It was a 90-degree spring morning in 2011, and I was struggling, my breath coming in gasps. I was on the last leg of a sprint triathlon, the run, and from across the way, I heard the unmistakable booming voice of Shawna. She was the personal trainer/cancer survivor/demon woman who, a full year before, had somehow convinced me that, at age 48, I should take up this wretched sport.
"Catherine, watch your posture!" she shouted.
How had I gotten myself here? I was willingly subjecting myself to this exercise in agony and humiliation, which was suddenly feeling a lot like junior high P.E. class. I had dreaded softball, soccer, dodge ball — anything that involved a possible moment when everyone would be looking at me, and I would utterly fail to catch the ball, kick the ball or even, apparently, stand up straight.
I have had a lifelong love-dread relationship with working out.
In retrospect, the love part has almost always involved shopping. Visions of what could be have motivated me to sign up, gear up and begin any number of athletic endeavors.
In the mid-'80s, for example, I bought a tennis racquet and took lessons but never played a real game, the idea of cute skirts being more compelling than the reality of learning to serve. The tennis racquet eventually joined the squash racquet I'd purchased in college, enamored of the preppiness of that sport. And soon both were moved to make room for cross-country skis, bought with a vision of a winter-loving lifestyle that didn't match my preference for warm fires over frostbite.
In those early adult years I also became obsessed with Jane Fonda's Workout video, feeling the burn as Jimmy Buffett sang about red wine and Paris. But again, I think a lot of the appeal was in the gear, in this case leotards and tights that signaled my trendy interest in being aerobicized. While I can't remember much else about a summer I spent in Atlanta, I distinctly recall some electric-blue tights I wore to my classes in a strip mall in Buckhead. I did love those tights.
Fast-forward several decades and a lifetime of sporting acquisitions and abandonments, and in 2010 I found myself once again compelled to purchase: I wanted Michelle Obama's arms. These turned out to be somewhat less easy to obtain than Cookie Monster-blue legs. I hired Shawna, and she put me to work in sessions that left me with the startling sensation of "collapsed biceps," a phrase which here means that my muscles were so tired I could not push open a door.
One grueling morning, lifting weights in her ice-cold garage, she suggested that I was ready for a triathlon and I assured her she was mistaken. I was a shopping-cart exerciser, randomly picking up trends and equipment (Zumba! Bikram yoga! Pilates!) as I ambled along the aisles of life. I was not an athlete.
But Shawna kept pushing and created a vision for me that involved consumer purchases. I had a bike, but I needed clip pedals and shoes, and how cool would those be? I needed Zoot shorts and swim goggles and new running shoes. And around this time I discovered Athleta, and suddenly it was all over: I mean, if I had do a triathlon to justify buying those tattoo-artist-inspired arm warmers, so be it.
One triathlon led to another. And then everything changed. I felt great all the time. I started to love waking up early. I craved endorphins. (This is probably what Shawna kept annoyingly referring to as the "lifestyle change" that she saw as inevitable. I will also begrudgingly admit that she was right about my posture, as shown in photos of me in this summer's Nantucket tri).
And now I find myself in my third year of triathlons. Will I keep up with them, or is this just another passing athletic fancy?
I hope I stick with them. I've been inspired lately by septuagenarians on the race courses, and I think it would be amazing to race for another couple of decades.
And besides, I promised myself that if I made it through year four, I might buy myself a better bike. Maybe something in electric blue with a carbon frame?
Catherine Mallette is a senior content editor in The Sun's features department and is the editor of Chesapeake Home + Living magazine. Contact her at email@example.com.