLOVE THAT I WAS WEARING IN APRIL – caught on the edge of the cup and it teetered and tilted until several ounces came splashing overboard, all over my gloves, on to the counter, and spilling on to my jeans.

“That did not just happen,” I said, looking down at my once-clean, now-soiled jeans.

“It did just happen,” Chris confirmed, “are you going to cry?” he asked. He may have asked this as a joke, or he may have been quite serious at this point because after all it had been one of those mornings where nothing seemed to be going my way and everything was leaving me on the edge of explosive tears.

I felt like I was living in a bad Shel Silverstein poem, might as well have been standing in my bathrobe with hair disheveled, a smirky frown, a gash, a rash, and purple bumps. There I was little Peggy Ann McKay and I did not want to go to school today, or work, or work out. All I wanted to do was drink my coffee but even that wasn’t going right today.


“No,” I said, “no, I’m not going to cry, I’m going to get another cup.” And that’s what I did, I got another cup and then enjoyed what was left of my Guatemalan cup of joy.

It didn’t bring much joy, instead it just made me jittery before work. That’s what I get for selecting the light roast. When I got to work, I was a little more than wound up and in no mood to do any work today.

“I’m in a foul mood and I don’t want to go to Wal-Mart,” I announced to my co-worker as I passed by her office. She giggled and gave me a polite “good to know”.

I sat down and immediately wrote an e-mail to my coach. It may have contained some desperate cries for help, some self-consumed oh-pity-me statements, some confessions of feeling guilt for feeling so bad, feeling like I was giving up, feeling like I was losing all of my mental toughness in one foul Friday. It had nothing to do with her, and everything to do with me. It was just one of those days.

Like any good coach, like any true athlete herself, she acknowledged my feelings, admitted her own, and then gave me permission to feel this way. That’s all I wanted, permission to feel like a failure, a loaf, a loser for one day. I was living the I-want-to-be-a-world-champion-dream for so many months now that I just needed one day to DNF in my mind. Heck, I didn’t even want to make it to DNF. I just wanted permission to DNS and call it a day.

Later on, I went home to eat lunch. And when I was done, I decided I should probably go get the mail since yesterday I deemed it too cold to get the mail. Today was no better but if I didn’t get the mail it would probably start busting out of our mailbox.


At the bottom of the pile of letters, bills, and catalogues, I noticed the new issue of Triathlete magazine. I returned inside and decided to take the time for a quick flip through.

And in the middle of the magazine, an advertisement caught my eye. It was a picture of Bella Comerford, Samantha McGlone, and Torbjorn Sindalle. All were riding their bikes, and all had looks, grimaces of hard work, pain, and passion. Mouths were gritting, bodies were locked in position, eyes were furrowed and looking straight ahead.


I noticed the word champion in the ad, and suddenly I felt something. It was the desire to strive for that, it was the desire to get on top of my bike and pedal like hell towards a goal no matter how far away it seemed, no many how many more wintry days were ahead.

I closed the magazine, and thought to myself that after work, tonight, I would do my duathlon brick. Because these are the days that count. These are the workouts that I will remember – not the ones that go good but the ones that start out bad but end up better. Better because I did them, and proved to myself that even on a day when I wanted do nothing but cry over my split coffee, I could make something good out of it and push on towards my goals.

1 comment:

Bill said...

Amen.

The change from summer back to winter really took a mental toll. What was a balmy day just two months ago is miserable today.

But keeping the end goal in mind, knowing that whatever we deal with today means that we can deal with whatever race day throws at us.

But it doesn't mean I enjoyed seeing the flurries on my gloves as I bent over on the side of the road, in the blustery 25mph wind, and tried to figure out why the battery in my foot pod decided to die right then and there.

At least the pool was warm...