Saturday, April 28, 2012

Welcome to the real world (now get yourself some real pants)

I will never forget the day I received my team-issued sweats from my college equipment room.

They were thick and fuzzy and perfect in every way. I loved them.

As a freshman, my sweats didn’t get a whole lot of use, mostly due to the fact that I actually cared about my appearance that year. I spent a considerable amount time picking out outfits and fixing my hair before class. When it became apparent that I was never going to be asked out on a date—because “dating,” in the traditional sense, is the furthest thing from the minds of freshman boys (at least that's what I told myself, although it is entirely possible that I'm just not that attractive)—I dramatically reduced the effort I put into looking cute. My ensemble of choice gradually devolved into jeans and nice T-shirts, then jeans and grungy T-shirts, and finally, grungy sweats and grungy T-shirts.

I would estimate that I wore workout clothes to approximately 80 percent of my class sessions over the course of my college career. I justified my fashion choices with the fact that (a) I was always rushing from class to practice and vice-versa, and (b) I was saving money on laundry by not changing clothes multiple times a day. In terms of pure economic efficiency, I was golden.

The problem is, my clothing habits greatly compromised my perspective on what is and is not appropriate attire in a professional setting. So when I graduated and landed my first grown-up job, I was shocked to learn that tights and hoodies did not meet the standards set forth by the company dress code.

So, for the past several months, I have endured long hours in unforgiving dress pants and itchy blouses. When I get home, I can’t wait to change into gym clothes. Also, I’m pretty sure I now understand what spawned the idea for the tuxedo T-shirt.

I have somehow managed not to mix my work wardrobe with my workout wardrobe. (Interesting, isn’t it, that “work” forms the first half of the compound word “workout?” Just saying.)

The other day, however, I was faced with a dilemma. I was asked to attend an impromptu meeting at a company where I work as a freelancer. I agreed, knowing full well that I would have to go straight from the office to track practice.

Since I was running with the team that day, I put on my tights, T-shirt and half-zip pullover—just like I would any other day.

On my way out the door, I looked in the mirror. What I saw wasn’t exactly the picture of professionalism.

Oh well, I’ll just explain that I’m on my way to practice. They’ll understand.

But as I reached for the doorknob, I started having second thoughts.

I don’t want to embarrass myself, or my boss. But what, exactly, is so embarrassing about exercising? I mean, if it’s acceptable for adults to wear overalls in public—seriously, I saw a full-grown man in a pair of bibs at Walmart last week—then why can’t I wear running gear to a quick employee powwow?

I hemmed and hawed over what to do for a good 30 seconds before finally coming up with a compromise. I would wear real pants over my running pants and then do a quick-change in the car before practice. Problem solved.

By the time I arrived at the office, my legs were sweating profusely, and the odd sensation of wearing double layers made my gait stiff and rigid, like I really needed to go to the bathroom but was trying to hold it in.

This must be what it feels like to wear Spanx on a daily basis. Christ, I’d rather just do a few lunges and some sit-ups!

Suddenly, I felt incredibly guilty about all of the times I dissed Kirstie Alley for lying about being a size 6. Having to wear spandex compression layers underneath every outfit is punishment enough for her blatant dishonesty.

I powered through the meeting, resisting the urge to rip off my pants right then and there. I knew for certain that such an outburst would definitely embarrass my boss, and as a result I would definitely get fired.

When the meeting was finally over, I sped over to the track and grabbed the closest parking spot I could find.

I immediately recognized a huge problem standing in the way of my execution of The Plan. School had just gotten out, and as such, the parking lot was crawling with loud, gossip-fed pre-adults (a.k.a. teenagers).

Judgment and scandal are the cornerstones of the American high school experience, and nothing feeds the 24-hour teenage rumor mill better than whispers about the inappropriate actions of a coach.

All it would take is one little cellphone video shot from an incriminating angle, and boom—my name might as well be Geraldine Sandusky.

So, keeping my back straight and my eyes forward, I slowly unzipped my pants and slipped them off. Then, hit with a momentary stroke of brilliance, I put on a sweatshirt, then, acting as if I was having a sudden change of heart, removed both the sweatshirt and the blouse I was wearing over my running top.

Finally, I slipped my feet into my running shoes, got out of the car and tied my laces. Feeling clever and relieved, I smiled smugly as I jogged through the double doors into the gym.

In hindsight, I think my plan was more of a way for me to “stick it to the man” than it was a way for me to “save time.” In foresight, I will probably just give in to the man and start using a locker room like everyone else.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

What's my age again?

After the disaster that was my track and field coaching debut, I was bound and determined to avenge my horrible experience with a much warmer, much drier, much more awesome day at the track.

I showed up to my second track meet as a coach with two umbrellas, a rain poncho, a parka, hand-warmers and a box of Hot Tamales. (Have you ever noticed that sucking on cinnamon-flavored candy makes you feel warmer? If not, you clearly live in California.)

Naturally, it was 75 degrees and sunny.

