08/19/2014 11:42 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Finding Your Trigger: On Leggings, Justin Timberlake Concerts and Triathlons

I never thought I'd be writing this post. What I actually mean is I never thought I'd be writing this post describing my success at training for and completing my first triathlon. Sure, a post to the tune of "How Failing to Complete a Triathlon Made Me a Better Person" seemed like a plausible, if not likely, post -- not one describing what it feels like to actually achieve such a feat.

But alas, here I am -- a triathlete.


My friend (left) and I (right) pre-triathlon, looking tough but feeling terrified.

A lot of people will tell you they couldn't even run a mile before they started training. That's simply not true for me. I couldn't even run half a mile without stopping. Really.

I would start running and get to the half-mile marker, cheeks red, dripping with sweat, hands above my head to "walk it out." When people walked by, they must have thought I just ran a marathon with the show I was putting on. I was happy to let them think that, praying that my MapMyRun app wouldn't announce my 10-minute half-mile pace before they were out of earshot.

Here's me before triathlon training...


...three years ago. In college.

Here's me about seven months ago -- and one year out of college -- just before triathlon training:


(Note: No, this is not me fat-shaming. If you're overweight and a happy person, that is great! Keep up the good work. When I am overweight, I am not happy. Therefore, I needed to make a change.)

I was in denial about gaining weight after college for a long time. I was a strict practicer of the Good Day, Bad Day diet. You know the one: I would eat nothing but lettuce, sprouts and kombucha one day, and the next day I would eat an entire package of gnocchi and a tub of vegan ice cream, telling myself that these two days would balance each other out. The thing about this diet is that, after a while, all your good days end up becoming bad days, anyway, because the processed sugar and carb overload has taken control of your brain, your tummy and your will to roll out of bed. Life lesson: Just because you are vegan and aren't eating dairy or meat doesn't mean you can eat unlimited amounts of fake cheese, coconut ice cream and pasta and not expect to put on that pesky winter weight (in the summer). Seems obvious, right? Well, it wasn't to me.

A lot of people will talk about their "trigger" when making a big lifestyle change. My trigger was a Justin Timberlake concert back in October 2013. My sister and I were ready for a girls' night out on the town. After wearing leggings every day for the past year (totally of my own accord, I had convinced myself), I was going to break out the jeans for this special event. After an hour attempting to pull them over my "love" (hate) handles and a near life-ending wardrobe malfunction involving the jeans button and my dog, I came to the realization that the jeans ship had sailed.

It would be leggings again tonight.


My sister (mind you, she's 31, a full-time teacher, and mother of two -- and somehow still a dedicated CrossFit member) showed up in sleek designer jeans and a tight black top, looking hot if I may say so. So what was my excuse? I was unemployed, 24 and living at home.

Those leftovers Mom made weren't going to eat themselves. If I was going to live in my mom's house rent-free, I needed to pitch in by showing her how much I appreciated her home cooking and making sure she got her money's worth on the cable TV front. If that meant eight-hour marathons of Kitchen Nightmares and cold lasagna so be it -- everyone makes sacrifices, right?

I knew I had to make a change. But it wasn't just the extra pounds that bothered me. It was the total lack of responsibility and love for myself. Why didn't I deserve to be confident in my body anymore? Why couldn't I stay disciplined anymore?

I decided a triathlon would be the appropriate course of action. Together, my friend and I signed up for the 2014 Block Island Sprint Triathlon -- and I would be lying if I said I didn't instantly doubt my ability to complete the task.

Gaining weight and the idea of losing it via exercise and diet is kind of like deciding to watch the Breaking Bad series. You know it will make you happy in the end, but my god, that's a real time commitment. The road ahead seems impossible, but so many before you have done it. You won't enjoy it at first, but after a while you will -- and you'll even look forward to it. And sure enough, once you get through the first season, you'll realize what the big fuss is all about. And you know what else? It makes you happy, dammit. The only way it isn't like watching Breaking Bad is that there doesn't have to be a definitive end -- and also that it is, in fact, nothing like watching Breaking Bad at all.

