Because I was pretty much starting out at zero, I was going to need some guidance. I joined a nonprofit endurance sports-training organization, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training, which raises funds for cancer research. TNT, as it’s known, assigned 10 coaches to the group of 310 New Yorkers who were to be my compatriots for the next six months. The coed group workouts occurred three times a week at pools and parks around the city and drew anywhere between 50 and 150 people at each session. But training with this crew, which included a good number of girls with wonder-bods in tiny, Lycra bumster shorts, was terrifying. The very first day we went on a group run, a teammate lapped me twice. I was prone to taking wrong turns in Central Park and one freezing night ended up on a seven-mile slog by myself through the notoriously steep hills at the northern end, visions of Into Thin Air flashing through my head.
I was also supposed to be doing three workouts a week on my own. My personal trainer, now engaged on a weekly basis, took one look at my crooked freestyle strokes and pulled me out of the pool to relearn how to “swim” on the pool deck. He tied my wrists to the second-floor balcony with long bungee cords and made me practice pulling my arms through the air while balancing on a rotating disk. My face matched my red bathing suit as I whirled around like a circus freak in front of the other gym members.
Needless to say, my body protested all the unexpected activity. And it went beyond the muscular aches and fatigue. My skin became a canvas of bruises and scrapes, and I developed an eczema-like rash on my thighs from my running tights. As the weather warmed up and I started running in tank tops, I got sores under my arms. (When I showed them to one of my coaches, she explained they were from chafing.) My hair was brittle from the pool, I had windburn on my cheeks, and the skin on my body was parched from the salty layer of sweat that dried after every session.
My social life was another casualty. Evening workouts trumped dinner dates, and 5 a.m. wake-up calls to go cycling meant no more late nights at the Beatrice Inn. And while my friends shopped for Thakoon tops, I was deep in the racks at JackRabbit Sports, looking for new sports bras. In fact, most of my money was sunk into buying new gear. Instead of splurging on the Yves Saint Laurent Downtown bag, my big spring purchase was a flashy $1,200 Giant aluminum and carbon road bike. It came with what I was told were the chicest accoutrements: Michelin Pro² racing tires and Look Keo professional bike clips. By the time I was done picking out water bottles, bike pumps and $300 SIDI racing shoes, the cash register showed $2,000.