Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Perked Off

If I were king, I’d create a coffee shop. A coffee shop where you’d have to be 18 to enter and at least 21 to drink the caffeinated beverages. No toddlers, no teenagers, no strollers. Coffee does not get well with children. And children should not be drinking coffee. NOTE: This will change when I have children. At that point, children will be permitted in coffee shops.

Coffee shop is also synonymous for the phrase “you should hear nothing but the sound of an occasional grinder.” It is a quiet meeting place for talking with friends and family. No blenders, no chatty teens, no crying babies. It is not a lunchroom. It is not playland. It is a sacred place where the most sacred of beverages of served. Please take it’s quietude and sanctity seriously.

I’d create a coffee shop with two checkout lanes; one for those ordering two or less HOT drinks only. The other lane would be for those ordering large drink orders, anything iced, anything frapped, anything covered in whipped cream, anything that comes in a plastic cup. In fact, when I’m king my coffee shop will no longer serve anything cold. It’s hot coffee only. You want a cold drink, go to Jamba Juice. Get your froo-froo frapped ass outta my hot coffee shop.

I’d create a coffee shop that had an indoor line only, no drive-thru. If the success of the coffee shop was built on the idea of an experience economy then people should be patient enough to experience that economy. And to do so would require getting out of your car and getting inside, INDOORS to the shop.

I’d make a coffee shop with a “pe” on the end because that makes it sound more sophisticed. So it’s a coffee shoppe, dammit.

There will be no straws. If I were king, I’d banish those who drink coffee through a straw. A few years ago I was visiting my brother in Seattle, mecca of all things caffeinated and brown, and to my dismay I found that most of Seattle drinks their coffee through a straw which is so fundamentally wrong that even as king I would not be able to explain it.

We would not serve tea. Especially iced tea. In fact, if you drink iced tea you would be automatically exiled to my Island of Misfit Toys.

There would be no sale of other items aside from those caffeinated. No CD’s, no stuffed bears, no books, no mugs, no soy milk, no sandwiches, no, no, no. It is a coffee shop. We sell coffee. You want a sandwich go to the sandwich shop. You want a CD, go to the CD shop. You get the point.

In my shop, there are three sizes of cups – small, medium, and large. No poquito, intermezzo, and big gulp. Simple and consistent terminology within the English language; small, medium, large. There is no extra large. You don’t need that much coffee anyways. If you do, make it at home, you freak, and stay out of my shop.

In my shop, you could have any flavored coffee available to you on any given day. No more showing up at the coffee shop to find that the two flavors available are the two that most closely remind you of barfing or baking, flavors like Butter Cream, or Banana Nut. Banana Nut belongs in bread, not in coffee. Butter Cream is a type of frosting. Again, not appropriate for coffee.

I’m on the fence about hot chocolate. Chocolate has caffeine so it might be able to sneak by in my shop. But, no whipped cream. You are not allowed to fancify any drinks with whipped cream and sprinkles. That stuff is for the ice cream shop. It has nothing to do with coffee.

You would not be heckled to buy anything other than coffee in my coffee shop. You would not be asked if you want a doughnut, or muffin, or bagel. I did not come to the coffee shop for breakfast, I came for coffee.

The coffee shop would have a microwave because some people like their coffee really hot. No, adding hot water is not the same as heating it up. Caribou used to have a microwave, then they took it away. Bring the microwave back! Starbucks has never had a microwave. Put a microwave in! My shop would have one, maybe two microwaves. If you like hot coffee, you should be able to keep it hot for as long as it takes you to drink – which is sometimes two hours. And this is not a bad thing as coffee is meant to be savored, not slurped.

Half-caff, half-decaf? Not in my coffee shop. We’d call that half ass. Commit one way or another.

There would be no soy milk. Milk does not come from beans, it comes from cows. Soybeans are raised on farms just like cows so you might as well just drink cow milk. In fact, cows eat soy beans so you might as well just convince yourself that cow milk is soy milk and save yourself a few bucks.

Speaking of milk, we would only serve skim milk because – little known coffee secret that those of us who have worked in coffee shops know – skim milk makes the best lattes. And you don’t need all that fat anyways.

If you do like your drinks made with fatty fatty four by four can’t fit through the bathroom door whole milk, then we’ll call that drink the Fat Boy and make it with whole cream instead. Problem solved. And if your conscience can bear ordering a drink like that, then good for you.

If you want something sugar-free do not come to my coffee shop. We will have Splenda only because everything might just give lab rats cancer and they haven’t done enough research yet on Splenda so let’s just say ignorance is bliss and being sugar free is Splend - id.

Lastly, my shop would have a rewards card because all coffee drinkers should be rewarded for drinking coffee. For every 3, you get 1 free. At least once a week everyone should have the opportunity to enjoy free coffee.

If I were king, the world would be a much happier, more caffeinated place starting with coffee shops that are quiet, functional, entirely focused on serving coffee.

And if you don't like that, then perk off!

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

On The Clock

It is getting to the point where Ironman training has nearly consumed my capacity for intelligent thought or productivity at the workplace.

It was Monday morning. The day before I had ran 20 miles at a particularly speedy pace followed by a 3 hour ride at a moderate pace, of course mostly into a northwest headwind. I was feeling a little ragged.

I arrived at work knowing I could, would, had to pull it off. But it wouldn’t be easy. There’s only so many days you can close your door in an open-door organization before people start talking outside of your door, saying that they know you are in there and you can only hide for so long.

Settling into my office chair, a co-worker immediately popped into my office.

“You look tired,” he said.

I laughed and shook my head. Without a word from me, he said “Oh yeah, you’re getting close to that Hawaii thing.”

I told him yes, and yesterday I had ran 20 miles in preparation for that Hawaii thing. To which he replied, “So are you ever going to run the full 26.2 before the race?”

Funny the things that non-athletes will ask us athletes. I looked back at him. “No thanks, I’ll stick with my 20 and save the last 6.2 miles for a surprise on race day.” I said.

“Hang in there,” he said. I assume he meant that I should try to hang on to my brain in my head before it fell out empty on the floor.

For the next few hours, I tried to put together some semblance of intelligent thought at work, but got no further then writing an action song about turkeys for a class called Gobble Gobble for two year olds consisting of lyrics like “Hey Mr. Turkey, where have you been? Open the barn door and come on in!”

Clearly I had reached my intellectual capacity for the day and the better half of my brain was knocking on the barn door, along with the turkeys, and finding nobody home.

So, I did what any other empty and unproductive person would do. I went to Wal-Mart.

Honestly, I have nothing against Wal-Mart or people that shop there. I just have something against the one thousand bad experiences I have had in Wal-Mart. No matter when I go or what I’m looking for, my experiences have been marred by the fact that (1) Wal-Mart is always crowded, further complicated by the fact that (2) The aisles in Wal-Mart are about 3 feet wide, which is not a good place to be if you are surrounded by (3) Shopping carts filled with screaming children being pushed by their could care less mothers trying to make their way around (4) Unusually high numbers of people over age 75 shuffling around in sweatsuits and carrying oversized purses.