This unseasonably warm April day gave me an opportunity to not only work on my “base burn,” but also to more comfortably engage fellow meet-goers in friendly conversation. (Because there’s just something about 45-mile-an-hour wind gusts that sort of kills the mood for chit-chat.)

Somewhere in between the jokes, pleasantries and track talk, there were a couple of awkward moments that I feel obliged to share not only for sheer entertainment purposes, but also as a way to therapeutically address some underlying insecurities.

You see, I was feeling pretty darn grown-up there at the finish line, clutching a very official-looking clipboard and yelling things like, “Don’t leave the track! Stay in your lanes!”

I was in charge. I was in control. I had authority. Kids were actually listening to me.

Then, in between heats of the 100-meter-dash — my favorite* race of all time — an older-looking gentleman in a Crocodile Dundee hat struck up a conversation with me. It went something (exactly) like this:

Man: So, what grade are you in?

Me: Oh, me? I graduated.

Man: Oh really! From here [as in, the high school at which we are currently volunteering]?

Me: From college.

Man: [Slightly embarrassed] Oh! Gosh, I must be getting old. I guess you do look like you could be 22.

Me: I’m 24.

Thankfully, we were saved by the gun and did not have to continue talking. Suddenly, I did not feel so official, even with the official clipboard containing the official results sheets that I was officially responsible for. Clearly, I might as well have been at the concession stand selling candy bars to raise money for the senior prom.

I’m not a teenager! I thought. I have a job, and an apartment, and a plant-watering schedule. I care about things like gas mileage and taxes and 12-hour cereal sales!

As I stood there, deflated and wondering whether a Crocodile Dundee hat would make me look more like an adult, a sprinter came up to me, huffing and puffing after racing the 100.

“Excuse me, do you know what my time was? I was in lane eight,” he gasped.

“Fifteen-point-six-two,” I replied. (Obviously, he was a distance runner but didn’t know it yet.)

“Thanks ma’am,” he said.

Ma’am? Did he just call me ‘ma’am?’ I thought. Ma’am is something you call…like…OLD people!

I was sort of outraged but sort of flattered at the same time. If the kids can tell that I am ma’am-worthy, that’s all that counts, right?

But, you know, a little anti-aging night cream never hurt anybody.

*We’ve been over this. The 100-meter-dash is not my favorite race of all time. In fact, it is the opposite of my favorite race of all time. Yes, I realize that doesn’t make sense. Watch me not care.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Jeans are not waterproof (and other things I learned from my first track meet as a coach)

You know how they say you’ll never fully appreciate everything your parents did for you until you become a parent yourself?

That’s kind of how I feel about coaching (minus the poopy diapers and college tuition).

When I was in high school, I secretly harbored a tiny bit of resentment toward the track and field coaching staff. In my world, a track meet was an eight-to-ten-hour rotation between being so nervous I could vomit, running so hard I could vomit, and actually vomiting. In their world, a track meet was an all-day party where they could eat junk food, get a tan, and occasionally yell stuff.

So when I showed up to my first track meet as a coach, I expected to walk in, grab a clipboard (which, truth be told, I had no intention of actually using) and make a beeline for the concession stand. Then, licorice rope in hand, I would find my athletes and offer them a few words of sagely advice before finding a comfortable spot to watch them take my golden drops to heart and kick ass.

Here’s what really happened: I walked in, was immediately assigned to finish-line duty and, for the duration of the meet, alternated between pulling up my soaking wet jeans and struggling to record names and times on a sheet of paper that was literally disintegrating in the rain/sleet/snow/hail/[insert desired precipitation here]. Because in Montana, we believe the true measure of a state’s worthiness is its refusal to cancel an athletic event due to weather.

But, as every good coach knows, each meet is a learning opportunity. So what did I gain, besides a renewed appreciation for dry underwear? The answer: a renewed appreciation for the volunteers who count laps for the 3200 in a blizzard so that athletes can run the 3200 in a blizzard.

To better explain my drastic change of perspective, I created the following T-chart:

What I thought I knew before

What I know I know now

Finish line workers are people who volunteered for the meet on their own accord.

Finish line workers are rookie coaches who were volunteered against their will.

When the starter says, “Sweats off!” it’s OK to take another stride or two and delay removing your sweats until the last possible moment in order to conserve muscle warmth.

When the starter says, “Sweats off!” it’s time to take your damn sweats off.

Varsity runners should always have their own heat so they don’t have to deal with all of the slow JV kids.

When it’s raining sideways and there are no adult beverages available, nobody gets their own heat.

What do coaches and meet officials have to complain about? It’s not like they have to run in this crap.

I would rather run three-straight 3200s in this crap than be stuck standing here in wet jeans. (Seriously, is there anything worse than wet jeans? If I were a judge, I would make all prisoners wear wet jeans all day, every day, as part of their sentence.)

When the weather gets really bad, they should cancel the rest of the meet.

This is Montana, and we would sooner flush a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon down the toilet than cancel a track meet on account of a little rain.