Running became my time to prepare for the day ahead of me. I couldn't listen to music because it was too distracting. After skipping 10 songs on Pandora, I would finally got to one I like, only to have my left earbud pop out. As I struggled to stick it back in, I was nearly run over by a school bus. Is it really worth all that just to hear Katy Perry tell me I'm a firework? I'd rather focus on my breathing and enjoy the sights around me -- and in Bushwick, there are a lot of fun sights to take in (see: public urination). It was my meditation in the morning and a time to plan out my day ahead. Not only did I enjoy it after a few weeks, but I began to count on it as a necessary part of my daily routine.

What made me stick to this goal was the fact that I had registered, paid the $60 (which was an alarmingly high percentage of the paycheck I had finally started earning) and had announced it to friends. There was no turning back now without the removal of a large part of my dignity (and again, an alarmingly large portion of my paycheck) for nothing.

I trained for nearly five months and went from running half a mile (and then immediately treating myself to a vegan donut) to running up to five miles before work in the morning and treating myself to some RESPECT. I joined the NYC Parks and Rec ($25 a year until your 25!) and swam/biked two days a week.

Four months later -- and 20 pounds lighter -- triathlon day had arrived. I was all packed. I had an hour until the ferry. There was nothing left to do but eat my BBQ tofu takeout and watch the Golden Girls. After checking those two things off my list, it was time to board the Block Island ferry -- the sea mistress charged with bringing me to the 2014 Block Island Triathlon.

The morning of the race had arrived. Exit strategies tiptoed in and out of my mind as I shimmied into my bathing suit.

"OK, so I'm going to grab a bagel and I'll meet you at registration..." Cut to me biking right back on to the ferry and resuming Season 6 of the Golden Girls in the comfort of my leggings.

But my leggings were what got me here in the first place.

We arrived at registration with the wind howling and the rain pounding on the pavement. I looked to the water. The sea was angry that day, my friends.

We made it through the quarter-mile swim. The bike ride (which seemed extra daunting because of the slick roads) was surprisingly manageable. I flew up the hill I had been dreading since day one of training. I guess what they say about adrenaline is true.

As I turned the corner to complete the last leg of the run, I thought I might need to walk. My calves were burning, the beach was beginning to feel like quicksand and my tummy was making weird noises. This post crossed my mind and I immediately wanted to stop. But then I remembered something Sophia Petrillo said on the Golden Girls the day before -- something that really stuck with me: "Fasten your seatbelt, slut puppy. This ain't gonna be no cakewalk." The best things in life don't come easy. I pressed on.

And I finished. And not even in last place.


My friend (on the right) and I (on the left) post-triathlon, realizing we wouldn't have to come up with clever Facebook statuses saying we were glad we tried, but unfortunately didn't finish.

What I'm trying to say if I can do this, you can too -- not necessarily with the goal of a triathlon, but a lifestyle change. For me, I needed a specific goal to work toward (and the threat of utter shame and dishonor on my family name hanging over my head) to kick me in the butt. Now, I actually (actually) enjoy exercising. Plus, I don't feel as guilty throwing back a few margaritas at happy hour when I've run in the morning.

I challenge you to discover your trigger. Don't let it pass you by though. To the naked eye, your trigger may at first seem like a reason to eat a pint of Ben & Jerry's and binge-watch OITNB, but if you look closely, it could be your moment to shed some skin (and possibly, a few pounds). Say to yourself, "Self, I'm sick of pretending I have to water my plants every time a friend invites me to a Zumba class." And, "Self, being known as the 'ringer' at the Indian buffet down the block is not making me happy in life, so maybe I should try a different route?" I totally regret not pressing snooze and running this morning, said no one ever.

And next time Justin is in town, you can bet I will be wearing jeans.