“Why are you up?” read the subject line of the email from Mark. “It’s before 6,” the message continued. “Did you forget you were on vacation?”
Of course not silly! (Though I wanted to joke about him being up before 6 when there was no ice to climb or animals to chase in the woods on the day’s docket. I showed amazing self restraint for such an early hour.) My friend Carolyn and I were up early on purpose. We had a trip planned to Block Island in Rhode Island and we wanted to catch the mid-morning ferry from Point Judith so we could begin our day-long biking adventure. I was in need of some good riding, new scenery and some nourishment for my soul. Turns out Block Island is perfect for such a thing. If I could marry an island, I would probably wed Block Island, even with the accompanying New England winters.
The island is small and rather simple to navigate. We hopped on our bikes, turned left on the main road and off we went. Within minutes I was greeted by an old lighthouse, green countryside and the ocean. I smiled so broadly other tourists probably wondered if I was having a medical issue as I charged up the steep hill out of my seat, completely forgetting that I had the ability to change to an easier gear. This was my element — long country roads with rolling hills coupled with a few short but steep sections. It’s a bike-friendly island as many visitors rent cruiser bikes for their source of transportation. Never before had I seen so many people out being active. It made me smile, even if some of them had absolutely zero clue how to successfully ride a bike up hill or keep their young children in line. The sun was shining, the sky was blue, the ocean surrounded us and there were horses and cows to talk with at every turn.
This? Right here? Was worth the 5 a.m. wake up call on vacation. And this is what all my endurance training is truly about.
Yes, I love racing and doing organized events — big, small, corporate and otherwise. I love jumping into the competition, whether it be against myself or the clock or a rival (friendly or otherwise). And, true confession time, competition scares me. It puts me in uncomfortable positions and makes me face my fears and other little stories I tell myself which keep me stuck and playing small. Oh yes, training, racing and competing are all key elements in my life.
But there’s more. One summer in college, I vacationed with my family in North Carolina to visit my aunt. At this point, I was rather heavy and generally unhealthy, subscribing to the collegiate diet encouraged with the special addition of the aspiring young journalist diet. (Hostess products, pizza and diet Coke comprised my major food groups along with any food that was free, especially to members of the press.) On this particular trip, my dad, brother and I went hiking and white-water rafting. The experience was amazing and fun. I wanted more experiences like this one. I wanted to be able to enjoy athletic, outdoor adventures without having to take the largest sized life vest or pant my way through a walk in the woods. It was here I realized being healthy meant I could do more of the things I loved and expand my horizons — even if it scared me. It was a quiet and meek beginning to my journey, one I didn’t share with anyone in my inner circle.
Visions of that North Carolina trip flashed through my memory as Carolyn and I enjoyed our 24-mile vacation-style ride on Block Island. While the bike ride was part of my week’s worth of training, it was a moderate workout at best and refueling with margaritas and ice cream probably wasn’t the best use of my calories. (Although this ice cream was special, made in small batches on Block Island and was only available on Block Island. Really. I needed to try it. Plus it was called “The Scoop Shack” and my nickname in high school was “Scoop.” As you see I had no choice. I have no such defense to offer about the margarita other than it was damn tasty.)
Hard training days will come again bringing their own sense of joy and accomplishment. This particular day, however, was about the freedom of riding my bike on Block Island. This bike has been everywhere with me — Italy, Ironman 70.3 Texas, Montreal Esprit Iron Distance and now Rhode Island. Later this week, it may get a spin on Cape Cod as well. I absolutely adore my bike. It brings me a sense of freedom, opportunities to challenge myself and the chance to move away from the everyday toward something extraordinary.
Training, racing and competing are just tools to get me to the place I most want to be — playing outside with friends, embracing the moment and finding the confidence to take a leap to something new. Oh, and if some ice creams happens along the way, I’m down with that.