Unavoidably, I spend more than my preferred share of time at Wal-Mart. At least once a week, I am forced to shop at Wal-Mart for assorted work items. It sounds like a dream come true - being forced to shop at store, on work time, with someone else’s credit card. But when the store is Wal-Mart, it ain’t no dream. It’s pure unadulterated nightmare material.

Today I decided to go to Wal-Mart because it was the closest store to my workplace, because I needed to be distracted by something that didn’t require a lot of thinking, and because I needed a few things.

I walked into the doors and was immediately greeted by the typical Wal-Mart fanfare, some grumpy guy at the door who supposedly greets you and gives you a cart but instead says and does nothing.

Snarling at the greeter, I grabbed my own cart and wheeled away. Of course within 30 seconds, I realized I had grabbed the gimpy cart. Of the 100 carts in front of me, I choose the one with the front left wheel that continually veers right and requires my stronghold grip to steer it straight. I keep this up for another minute before I realize that my upper body is already exhausted from working out and this cart-induced workout was not the shopping fun I was looking for.

Cruising through the aisles, I weave in, out, and around the better part of DuPage County’s aged population. For some reason, old people love Wal-Mart. It’s a connection I have not yet figured out, but I’ve been watching. I’ve been studying what they put in their carts, and listening in on their conversations and I have one conclusion. I can’t help but think they have come to Wal-Mart because the marketing machine has convinced them that it is cheap.

But I know better. Case and point – the tampon selection. I notice that a box of 40 Tampax is $6.97 at Wal-Mart. For crying out loud, we’re talking 17 cents a plug. I’m willing to pay 10 cents and not a penny more. But notice that something else you need far less often is dirt cheap at Wal-Mart, like those little saucers you put under your houseplants to keep them from leaking. Like you need a box of 40 of those every month. Lure me in with what sounds like cheap deals only to realize I don’t need your cheap stuff but I do need every other item for daily life that you have marked up. I will not give in to this type of evil consumer trickery. Trickery, I tell you. Older people are less likely to pick up on this type of trickery. But us young folk – you can’t pull one past me. I’ll pass on your cotton plugs, Wal-Mart, and instead take my tampon shopping to Target, thank you.

Recently, they redesigned the local Wal-Mart. Everything is in a new place and I am completely lost in the reformatted format. I can’t find the detergent and the lotion has eluded me. Not only that but the fabric section has completely disappeared. Not that I needed fabric, but I wonder if this is yet another sociological sign that our modernized society has no room or time for the slower leisures in life, like sewing or quilting. For now, they’ve replaced that section with automotive goods. Yet another subliminal sociological message – from hand operated to automated. Wal-Mart is on to something here.

Rolling over to the shampoo aisle, I realize it is already jam-packed with about a million other carts. Determined to make my way in, I start pushing forward. And pushed right into grandma in shiny sweatsuit and silver hair. Oh, I dare you, I thought. Just try to get by me. It was the ultimate showdown on wheels and I was begging her to bring it on. Through my eyes, I was suggesting politely that she wait so I could get by because after all I had arrived at the aisle first and made my way in. If she wanted so bad to get out she could just throw it in reverse and roll out the other way. She wouldn’t budge. There was no getting by this woman, who’s years in age were outweighing my waning motivation to surge past her because I had left most my motivation somewhere on a path yesterday around mile 18. Score one for grandma.

Not sure how much more I could take, I made one more stop in the store in the basket aisle. I wanted a new basket. I didn’t need a new basket, I wanted it and on a day like this I was the child and this basket was the candy that I had to have. NOW. With basket in cart, I began to make my way towards the checkout line when my arms, weary with too many miles of resisting headwind and too many yards of pulling with paddles, gave out and my cart began to careen towards a woman in the seasonal aisle. I wanted to sound a warning, a cart out of control message to anyone within a 2 foot radius of my wily wheels, when all of a sudden I found myself helplessly slamming into this woman’s cart which bumped her body right into the display of tiny scarecrows on a stick. She looked at me from behind her glasses. She did not look pleased. I apologized for what surely came across as a very aggressive accident in aisle that shouted seasonal autumn happiness. I was out of place.

After checking out, I nearly blew a bicep muscle trying to steer the wayward cart through the parking lot. With bags safely in the back of my car, I locked myself into the front seat, sitting down exhausted. I thought Wal-Mart was supposed to be an easy, mindless trip. I felt worse than when I started. And there’s searing pain in my upper arms and a screaming pain in my head.

When I returned to work, my desk was where I left it and my work had not picked up and left. Back to song writing, and program managing, and phone answering, and trying to pull something productive and useful out of this tired mind. But alas, there’s less than 4 weeks to go until that Hawaii thing. And I’ll make it through. As long as I don’t take too many more trips to Wal-Mart.

Monday, September 25, 2006

This n' That

The Box Called X

I haven’t seen my husband in weeks. He’s been replaced by a look-a-like troll that spends his evenings below sea level playing X-Box. This happens to Chris from time to time. Days, weeks will go by when I don’t see him and only know he’s in the house because a faint light and the sound of machine gunning emanates from the basement. I don’t really mind. It’s his time, and, after all, he’s on workout break. I’m not that lucky, and I still have to fill my evenings with training and the rituals and requirements of daily life, like laundry, getting the mail, preparing meals - things that I’m not even sure would cross Chris’ mind if he were left to his own devices because it seems like the only device he’d find would be in the basement with forward, backward, shoot, kill buttons emblazoned with X-Box. Give it another week or so and he’ll be bored or will have beaten the game. Either way, I can’t help but think there must be some detriment to spending some much time below sea level. Is it like training at altitude. Will it work in reverse? Will his red blood cells actually get smaller, less capable of holding oxygen or forming intelligent thought? Only time will tell.

I Am A Survivor

The other night I called Comcast. It was Wednesday night, the only night I sit down to watch tv. So I sat down, I turned on the tv, and nothing. Blank. Empty. Flipping channels, through about all 10 that we have, and black staticky darkness filled the screen. How could this be? It’s Wednesday night, it’s Survivor rerun night on OLN, and we are getting down to the critical last days of Survivor Palau and I absolutely must know who gets voted off next and how. I sat on the couch in disbelief, turning the tv on and off, figuring that eventually I had to see something, anything. After 10 minutes of nothing, I got fired up and decided to call Comcast. And a recorded voice informed me that they were aware of an outage in my area. End of call. That did not reassure me. When would it come back on? How long would I have to wait? Where else could I go to get my fill? I kept busy with some housework, knowing that all of my island friends were busy scheming and plotting without my watchful eye. After another 10 minutes, I tried again and to my delight there they were, Katie, Gregg (why two “g”’s?), Jen, Tom, Ian. Oh, hello stranded island friends fighting for a million dollars, I thought. I’m back, I’m sorry I was late.

