The Return of the Ritual

The Return of the Ritual

It’s an Ironman race year, and while I wake up convincing myself it doesn’t matter; that training three practices during a Wednesday will fit in to my day like honey sneaks into a peanut butter sandwich: or that pouring the second glass of wine on a school night won’t make it hard to get out of bed (see where I started this train of thought—it’s a circular activity and lifestyle), the additions and subtractions during this race year add up. They factor in. They sometimes weigh you down.

When I think about it a little more honestly, I admit to myself, it’s not a race year. It’s a ritual year.

And when picking up the ritual after more than a 4-year hiatus, there are more than my fair share of rusty groans. Moments spent a little too long in bed. Decisions about whether I really trained hard enough during a given workout to deserve a donut (even a fresh, hot one from Federal Donuts). And the ability to self-bargain against the training schedule better than Houdini facing handcuffs in a watering tank.   A tired, working girl can convince herself to get out of anything she thinks she wants to.

I had to look up the date since my last race (2013) because if I don’t know the year I did this last time off the top of my head, then I don’t have to face how long I’ve been out of practice. Or how fast I’m out-growing my age group.

I also don’t want to face all the shit that has happened in between to make racing triathlon the most inconsequential activity since shopping for refrigerator magnets. There are excuses, of course.

I’ve had my fair share of mid-life crisis moments, existential reflections and physical moves during the last four years to convince myself racing triathlons are impossible. Like, how does one navigate the back roads of Philadelphia (which are main thoroughfares) when the route requires a turn every 2.7 seconds? How do I fit around training for a race in these kind of maze-like, broken-asphalt, Philly-drivers-are-asshole conditions? (My first ride here required me to stop at every turning point from the GPS to check it against the map.  My phone wore out before I did).

I have also ignored how long it’s been since I signed up for a race because embarking on a new year with a new training schedule is hard. It’s hard because you have to follow the plan. And to follow the plan means you have to do the workouts.

When I contacted my coach Debi, the embodiment of Adonis + Diana with a little Arnold Schwarzenegger thrown in for good measure, I thought, “having a plan will be good and easy. It’s like working out with the color by numbers plan.” What I failed to account for was her new ritual status of Cross fit and that her dedication to badassery had set in since the last time I trained with her, and it would become my new dedication, in part, to her brand of badassery.  Shit was about to get real, with a little kettlebell/pushup/jumprope/heart-coming-out-of-chest action thrown into the week.  (To the tune of 3x a week, and another thing I’d work into the bargaining rotation.)

(*I will spare the details of training regimens and theories—there is an approach to fit in the training, to not overdoing it, but most of all, to having fun while doing it. And no—the last one is not a joke, but a litmus test to see whether you should be doing one in the first place. Ironman without fun= douchebag.)

By week three, I started to sigh heavily when looking at the week and weekend ahead. “I have to do…what?” I counted the hours on workout spreadsheet and then factored it into my workday, my commute, my need to forage for food. I thought, “This is not as easy as I remember.” It couldn’t be because I was older, of course. Or wiser?

Then, like all working triathletes in an urban setting, I had to figure out when the pool was not busy, or disgustingly dirty.

I had to level with myself when the alarm went off at 5:00 am—“Will you really have the chance to change, run, shower…and make the 1:30pm meeting?” If no: “GET YOUR ASS OUT OF BED NOW” command kicked in.   Or, “It’s cold out. I’m sure if I go tonight, I’ll be warmer.” I wasn’t, and I missed the workout. See also: times pool is disgustingly dirty.

And the constant watching of the weather app. “Please, Baby Jesus. No snow. No snow. No snow—I’ll give up alcohol for a month if I don’t have to ride the trainer again this weekend.” Jesus knows I live in the frosty Northwest.  And I visit my family in Minnesota.  I’m still drinking. Even on school nights.

I’ve just started on month three—and as I contemplate skipping the next workout, or switching up my routine—I see the calendar creep closer to my first race. This is why one signs up—you can’t negotiate with time, but rather, must bend your will to the unmovables. All feats need a villain to overcome, and for many, this Passage of Time thing serves as one for us all.

There is lots of compromise during a ritual year, and maybe even a little more sacrifice. Month–not week–three has taught me to stay the course.

The ritual has done what other rituals have gifted followers of its services—as time goes on, and I give into rhythm of routine, I have a growing sense of being simultaneously lucky and blessed. Moments of clarity and reflection bring more understanding: I get to feel challenged. I feel my body growing past the discomfort. I start to feel thanks for doing something that both wakes me up to what is different about me, and yet, how I start to feel a part of my surroundings. I start to sense the glide of movement being one with the exercise, and not only opposed. I feel myself less edgy about the process, and more rounded when something breaks or is missed. I celebrate the small wins, like making all workouts in a day. For me, I find myself fitting into the surroundings, and not just observing them. Shakespeare said it one way, “All the World’s a Stage, and all its players, actors.”   An old proverb—or Bruce Lee—said it another way: “Be like the water, and go with the flow.”

