For those who don’t know me, it is a well-known fact among those who do, that I am, in all likelihood, the slowest eater on Planet Earth. I have been awarded this distinction in part due to copious amounts of undisputed evidence, witnessed by anyone who has ever shared a meal with me, and I am powerless and incapable of denying it.
I come by this unfortunate habit, or healthy one depending on how you look at it, for a number of different reasons, none of which I will go into in any great detail, but suffice it to say that I am a slow eater because: a) I chew slowly, b) occasionally forget that I am chewing by reason of distraction, like reading a magazine, c) get caught up in conversation at the table and d) generally have to eat well beyond the point of satiation in order to consume adequate calories to sustain my training regime and maintain hard earned muscle mass.
In combination, these factors make for some agonizingly long and lonesome mealtimes, as I find myself abandoned and alone to finish my meal, mostly as a result of me shooing people away so as to prevent them from wasting time out of courtesy for my prolonged ingestion. I am often apologetic for my masticating deficiencies, but have come to accept it, and even feel a hint of satisfaction when people tell me that it’s better for digestion to eat slowly. Another positive side effect tends to be getting out of doing the dishes.
So, you can imagine my great delight, and shameless pride, when the perfect storm brews and I find myself in a situation where, miracle of miracles, I can eat the pants off just about anything that moves. This happens once or twice a year, and is an event of wondrous amazement to anyone who witnesses it, as though they cannot believe what their eyes are seeing.
I came by just such an occasion a couple of weeks ago, after the 3rd World Cup of the season in Moscow, Russia. It would be an overstatement to say that the food at the hotel in Moscow was appetizing. It was a drastic improvement to the food I ate the last time I was in Moscow (fish heads anyone?), but when you are a picky eater like me, unidentifiable meat products and dry, boiled potatoes get old pretty quick. As a result, I tend to eat less than I should. Combine that with the fact that we usually race around two or three in the afternoon means I don’t eat lunch, just energy bars and fruit. I often feel pretty hungry and become ravenous at day’s end.
My teammate Clara threw out the suggestion a day before the competition started that we should go to McDonald’s for dinner after racing on Sunday. I was a definite and enthusiastic yes. This is an unusual move for me. I would say that most people on our team consider me a bit of a health nut because I just don’t eat unhealthy food and instead opt for things like kale, dried cranberries and fish oil. This is also an undisputable fact, but I am not at all apologetic for it. But on this day, the thought of liver (yes, they served liver) for dinner on Sunday night was just too much to bear.
Upon returning to the hotel in the early evening, four of us girls set off into the blowing wind and snow in search of McD’s. Knowing only the general direction and approximate distance we started walking with the assumption that we would eventually find it. It was cold, and we didn’t have much time to spare, so we broke into a light jog in order to get there faster. Can you believe it? I was actually running to McDonald’s! I was so hungry the thought of greasy fries and ketchup and a couple of cheeseburgers had me drooling. We got to where we thought it would be, but to no avail.
We were surrounded by endless communist-era apartment buildings and there were no shops of any kind in sight. We stopped jogging and looked around. The buildings sheltered us from the wind and it became strangely quiet. We had to find it!! Standing in the middle of the dark street, the four of us searching, I called out in a meek but desperate voice, “Where are the golden arches?” Well Clara just about fell over – “Kristina, did you actually just say that?” she asked incredulously. Well I did, and I was not going back to the hotel without a cheeseburger in my belly.
We forged ahead. “It has to be out here somewhere,” we said in unison. We came across a busier road, and in the distance we could see buildings and lights. And lo and behold, my eyes were drawn to a large glowing beacon in the night – the golden arches! “There it is!” I pointed and we all cheered.
We resumed a quick jogging pace – now I could taste it! When we got there we had to stand in line, or at least what passes for a ‘line’ in Russia. It turns out McDonald’s is pretty popular! I was practically shaking in line I was so hungry. We gestured that we needed a picture menu and I pointed excitedly at my choices – two cheeseburgers, small fries and sprite. Okay, not exactly a glutton-fest, but still plenty for me!
Clara and I sat down first while Christine and Brittany ordered. I McHoovered every last morsel, barely taking time to breathe, in less than five minutes, certainly much faster than Clara, who was mostly sitting there laughing and taking what must be three of the worst photos of me ever taken. I was practically done before Britt and Christine sat down.
Now, in speed skating everything is about time. The sole purpose of our sport is to try and skate the fastest time. Our times are measured against one another and a winner is determined. But we also keep track of our own personal best times, measuring ourselves against past selves and aiming to improve our own times, regardless of others. We all know our PB’s for each race that we do.
When I was a junior and neo-senior it seemed I got a PB just about every time I set out to race. The improvement curve is much steeper at a younger age and lower level. But now, PB’s are harder to come by and I might even go a season or two without getting a PB. A PB of just a tenth or two or a few hundredths is cause for celebration. So, I don’t focus on PB’s so much anymore, instead I focus on other, less tangible things like arm swing, body position and pain tolerance, all of which help me skate just that little bit faster.
As such, I think I’ve begun searching for other things in which to measure improvement. Must be the athlete in me that drives this competitive behaviour. I recently bought a little portable video game with the game ‘Brain Age’ to prevent my brain from getting dumb and keep me occupied on the road. I get pretty pumped when I attain a PB for any of the games and strive to improve every time I play. In China last week, I succumbed to heavy eyes and jet lag pretty early every night, but on the fourth night I made it to 10:30pm and my roommate declared it a new PB!
What can I say? These are the things that make us human, and make us laugh. And that night at McDonald’s I dare say I set a new PB for eating speed, perhaps even a World Record (well, in the World of Kristina Groves that is)! I certainly won the event – hands down, no contest – I won!
Unfortunately I don’t think it was an officially sanctioned event so it might go unrecorded. At the very least I know it in my heart – and newly thickened arteries.