Fighting Fowl

Awhile ago, I was sitting around the kitchen table with my relatives when I noticed something on my future brother-in-law’s arm.

“Is that a chicken?” I asked, curiously pointing to the tattoo on his upper arm.

“No,” he said firmly, lifting up his sleeve to reveal what again looked like a chicken, “it’s a fighting cock.”

I looked at the closely at the tattoo, skeptical, wondering if there was an anatomical difference between a chicken and a….cock. After close inspection, I could not detect any discernible difference. Sure, it was tricky, with the cock wearing fightin’ clothes and all, but underneath them fightin’ clothes was a pure bred, white meat chicken.

“You mean a fighting chicken,” I said, pointing out to him that cock equals chicken no matter how you look at it.

“Fighting cock,” he threw back at me confidently, almost too confident for someone that has poultry tattooed on their arm.

“Fighting fowl,” I said, agreeing passive-aggressively to disagree. While I won’t admit it is a cock, I will admit that it is a type of fowl, just like a chicken.

Shish Ke-B.O.B.

Last Saturday was the annual conference of our monthly wine club. Bob and Brenda graciously offered to host a festive party at their house with wine, food, and lots of friends.

A few of us were upstairs when were heard someone screaming something about fire. A few minutes later, Bob emerged in the kitchen looking for an ice pack with a hole in his shirt and a spectacular story to tell.

Bob was talking with a woman he had never met before. Since it was his house, and he had a few drinks, of course he struck up a conversation. Apparently, after a few minutes, he started feeling hot.

“Let me ask you something,” Bob asked, turning around, “am I on fire?”

Indeed Bob was on fire. Inadvertently, he had leaned up against a table with a candle and his shirt had caught fire.

With Bob turned around, the woman was immediately prompted to start screaming, “Oh my god, you’re on fire! STOP, DROP, and ROLL! STOP, DROP, and ROLL!”

At that suggestion, Bob did stop, dropped, and rolled on his living room carpet, leaving a black singe mark in the spot where he put the flames out.

When he came upstairs, all that we saw was a surprised Bob and a large hole in the back of his shirt.

For Chris, Meredith, and I, this did not surprise us. After all, Bob was the guy who one year on Ragbrai backed over his bike with the van. So, setting himself on fire? You expect no less from a guy like Bob.

The rest of the night, after we determined that Bob was unscathed other than some red marks on his skin and after he changed his shirt, the group giggled about the incident and someone appropriately christened him Shish Ke-Bob for the rest of the party.

Geography 101

On Thursday night, I told Chris I signed up for next year’s Blackwater Eagleman 70.3.

Tentative, he asked, “Are you trying to steal my thunder?”

I couldn’t blame him. It was not the usual hot, hilly half-Ironman course that I preferred.

“I just figured if one of us was traveling to Maryland, we might as well both travel to Maryland,” I explained, logically.

“Maryland?” he asked, “What’s in Maryland?”

“The race,” I replied, a little confused.

“No, the race is in Ohio,” he asserted with confidence.

“No it’s not,” I answered, knowing that my geography skills were likely far more superior, “It’s in Columbia.”

“Yeah, Columbia, Ohio,” he stated.

“Columbus is in Ohio,” I explained. “Columbia is in Maryland.”

He paused. Complete silence.

“I was wondering what the big deal about the race was,” he commented. “I thought what’s the big deal about racing in Ohio? It’s only a day’s drive away.”

I quickly pointed out that indeed the big deal was that it was in Maryland, about a 12 hour drive away.

“Oh,” he said. This clearly added a whole new level to this race that he had not expected.

Feeling like he had not yet felt the full folly of his mistake, I added, “And since when could you find a brackish river within Ohio’s watersheds?”

He laughed at that one. In fact we both did. It was a silly mistake, and a funny mistake. It was one of those mistakes that made two people laugh and reminded us that we are all human after all.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

The Breaking Point

My coach keeps a blog. I like to read it because she too is going to Hawaii next month. It is good to share the misery, the pain, the insanity with someone that is also female, in their 30’s, balancing multiple roles in life. Of course, I don’t have 4 year-old twins or an assortment of coached clients but a full-time job and a husband (can we trade for the twins?) has to count for something.

One thing I've realized from my training is that sometimes Ironman training is great and sometimes it’s not so great. The great part is that it is always a challenge. And challenges are what most of us strive for and thrive on. Challenges push us to a higher levels, help us breakthrough old barriers, send us on route to achieve new goals. But while challenges can reveal the best of us, our fortitude, our commitment, our toughness, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that it can also reveal the worst of us. And that is why I felt comforted when I read these words on Jennifer’s blog:

“I just have to remember this sanity when I am laying on the path crying like a baby (yes, this was me on Monday!) because everything hurts: my head, my legs, my stomach, my sanity…and know that tomorrow will be another day.”

Raise your hand if you’ve been there, to that place where you are lying or standing on the path in a pool of your own tears. Oh, you have? Then you must be IM training. Because I am convinced that this is the fifth discipline you need to train for with IM’s (1, 2, and 3 being the swim, bike, run, 4 being nutrition, 5 being mental breakdowns, breakthroughs and other head cases that might happen).

Indeed I was there about two weeks ago doing a 2 hour and 45 minute run. About 2:30 into the run, I found myself crying and clutching my knees while vocalizing “I just want to be done” through my tears. In all of my years of running, I have never hit bottom that hard. But I pulled myself together, barely, and limped back to the car cruising along at probably a 9:00 pace licking the salt off my lips from the tears because at that point it tasted damn good.

This is the hidden side of Ironman training. The part that you might not expect or hear about. Of course you expect to physically hurt from the distance and training. But the personal, mental breakdowns – you think to yourself that will never happen to me. But it will. Because again, IM training reveals the best of you and the worst. You will find ugliness inside of yourself that you did not know existed. You thought you were strong. Obviously you qualified, so you are tough, you are talented. But you will find your weakness, you will find your breaking point. You will find yourself crying, you will find yourself doubting yourself. You will not know what to do with these feelings because you have probably never felt them before because after all you are tough, you are stoic, you make things happen, and you don’t give up. So when you are lying on a path or standing there crying you begin to think what the hell happened, when did you get so untough, and slow, and useless. The good news it that if you can let these breakdowns happen and pull through them with the thought, like Jennifer said, that tomorrow is another day, you will grow stronger from those breakdowns. You’ll remember them and know what to do if they happen again or happen during race day.