Don’t be the obstacle. Don’t fight it. Find a way to bend and get through.  All of those excuses stopping me for four years?  The past three months? They were not the obstacles.  This is the beauty of the ritual–lessons learned don’t belong to just it, yet are lessons for life spent outside the workout sessions.

My current status is this: finding where I am, and being okay with it. It’s taken me three months to get here. Maybe 4 years.  Or maybe 42.  I’m still not faster with my feet on the run, but my head is starting to get into the game, a little more each time, just like with any good ritual observance.

Of course, this is now.  Check in later for the half-time report.

Be Smart. Rest. Shop.

A wise person this week told me I should do something smart this weekend, ala get some of my mojo back.

Little did he know that I would soon be benched from running, cycling, swimming, etc. due to a migraine followed by a stomach bug, etc.  (There’s a lot you can thank me for by not describing that last “etc.”)

So I did what any sane athlete would do when benched: I went shopping.  I wanted to find the Moore Brothers Wine Company, right across the river from Philly in New Jersey.  Another friend of mine swore by it (really, though, pretty much every friend of mine swears) and now I had some quality time on my hands to investigate.

First impression–It felt Jersey.  It was kind of a business-y strip mall, and when I walked in through the opaque glass doors (kind of like all cars in Jersey are tinted), it was a large room, with plenty of wine racks, and lots of boxes lining the walls.  Somewhat orderly, somewhat not–definitely not glitzy.  BUT as a kicker, it was also as cold as a meat locker. (Jersey does have its stereotypes for a reason).   But I spied with my little eyes a line in front of table, off to the right, that was hosting a four-bottle tasting that might warm me up.

The offerings…plus Rose!

Four bottles in ascending order of alcohol content were lined up in front of two dudes–one of whom was dressed in a sweater and jacket and corduroy trousers (I mean, he came prepared for the inside of this room).  Little did I know he was French (hence, the Euro-layers), but he was also the wine maker, Bruno Lafon from Domaine Magellan.  (Triple Style Points for him).  He used words like “blood orange finish” and “marzipan” to describe his wines…and damned all if they weren’t in there! (The tasting notes were accurate, and not only because his French accent was persuasive. The wine was tasty in the way wines from Provence are. #Terroir and all that jazz.) I made a joke that I wish we had met before I traveled there a few years ago – he could have helped me find some good wines – but his face didn’t break a smile.   (I thought about dropping the fact that I did Ironman France, which is why I was there, but didn’t because, well, he was wearing corduroy). I digress.

I’ll taste these wines later for your benefit, but more about Moore Brothers.

Why was Bruno there?  It’s a very cool part of this wine store:For over twenty years, we have be sourcing our wines directly through our relationships with artisan wine producers in France, Italy, Germany, California, and Oregon.” They bring the wine maker in because they have relationships with all wines they sell. AND BECAUSE: “The tasting table is always open.” My favorite kind of brothers! (Mine make me bring the wine. I digress again).

Why was it so cellarly cold?  Because it’s wine, and in their words again: “As the representatives of the producers, we take pristine care of their work. All of their wines are picked up at the winery in a refrigerated truck, and from that minute until it goes out the door with a customer, the wine is under perfect temperature control at 56°.

Summary: I bought the wines (except one.  I think it didn’t pair with my migraine).  Can’t wait to go back- I feel like I have found Platform 9 1/2 of the wine world! Pure magic to have wines from the source, to taste them, and to get to talk about them from the winemakers directly.

My booty. Can’t wait to try it out and share! (Plus, the less I have the more I can go back to Moore Brothers).



Homecoming: Going with the Boxed Return

I opened up the site to my blog today (on a work and 4th of July holiday break), and much like the wines that sit near me every day, it has gathered dust. Like, lots of it. (But the benefit is that my wine has also grown in numbers, so there’s that…)

A friend recently asked me, upon looking at my rack (wine, that is), “You’re apartment is so clean, yet there is dust on your wine? I think it’s because you want it to look aged. Yes?”

It was a great question, actually, and brought me to quick attention—why haven’t I been drinking my collection? Am I a poser? Am I on the wagon? (Um, hardly). Without venturing into TMI territory, I realized might need to actually start to dust off that wine, this blog, and maybe a little bit of myself.

And as I searched for the elusive WordPress password, I heard Josh Ritter sing “Homecoming” and that felt like the right sentiment for today: ”I first tasted the universe on a night like this/A box of wine, and I’ll abide…”

So here I am. Abiding my drinking hobby from one of the two boxes of wines in my fridge. (Or maybe both. But I apparently have to tell you, since I’m going to mention both wines. And since I’m hanging solo during a hot, holiday weekend, am not yet prepared to dust off the other bottles).

