Four weeks out from competition day, my life has become a series of Hungry Games: “The Gauntlet of Desire,” “None For Me,” “Dirty Refeeds–A Glimpse of Heaven,” etc. Long story short, I’m hungry. All day, most of the night. Thinking-about-food-every-waking-minute hungry. I go to bed fantasizing about what I’d most like to eat for breakfast (though I know it’ll be egg whites and rice). I dream about eating food. I wake up hungry. I’m hungry half an hour after I eat. It’s part of the package deal that is contest prep, and yeah, I volunteered for it. (<– See what I did there? Hunger Games tie-in?)
Every morning I wake up spontaneously between 4:30 and 5:15, because that’s what happens at this stage of prep. (It has something to do with cortisol and depletion and blahblahblah…whatever.) Since this is hours before I get to eat my first meal, at 7:30, I do something fun to pass the time. I’m lying. I do fasted cardio.
I drink a cup of black coffee, take the first of my empty-stomach supplements, and go to the gym not just hungry, but with the grumbling, black-hole emptiness that someone who has been in a calorie deficit for the past 16 weeks might be expected to feel. I walk in, find a treadmill with no view of the the TVs (because nonstop Golden Corral commercials), and leave with a nearly desperate desire to stuff my face with anything that can fit into it and be chewed.
Then I steel myself and walk out of the gym to do battle with the Gauntlet of Desire. The gym is 2.14 miles from my house. Doesn’t seem like much. It’s not. Except now that it’s the Hungry Games, it’s starting to feel like a trek straight out of A Pilgrim’s Progress. (Slough of Despond? Been there.)
The gym shares a parking lot with the following: Dairy Queen, Baja Fresh, Cafe Zuppas, Smashburger, and Nathan’s Detroit Pizza. I ignore these; they’re not open at 6 a.m., they can’t hurt me. However, this is no safe place: Einstein’s Bagels and Pinkbox Doughnuts ARE open, and this is a huge problem because Pinkbox is filling all the breathable air in the universe with their fresh-made doughnut aroma. Put a 24-hour gym next to a 24-hour doughnut shop? Well played, Pinkbox, well played.
I hold my breath till I get to the car so I don’t have to take in any more of the debilitating fumes of freshly fried apple fritters than is strictly necessary.
I maneuver my car over the 42 speed bumps on the way to the exit (which has nothing to do with food but is extremely irritating). Pulling out of the parking lot, I face a Del Taco (open 24-hours) on my right and a Jack in the Box (ditto) on my left. At the first turn, a few hundred yards from the parking space I just left, I meet a Taco Bell, a Subway, and a McDonald’s. All open at 6:30 a.m., opportunistic bastards.
Turning left at the light, I drive past two grocery stores (where Ben & Jerry live), a Carl’s Jr, another McDonald’s, and a Trader Joe’s, where I know there are carrot cake cupcakes wearing an inch of cream cheese frosting.
If I make it past all of these, I must still face the NY Deli and Bagel Cafe, home of my current favorite fantasy breakfast: an inner-tube-sized sesame bagel, toasted, with olive cream cheese; spinach and feta omelette; french fries. I drive by, averting my eyes, but make a note to add a side of cheesecake the next time I’m there.
I pass three bars, which may not seem problematic, especially if you live in any place other than Las Vegas. But here, they pour ’round the clock, so bars tend to have some damn fine breakfasts…and I know that these three harbor treachery in the form of cornflake-crusted french toast, hash and egg skillets, and eggs Benedict. Plus beer.
By the time I make it home–past the Chinese restaurant that makes killer shrimp rangoons and an egg foo yung with gravy you could drink, and two gas stations, home to SnickersandHoHosandDoritosandhellevenbeefjerkysoundsgood, I’m so ravenous that egg whites and rice actually sounds delicious.
And that’s my morning. I have a few hours to gird my loins for the return to the Hob later. When I go back to the gym for my strength workout in the afternoon, all of those places I mentioned will now be open. And Pinkbox will still be permeating the air with the incense of joy.