The bad news is that they will happen again. Case and point – yesterday on a 4 ½ hour ride into a 20 mph south headwind gusting over 30 mph at times. After doing muscle tension intervals pushing in my big ring into the wind, I was finally on my way home and treated to the most delightful headwind all the way back. 45 minutes out became almost an hour back and about 20 minutes from home, heading straight into the wind, after a man almost ran me over because apparently I took too long to clip in while crossing Route 56 and HE JUST COULD NOT WAIT, I found myself actually shouting I GET THE POINT – IT’S F-IN’ WINDY OUT TODAY. Wondering if mother nature would hear me or even care, I thought I would just drop her a note and an f-bomb, letting her know that there was no need to keep throwing the wind in my face over and over again to prove her point. I got the point, ok? Spinning 100 rpm’s in my small ring, sweaty from overdressing in leg warmers and long sleeves on a 67 degree day, exhausted from the early morning swim before the ride, chafed on my left ass cheek only because my shorts were for some reason riding up to the left that day, at mile 70 of the ride, riding through rocks along the shoulder of the road, ready to dismount and throw my bike into oncoming traffic, I. GOT. THE. POINT.

Do yourself a favor - expect these types of breakdowns before you take on IM training so that when it happens you know that it’s ok, it’s normal, it’s not a sign of your own weakness, or inability to do the race. I can’t help but think that one day, after the race is done, life will present me some challenge that seems impossible and and I will think back to all of these breaking moments and I’ll know exactly what to do.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The Secret of My Success

A large group of women from all over the country, of all age groups, stood waiting in the water before the USA Triathlon Halfmax Championship. The gun went off. I darted ahead to establish position. I find myself swimming in the front of the group where the women throw arms, pull feet, swipe goggles. Within the first 400 meters I have been swum over, de-goggled, and swatted. I tell myself to stay calm, that I have years of experience to pull me through this. Upon sighting, I see an arm coming at me like a blade that sweeps through and pulls away. I find a smooth, solo place, and settle into a rhythm. I tell myself to breathe and relax. I am swimming long, smooth, and small, reaching, rolling, pulling my way through the narrow tunnel that has opened it’s way in the water for me. The last 400 meters, I see the arch getting closer and I pick up the pace.

I am on the bike. Immediately we go up a steep hill and head out on to 5 miles of hills within Innsbrook. On a short out and back, I notice the lead woman about 3 minutes ahead of me. I also notice a train of powerful women charging full speed ahead less than a minute behind me. Today I would work. These women would not let up, they had set their sights on me as much as I had set my sights on winning this race. Their drive reminds me that wins are earned, never given. With that, I set out to earn what I have been wanting to win and work for all year.

A woman soon gains ground on me, passing me aggressively and taking control of the bike. Two women attack, holding an angry aggressive pace up and over the hills. I am breathing hard, redlining and my legs are resisting it with every pedal stroke. I have deviated from my plan and my head is scolding me, but I know that confidence in myself and my abilities tells me that I must rely on my experiences, past races, and training to make the best choices during the race and respond to the race as it unfolds.

Out of the resort, the tailwind sweeps me along. I know I can outrun the lead women if only I can keep them within sight. Like most races, I find myself riding mostly alone. My head begins to fill with discouraging thoughts, trying to convince me that the race was riding away from me with the wheels of the lead women. Each mile goes by and they become smaller and fainter in the distance. It takes a few miles to snap the sense back in myself, to negate the negative talk and thoughts. I remind myself to ride within myself, ride to my abilities. This is my race, my plan. I must be patient. I must be willing to wait. Carefully, I remind myself to react smart and race smart. I needed to race my own race.

Surprisingly, I catch back up to one woman before re-entering the resort for the second loop. I round the corner back onto the hilly section, with people shouting my name and someone shouts that the lead women are 1:40 ahead of me. I was patient and now hold the place right where I want to be. I know I can find that time back on the run. The race has come back under my control. At the turnaround, I see the lead women chasing. I resist the temptation to chase. I know I need to race my own race. Tick, tock. Time to wait. Be patient, I tell myself. I find my rhythm, relax, and enjoy the ride.

Back on the state roads, the winds have picked up substantially. A woman and I trade places back and forth, she in her small ring, me grinding my gears, knowing it would hurt, knowing it was hard but knowing it was the right thing for me to do in this race at this time. We ride past a field and I see her tossed to the side, gripping her handlebars. The wind gusts and blows me too. I am grateful for this hot, windy weather which reminds me that I am getting ready for Hawaii and it’s heat, headwinds, and long hills. I am encouraged at how strong I feel, slicing into the wind with confidence.

Entering transition, I know three strong women with the desire to win are ahead of me. I hit the run course, staying light on my feet into the field and up the steep grass hills. I quickly catch a woman. I am breathing so hard, there is so much force and fury pumping through my legs I can hardly acknowledge when she tells me the lead women are 4 minutes ahead.

I push the run hard. Wondering how Ironman legs would serve me on this day, I am pleased to find that my legs feel like rockets ready to ignite. The rest of me cannot keep up with my legs. I feel like I haven’t taken a breath, I have only gasped and wheezed. At a mile and half, a man tells me that I have it, that both women are right ahead of me. By mile 2, I have passed them both, gaining back the 4 minutes. The race has come back to me after 2 miles. But still we have 11 miles to go. Time to react, time to respond to the race. I decide to push the first loop hard. I trust I have the legs to do this. This is my extended track workout, my unabridged 800 meter repeat. Blow out the first lap and then hang on, just like all the times I have practiced on the track. It is a smart move, it is a tactical move, a move I can make because of confidence, because of my training, because I have taken risks like this in training to pull from for race day.

At the turnaround point, I have ran another 4 minutes in front of the women. My breathing has settled down, I am comfortable and confident that I can hold this pace. The hills are relentless. They are steeper than I remember and they bring me immediately up to redline pace. I recover the downhills, but they too are steep and painful and I find my legs getting ahead of myself.

I hit the halfway point at 44 minutes. I am blazing a faster pace than the flat, cool course of Pigman just weeks earlier. Returning back on to the windy, hilly course, I find over 6 minutes between myself and the other women. I know I can ease back. No one will run will outrun me by one minute faster per mile. Not on this course. I relax. It’s time to revel in this. It’s time to smile, to slow down, to take it all in. I feel good and tell myself I’m just finishing up a training run, like any other day, on any other course.

At that point, the race comes alive. I feel it’s energy from the hills, the heat, from the competition. I cheer on the other competitiors, I notice the volunteers, I see Mark Livesay handing out water, I realize that someone at each aid station knows my name, I see Matt taking pictures, I hear strangers shouting my name. In the last 2 miles, Matt tells me to take note of the signage on the last big hill. I wonder what he is talking about. As I climb the last hill, I realize someone has written “Small and Elf-Like” in chalk on the pavement. It makes me laugh.

Coming downhill into the finish line, I realize an entire year of work is in front of me and victory, on so many levels, is within my reach. I look down at my watch and realize I have finished in 4:40, a minute ahead of the amateur course record and a personal best time by 7 minutes. I put my arms up in victory as I cross the line and I grab my head inadvertently, a moment of not believing what has just happened, hiding from the moment, startled by my own success. Someone says in a motherly voice, “Elizabeth, great job, you won.” I don’t know who it was, but I still hear the voice in my head.