Why a box? Many reasons. Convenience. It says fresher for longer (read: maybe three weeks vs. three days of opening a bottle). Boxed wines are meant to be consumed soon after “bagging,” –like within a year— because the bags allow oxygen to pass through which will ultimately make them less fresh over time. Please don’t buy box wines with the purpose of stockpiling—I won’t be coming to dinner if you are serving a vintage 2000 from cardboard. I may even defriend you on Facebook, but I digress.

The Wines:

The Bota Box Chardonnay is a little lackluster for the varietal in that it showcases neither oak nor mineral…but just is, and sometimes, that’s okay. It’s cold, tasty in a non-descript, unoffensive way with hints of the tropical fruits it boasts and goes with anything. This is a fine wine, and for $18/box (which is about 3 liters or 4 bottles of wine), you’d be fine serving to friends, the jersey shore crowd that’s currently packed around my apartment-complex pool sporting cans of beer, or yourself after a bikeride, run or long day on the sofa.

(The pool/party/people in the picture are why: 1. I don’t mind drinking in my apartment 2. Have box wine at the avail).

The Alverdi Pinot Grigio is a deviation from my normal boxed PG, but it still holds the flavor profile of the Pinot Grigio grape quite nicely. High acidity, crisp notes of green fruit and a hint of flowers, I’d say this is a win—in a bottle or a box. The added benefit is that this box runs around $22 for 3 liters.

If buying only one boxed wine to start out, I’d lean toward a Pinot Grigio (even if you can’t find this brand). I find it’s a little harder to mess up a more straight-forward varietal like a Pinot Grigio than the Chardonnay—where these wines can display high elegance and $$$ if you happen on the right one. (Translation: You are probably not going to find the best representation of Burgandy in a box. Just a guess on my part, but there’s more tasting to be done!!)

Both have won awards from Wine Enthusiast and for good reason—these are completely drinkable, affordable and won’t embarrass the posse or yourself if you pull this out to serve…or hide away from the crowds.  (Wines purchased at the Wine & Spirits store).

What/Why I’m drinking these: These wines pair with the HEAT that is 4th of July weekend in Philadelphia; exhausting bike rides and runs around the city, and a general disdain of shopping for cold bottles from the Wine & Spirits shop that has grown to great distances during “Construction Season” in the city. PLUS, I’m hanging solo (completely +0) for the weekend, and the boxed wine allows me flexibility of not finishing the 6 or so bottles cumulatively within. My goal is to still make the workout in the a.m. (And I’ve succeeded the past four days during this long weekend!)

(According the above description, it also pairs nicely with plans to go into the U.S. Marshal’s Witness Protection Program, but if you hit that stage of the game, spring for a nice bottle or two. See: Burgandy, White. You don’t have storage needs.)


The Hidden River Ride & Philly Pop Ups

Many things about Philly are surprising–the people are nice, the food is great and the history is at your fingertips.  It’s almost the corollary to Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon slogan, where “all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking and all the children are above average.”  To me, nothing in Philadelphia is close to average.

fullsizerenderThat said, Philadelphia is a new place to me, and not quite home, so I have been traveling on weekends to visit friends, family and familiar places.

This weekend, one in the midst of a heatwave, I stuck it out and decided to jump all in for the Philadelphia Bike Club‘s annual ride, the Scenic Schuylkill Century.  Against the wisdom that overcomes training, I have not ridden more than 60 miles this year, and less than 20 miles in the fortnight leading up to the ride (I was out of town, dontchyaknow?) and I knew it was going to be a leap–but I have traveled along the Schuylkill enough to know it’s flat, so I was sure it wasn’t going to be that hard.

It’s always wise, however, to read the fine print.  “Schuylkill” is dutch for “Hidden River” and on September 11, 2016, I felt like I had found the “hidden” hills of my regular daily commute along the bike path.  There was no path to follow, and within the route that extended west from Conshohocken, PA, there were +4980 feet of climbs to find.


I was fine until I hit mile 80, and from that point–my lungs, heart, head and legs warned me to go much slower, and I crawled into the end point for a slice of pizza and something cold to drink.  But my start had been Center City–and I had 10 more miles to go.  I dreaded the extra miles it would take me to get home, until someone in my (well-trained) group added, “We can end at Parks on Tap!”

Any resident Philadelphian will remind you that Ben Franklin once said, “Beer is proof that God loves us” and this is a mantra that has served the city well.  “Parks on Tap” is a collaboration with the city that brings a pop-up beer garden to 14 spots around the city–if you don’t have a patio, back yard, or built-in friends, this is a place to go to find comraderie, grass beneath your feet and good drinks within a tailored, out-door garden!

I chose a hefeweizen, which seemed to fit the weather and my depleted move, but others opted for a Yards IPA or the Sly Fox IPA (those people had more training than I!)  The stop was refreshing in all senses of the word.

Processed with Snapseed.


I am a fan of Parks on Tap and am lucky that a day spent in the pursuit to find more about the hidden treasures of the area and people, I was able to end the day finding yet another reason Philadelphia is a great place to live…and bike!