I walk away, put my hands on my face and begin to cry. Thoughts flood my mind, thoughts of the hard work behind me and the possibilities ahead of me. I am overwhelmed by this moment, by this moment where some kid from New York City, who is not from a family of athletes, who one day decided to step on to the cross country team in high school, who decided one day after college to have a new goal and try a triathlon, who breaststroked that first triathlon, who did her first duathlon on a mountain bike, who had a world of opportunity, love, and life open up to her from this sport, who was standing there years later a national champion.

I wonder how I arrived at this moment, with questions multiplying what feels like a mystery but in my head, and my heart I know the answers. It is no mystery. It is nothing magical, or monumental, or epic, or secret. It is simply with confidence and patience. Knowing that confidence is patience. Knowing that long course is about patience, about waiting, about having the patience and confidence to follow and trust your plan, a plan that you have prepared, practiced, and executed in training and racing, over and over again.

This is the secret to my success, this is the magic formula, the equation that balances out on both ends. Be confident, be prepared, be patient. And when the opportunity is right in front of you, let preparation and patience meet that opportunity as your confidence carries you through.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Smells Like Chewie's Breath

We’re sitting in the car, traveling south on I-55 towards St. Louis listening to a CD entitled Smells Like Chewie’s Breath. It’s the latest compilation of my favorite songs, a downloaded combination of guilty listening pleasures. As I burned the CD the other night, I asked Chris to suggest a title and immediately he came back with “Smells Like Chewie’s Breath”.

Perfect, I thought. Even better than the title he suggested for my last CD – Hula Pie. Which topped the title for the CD before that, The Halo-Halo Mix-Mix. All of these phrases obvious inside jokes entwined closely into the closeness of a family. With that in mind, a little background might be apropos for ‘smells like Chewie’s breath’….

Chewie is the Waterstraat’s Yorkshire Terrier. Weighing in at 4 lbs. these days, Chewie is small, furry, and feisty. He’s terribly loyal, overly friendly with a welcomed compliance, and housebroken to boot. And his story is classic, vintage, legendary lore in the family.

It was about 2 ½ years ago, when Chris and I were moving from our ghetto Lisle apartment to our semi-upscale Lisle townhome. In other words, we were movin’ on up. Though we were only moving one mile east, we recruited a team of friends and family members to assist. Bob and Brenda brought a big truck, the other Chris brought his strong back, Cousin Amy simply blessed us with her adorable cuteness, and even Megan arrived in usual fashionable couture style.

As we packed and moved boxes, someone suggested a coffee break. Coffee? Did someone say ‘coffee’? Unable to resist the suggestion of coffee, I quickly offered to make a run to Caribou for coffee all around with Cousin Amy and Meg-Meg in tow.

After picking up a few coffees, Megan made a suggestion, “let’s go over to the pet store to look at the puppies.” A reasonable request, we visited the store to take a look at puppies because after all, who doesn’t love a puppy? Megan browsed the cages, oohing and ahhing at all of the little puppies cute in their cages yipping and chewing on little toys. Of all the puppies, one attracted her eye. To the clerk, she pointed and said ‘that one’, asking to have him brought out. They led us into a puppy playpen of sorts, with a swinging door and some benches. Soon later, arrived a tiny Yorkshire Terrier, with brown and black matted fur, small enough to fit nicely into Megan’s hands as she squealed in cute delight. Cousin Amy and I looked at each other and had a seat. This could take awhile.

“What should we name him,” Megan said, clutching and petting Chewie, taking pretend ownership of him before putting the money down. And Chewie wasn’t cheap, mind you.

“How about Chewie,” I suggested. After all, his face looked like a miniature version of Chewbacca, Wookie extraordinaire, a name only to be given to the most revered of sidekicks capable of providing Wookie-like companionship and loyalty.

Cousin Amy and Megan looked at Chewie’s face and quickly agreed. Indeed he did look like a Wookie. And he was christened Chewie.

Somehow, an hour later, Megan was at the register, credit card in one hand, leash in another and a small Yorkie crated on the counter.

Perhaps we were drugged, perhaps we lost time, perhaps it was all the coffee, or perhaps we just knew better than to tell Megan ‘no’, but we returned to our apartment and friends with no coffee but a crate full of dog.

They didn’t understand the connection, the chain of events. How did coffee turn into a puppy? Cousin Amy and I shrugged. How were we to know? At least we got coffee out of the whole deal.

And that is the story of Chewie and how he came to be. It was only a short while before Megan realized that Chicago is no place to raise a puppy and shipped Chewie off to the safety of the suburbs into the caring cradle of her parent’s home. A few years later, Chewie lives as a faithful canine friend with a penchant for people food and an inclination to hiding under the couch while wearing a tiny collar with rhinestone letters spelling Chewie across his neck in case there’s ever a mistake of his name, or the fact that he is a true diva. Just no one tell him that he’s a boy, ok?

Despite his diva-like ways and frequent baths, wipings, and grooming, word on the streets is that Chewie still has pretty bad breath. Back to the story of the title to my latest CD. We were celebrating my mother-in-law’s birthday a few weeks ago at a fancy Italian restaurant. A duck appetizer arrived on the table and my other sister-in-law, the meat-lover she is, speedily forked and dug in to the duck. After a quick sample, her face grimaced, her mouth balked as she shouted “Ugh, it tastes like Chewie’s breath.” Not sure how or why Meredith knew the flavor of Chewie’s breath (perhaps that is another blog?), it was something totally classic, totally spur of the moment honest, and totally Meredith.

Apparently, the moment stuck with Chris, because as I asked for a title he drew up ‘smells like Chewie’s breath’.

And that is the story of how a CD came to be named it’s name. Of course, Chewie is more than a bundle of bad breath, but the CD title is the perfect phrase of four words that speak volumes about a family and their pipsqueak pooch.

To Chewie!

PS - Thoughts on HalfMax National Championship coming tomorrow!

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Follow the Red Rubber Road

I’ve been rounding the track since I was 15 years old. Track is truly a place where you find pain like no other, where you can dig so deep into yourself that you’re not sure you can ever climb out. It’s a place of pure surprise, pure pain. And if you expect and embrace this level of pain, you’ll come out of track stronger in your body and mind.

It’s been 1 month since my last track workout. These days, I only find myself there before a race for last minute sharpness, speed, and to remind myself that you can push to that level, you can push through that hurt, to gain the confidence that even at your most sickeningly speedy and redlined pace you can still make it across the line.

And last night as I pushed around the final turn of my first mile on the track, I noticed a welcome and friendly face standing by the fence – the perennial smile and bouncy blond hair of Leslie Curley.

Truth be told - I’ve been engaged in secret and covert training with Leslie Curley. And last night, I took her to my secret and sacred place of pain – the track.

The track was buzzing with runners. Trapped in endless sets of mile repeats, runners of all levels, abilities, and speed rounded their way around 400 meters. As darkness settled in with the night, their paces slowed, their breathing heightened, but they kept going. Something kept them going. And something made all of us choose this circular place of pain instead of our comfortable couches on this overcast night. The promise that running on this track, suffering through these laps, persevering through this pain would deliver us a faster, stronger, smarter runner unafraid of taking risks and testing ourselves.

Leslie hopped on the track and warmed up, smiling as she wound her way through the other runners and cheering me on as I finished my last two 800’s. A former collegiate track distance runner, I knew she was no stranger to the pain that can only be found in these red, rubberized 400 meter laps. It had just been awhile.

With reasonable paces to hit, she sailed through the first 1600 and two 800’s. Energetic, cheerful, focused, she made her way around each lap finishing each with a little huffing, a little puffing, and her upbeat happy smile.

As she went off for an easy jog before the last 800, I knew it was time to tell her to turn that smile upside down, shake things up a little. It was time to let the track do what it does best. It was time to let it get ugly.

She got ready to toe the line for the last 800. Smiling, she looked at me. I gave her the firmest directions I could find - go all out on the first 400, leave it all out there, make it hurt, make it ugly, blow up, let it all go. Chris, eager to get in on this commanding of pain, added, “and for the last 400, just barely hang on.”

This is completely opposite to the conventional way to run an 800. Common sense tells you to hold back, keep it under control for the first 400, focus on form then pick it up in the final lap.

But I never liked the common or conventional way of doing things. And, after all, this was the track. It is a place where you can, should, and will fall apart. So you might as well embrace it and let it happen. Fall apart. Breakdown. Trash your legs so bad on the first 400 that you think there is no conceivable way possible you can hold it, push it for another lap. And then go out and do it – surprise yourself, push through a new level, take it up a notch, teach your legs to take the pain and teach your head to tell them how.

A few years ago, I was listening to a friend describe their experience in training for a military position. He described the exercises they were put through in which they had to swim a distance while holding their breath. The catch was you couldn’t swim slow, and while holding your breath the lactic acid would build and build until your head felt like exploding in it’s own shaky pain. He referred to this level of effort as ‘seeing the wizard’, the point where you go so hard or hold your breath so long that you are nearly ready to either piss yourself or pass out.

In other words, I told Leslie to see the wizard.

On our command, Leslie took off. In the outside lane, Chris, myself, and Leslie’s husband, Jeff, stood watching. She bolted at the start. She literally flew off the line. Legs with knees high and pumping, her arms were like little pistons. She hit the halfway mark and remarkably maintained the same speed. Rounding the corner near us, I told her husband that it was about to ugly. She passed the 400 mark in stellar speed. Going out at a pace like that was not only risky but brutally painful on both lungs and the legs. As she buzzed by us, I quickly commented that she was going fast, damn fast, incredibly, amazingly fast. And that’s when Jeff said, “Yeah, and she wasn’t smiling.”

Perfect. Leslie had let it get ugly.

Let it get ugly from time to time. Allow yourself to hit rockbottom, to let it get so ugly that you have to stop, clutching your legs while crying or moaning in your own pain, to go back home and feel like throwing something or throwing up. Give yourself permission to breakdown, to fall apart, to unravel so far that you’re not sure you can pull yourself together for the next day. Leave it all out there. Hell, piss yourself. Just put a pair of extra shorts in the car just in case.

If you hit the bottom, if you break down enough, your body will have a better understanding of what to do when and if it happens during a race. It will be familiar territory, something you know you can push through or come out of alive. When you’re on the edge in a race, the edge of nearly blowing up or nearly breaking through, your body will find a way to pull itself through and last it out because you have practiced it, visualized it, expected it – you let it get ugly in training and you know what to do.

Leslie rounded the last turn and pushed hard through the line with a gut-wrenching grimace and a look of fury and fire in her eyes. She had seen the wizard. And seeing that the track is an entirely personal place of pain, there was no way to be sure if she had also seen the lion, Dorothy, or the Tinman along the way.

That night on the track, I think each of us, Chris, Leslie, and myself, found the bottom of our workout soul. Though in very different ways, we each hit the bottom, we smelled it, tasted it, felt it, pushed through it. And on our way back up, we found something, or someone, much better and stronger than before.

The key is to remember this – to internalize it and pull from it next time you are on the edge in a race. It’s ok, you can let it get ugly. You can take big risks. You can go out hard and hold it. Trust your legs, trust your body, and trust your head. You’ll know what to do.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


For the past few weeks, I’ve been running the marathon of daily life. And like the most challenging race courses, it’s had it’s ups and downs. Mostly, I’ve been heading straight into the wind, with a disc wheel, getting tossed, blown, and jaded as each mile goes by.

And a few Fridays ago, when I felt myself reaching the point of all systems overload and ready to shut down, I said that was it, headed home, and hopped on my bike.

It was time for some cyclotherapy.

I went out for a light, leisurely ride through low traffic, suburban streets, a place where I could find some peace, some quiet, some time to just be with my own thoughts.

With each pedal stroke, the problems of the day began to fade. My mind begins to empty and all of the unnecessary energy pent up in problems and other people gets redirected more appropriately, productively into my legs.

My Cannondale feels smooth and light. It is almost as if my arms are extensions of the bars and my feet are made of pedals. Riding this bike right now feels so right that I feel sad it will only last 1 hour, in a day of 23 hours often filled with the manic frenzy of the work, people, and workouts that make up my daily life.

I make the turn into the residential neighborhoods. They are quiet, they are still. Everyone is at work and I am taking possession of their streets as I take my turns wide and make uninterrupted loops around their lanes, drives, and cul-de-sacs. With houses lined in rows along the streets, I hide from the south wind and sneak in my ride before clouds signal a stormfront approaching.

I listen to my favorite sound – wheels on pavement. It is a steady rhythm that comforts and quiets my mind. I could fall asleep here, on these roads, in this position as the problems of the day melt away into 100 revolutions per minute at 17 miles per hour.

This ride was not about riding fast, or riding far. It was just about the ride. It was about the sanctity, the freedom, the feeling of being in control of my own body. It was about the power of pushing my own body through space and time without regard to anyone else. It was about me. There is no shame in the selfishness of this ride. If these 60 minutes make me 60 times more tolerable at work or home then it is worth my time. I think of how shameful, instead, it is when people do not sacrifice to take time for themselves and only end up hurting themselves or others because they are too overwhelmed, or overworked, or overdone.

When did our personal leisure and pursuits become only an expression of our self-centeredness? Why can we not leave work for an hour to recharge ourselves in whatever way serves ourselves best? Why does work on myself become construed as a waste of time away from my real work? And who’s to say which type of work is more or less important?

What if it is about the power of now – the power of being present in the now, in feeling the world around you, in being aware of yourself in the space you surround. What better place to find this than on your bike, as your balance yourself and find your way through the wind and along the streets.

My ride takes an existential turn as I try to resolve these questions and monitor for driveways, traffic, stop signs, and squirrels. With each mile, I get closer to myself, closer to solving these problems. And I get closer to home. My 60 minutes is up with the only cost being that of my time. And in exchange for peace of mind, 60 minutes seems like a small price to pay.

As I pull into my driveway and dismount my bike, I feel far more relaxed, energized, and ready to go. And though my cyclotherapy session has ended, my day has been renewed and has just begun.

Thursday, September 07, 2006


A few days ago, I was laying on the living room floor around 9 pm with a stomachache. At that point in the day, I wasn’t sure what to attribute it to - the 7 mile run earlier in evening, or something I ate, or something I didn’t eat, or something I should have drank and didn’t, hormones, seasonal allergies. There are so many things it could have been that I stopped trying to diagnosis it and instead rode out the waves of pain. Just chalk it up to another mysterious side effect of IM training.

Surfing the waves of discomfort and pain, I created a disorder specifically to describe those of us training for IM. Finally, my degree in psychology is useful to me. I thought back to my college days reading through the DSM–IV, the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders. With something for everyone (the oppositional, the eating-impaired, the socially inept, the sad, the lonely, the confused), there is definitely not something for the Ironman. You would think Ironman training, or just the thought of doing an Ironman, or the fact that I paid $450 to do Ironman, is so mentally disordered that it would have by now made it into the DSM-IV.

This new IM-specific disoder would be called IM-NOS. I’m willing to sell it to the DSM-IV for just the right cost. Or at least $450 to make up for that darn IM entry fee. The disorder 'IM', training for an Ironman. The NOS stands for ‘not otherwise specified’. According to the DSM-IV, the abbreviated ‘NOS’ can be used when the mental disorder appears to fall within the larger category but does not meet the criteria of any specific disorder within that category.

In other words, we have a larger category of those training for IM. And this IM person in-training gets a little disorder in their stomach. Normally you would attribute it to eating some foul food or monthly cramps. However, with IM training you can never be sure just why something hurts so you attribute it just to the larger category, IM training. Hence the NOS.

Though I didn’t know what caused my stomachache, I was entirely certain it had something to do with IM training because it seems like everything that is currently happening in my life and body is in some way affected by the hours upon hours of training each week. At this point, I’ve just gotten used to saying “it’s par for the course.” Though I’ve got to tell you, I am so over par on this course someone should just kick me off the course, take the keys to the golf cart, and never let me near the course or the cart again.

A few days later, I found myself in the bookstore reading through some sports-related books. In one book, I read through a section about overtraining. Not that I think I’m overtrained, but I was starting to feel a strange kinship with the listed symptoms:

Change in appetite

Persistent muscle soreness

Fatigue, washed out feeling, drained, lack of energy

Heavy legs, especially when walking upstairs

Insomnia or sleeplessness

Increased sensitivity to emotional stress

Feelings of irritation or anger

Restlessness, inability to relax, fidgety, twitchy

I couldn’t help but feel like they’ve been watching me. And taking good notes. How could they know exactly what has been going on in my body?

Then I started thinking, is overtraining just naturally a part of IM training? How can you ride 342 miles, swim 13,000 yards, and run 44 miles in 8 days and not consider that overtraining? In the past 8 days, I nearly rode my bike to Columbus, Ohio. And then when for a swim. And then went for a short jog to Dayton. Why is it that thousands of people keep signing up for this exercise in extreme endurance and overtraining – some of them multiple times per year?

As I contemplated these questions, I started to think that although the overtraining list was a good starting point for IM-NOS, it was clearly devoid of the most defining symptom:

Complete loss of common sense

This symptom would be the key diagnostic factor for IM-NOS. In other words, any triathlete can present all of those symptoms listed above but if they come to you and say, I swam 4,000 yards then hopped on my bike for a 4 hour ride while eating nothing but bars and salt tabs last Saturday, a day when you should be doing nothing but eating doughnuts, drinking coffee, and recovering from late night bar-hopping with your friends, you could safely assume that they have a suffered the complete loss of common sense often associated with IM-training and indeed have IM-NOS.

The cure for IM-NOS? Doing the IM, of course. And then after that, they will probably begin to present symptoms for my next new disorder, PIMS (post-IM syndrome), indicated by uncontrollable muscular contractions, inability to stomach any food, and incessant thoughts of doing another IM. Which might be construed as yet another example of complete loss of common sense which means you should probably diagnose them with PIMS-NOS.

I'm going to spare myself the doctor's bill - diagnosing myself with IM-NOS and just riding all of this out until the IM. And as soon as I cross the line, I'm going to have Chris hit me really hard in the head so I can forget the whole thing. When I wake up the next day and ask what we are doing in Hawaii and why I feel like hell just rolled over me, he'll say something clever. And hopefully I will regain my common sense.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Bar Hopping on a Friday Night

“What are we doing tonight?” Chris asked late Friday evening.

I was sitting on the living room, icing one of three body parts that were aching from the past week’s beating of yards and miles while watching a Tred Barta hunting show where he’s on the trail of an elk herd in Colorado.

“I’ve got a fabulous evening planned,” I said shifting my ice bags to aching body part number two of three. “We’re going to the grocery store to buy some bars,” I announced upon realizing that I was completely out of the bars required for my IM nutrition plan that I needed to practice yet again on tomorrow’s four and a half hour ride.

Not surprisingly, Chris declined the grocery store invitation and instead descended downstairs to work on bikes.

Thanks to Ironman training, Friday nights don’t get much better than this – Chris working on bikes while I get ready for the next day’s workout. It’s not the most scintillating social life that we could ask for, but at least it’s only for another seven weeks.

After a few more minutes of the hunting show, I decided to head over to Whole Foods, the superstore for sports nutrition, including bars, powders, supplements, and homeopathic remedies; whey protein, Siberian ginseng, bromelain, you name it for sports remedies, they’ve got it. Just recently after learning that Pine Bark Extract had shown promising anti-inflammatory results in athletes that took it post-workout, I checked Whole Foods to see if they would have such an obscure item and indeed they did. And for $50 for 30 pills the bottle could have been mine. And that is why I am still sitting with ice cubes in a baggie, de-flaming three body parts on a Friday night.

Learning from last time that if you go to purchase bars do not expect to juggle twelve of them on the way to the register without dropping one at least every other step of the way, I decided to grab a little green basket. Recently, I noticed that Whole Foods acquired ‘short-carts’, the two baskets in two tiers on wheels. The short cart is for those looking for more than a basket full but not quite enough to fill a whole cart. Hence the short cart. Hence proof again that we have far too many choices in this world.

Walking through Whole Foods, I noticed nothing but good, wholesome foods all that could be yours in exchange for all the money you have. Among other tasty baked goods, I eyed the boxed up slices of cake which sounded good after a long week of workouts. And then I noticed that cake was $4.99 per slice. For $4.99 I could make the cake myself and eat all eight slices. Oh, but I forget, I’m at Whole Foods so this is special cake. The kind with sugar that wasn’t fed growth hormones, brown eggs from I’m guessing brown chickens, milk that comes from a box instead of a cow, and mysterious faraway ingredients like carob and whey. Well, they got me and my 4 dollars and 99 cents because the cake went into my basket. And this is why I only shop for bars at Whole Foods. And only when they’re on sale. Because if you’re not careful, you could walk out with 200 hundred less dollars and a cart full of things you can’t pronounce.

I walked up to the aisle stacked with assorted bars. Take half the shelves along an aisle and stack it nearly floor to ceiling with a variety of brands, flavors, textures, and promises all delivered in a five by two inch package and you find yourself gazing starry-eyed at all of the sumptuous sports bars within Whole Foods. Lost in a dizzy whirl of bar flavors and choices, I heard a voice beckon to me, “So you like the bars, do you?”

I looked around wondering if maybe all of the training this week had left me hearing voices from the boxes of bars. Do I like the bars, I repeated the question silently to myself and snickered. I used to like bars until I had to eat about twenty per week. Then I slowly started to hate bars in their tidy little packages packed with their super levels of nutrients. So to answer your question, who or whatever you are, I’m not sure I like the bars, in fact I think I am starting to loathe the bars and after October 21st I swear not to eat anything in a bar form for at least two months.

Engrossed in this entertaining conversation with myself, I noticed a stock boy to my right. He was, at most, 18 years old, with stylish, disheveled dark hair and an alluring apron. Then again, just the idea of a man in an apron is alluring with endless possibilities – if he’s willing to wear an apron perhaps he is willing to do the work typical of the aproned, such as washing dishes or ironing clothes or cooking dinner.

Part of me felt sorry for the stock boy, standing her stocking these shelves on a Friday night. A part of me remembered being his age, knowing that this Friday night work-until-close shift was probably the most entrapping frustration he had ever felt, stifling his teenage social life surely filled with so many things to do so late into the night. Right now as he filled half empty boxes with more bars, I am sure he felt nothing but the angst of having to mindlessly stock these shelves while his friends zipped around town in their parents borrowed cars doing something that would result in a legendary story that he would not be a part of. As time ticked closer to 10 pm, I’m sure he would get restless and dangerously close to the door. Precisely at 10 o’clock, I’m sure he would tear off the apron and bolt out the double doors into an idling car waiting full of friends eager to set off into the late night to engage in things like stealing for sale signs from houses, or taking little yard gnomes, or shouting things at people from the windows of the parents car, or covering someone’s trees in toilet paper.

With such a smorgasboard of suburban adventures waiting for him, I’m sure he was itching to get out of the store by now, so close to being done. And for someone reason he was clearly itching to make conversation with me. But then again if I was 18 years old and stocking bars in a grocery store on a Friday night, I might be interested in making conversation with someone too.

He looked at me waiting for my answer – did I like the bars or not? “Oh, yeah, I like these bars,” I replied, in my head garbling and groaning about my growing disdain for bars as I pulled a few of my favorite flavors from out of the shelved boxes and tossed them into my basket. I noticed my favorite bars were on sale for 99 cents and couldn’t help but stock up.

“Have you tried the Odwalla bars?” he asked. I recalled a few weeks ago when I noticed the Odwalla bars were on sale, again for 99 cents which must be the rockbottom bar cost these days. In search of some other texture or taste for my IM nutrition plan I decided to give the Odwalla bars a whirl.

“Yes, I’ve tried the Odwalla bars,” I said, busily counting bars in my basket to ensure I had just the right amount and just the right flavors for tomorrow’s ride.

“Well what did you think?” he asked. I looked at him quizzically. “About the Odwalla bars, what did you think?” he asked again.

Clearly he had no idea he was talking to an Ironman- in-training, deeply entrenched in a world of training dominated by the digestion of bars and other sports nutrition items. Unless you’ve got some time on your hands, it’s best you don’t ask us about bars or gels or anything else mylar-wrapped. Because right now I have an opinion about every flavor, every brand during every type of workout in any type of weather. At this point, after all of these miles, I could tell you how they taste, the caloric content, milligrams of sodium, carbohydrate count, and exactly which bars taste like sandpaper or make me duck into a cornfield after three hours in the saddle or take too long to chew.

Looking under my Odwalla file, I find a few comments, dry, too crumbly, flavorless, almost like eating the wrapper covered in a little sugar and a few raisins. “Didn’t like the Odwalla bars,” I looked over at him and reported.

Back to the task at hand, buying bars for tomorrow, I began counting the number of bars in the basket, the flavors, the variety, the cost. I was hoping to look so busy with my choice-making and calculations that I would disengage his curiosity about bars or about me. At this point, I couldn’t tell if he was genuinely interested in finding out which bars I liked or if he was just genuinely interested in finding out what type of person goes to the grocery store on a Friday night to buy bars.

“Have you tried the Power Bar Harvest Bars? They’re really good,” he stated with a confidence that just didn’t seem to make any sense. A confidence that he had indeed tried all of these different bars and indeed had favorites. In my eyes, unless you have to eat these bars why would you? With all of the other wonderfully delicious edibles this store has to offer why select and settle for something in a bar.

“Yeah, I like those,” I replied.

At this point, I’m wondering if I’m missing something. I mean, we are talking about bars, right? It’s Friday night, I’m in the grocery store, and this guy is talking with me about….bars? Is he being paid by the bar companies? Have they planted him here on a Friday night to convince hurried triathletes to change their preferences in bars?

And then it hit me. Is this flirting? Is this guy flirting with me? Am I standing here on a Friday night, looking at bars being flirted with by a guy wearing an apron? Was flirting and picking up guys really this easy? It’s been awhile since I’ve been shopping for guys, you know with the husband and all, and the fact that I only shop for bars lately, so I didn’t realize that one had to look no further than the aisle of bars to find a guy, furthermore to find a guy wearing an apron which was surely a good sign that he could be good for all sorts of other domesticated things.

Scared, not sure what the proper thing to do was, or what the proper thing to say was, or how to communicate that I was just here for the bars and not the boys, I just started walking away.

“Enjoy the bars,” he called to me as I walked the other way.

I stopped, turned around, smiled and said “thanks” before continuing on to the register.

When I got back home, Chris greeted me at the door asking if I found my bars. “Yes,” I said, “and I think I found a boy, too.” And with a strange grin on his face, perhaps from seeing the $4.99 box of cake in the bag or from the entertaining thought that his wife got hit on in the grocery store he said, “do tell”. And then we had a good laugh.

So consider this my advice to all of the single girls of the world. Forget about bar-hopping on a Friday night in those smoky bars with those expensive drinks. Maybe it’s a lot easier and cheaper than that. Maybe it’s right in front of you where you least expect it. Next Friday night, take a trip to your local grocery store and peruse the latest selection of sports bars. You might just find what you’re looking for. Nevermind that he’s only 18 years old, just remember rule number one – you must be 21 to drink the beer and at least 14 to spend the night so while you can’t get him drunk you can take him home.

And if you don’t find what you’re looking for, just pick up a Power Bar and call it a night.