What Does It Mean To Be Fit?

When I was in Morocco for three months one of the people I hung out with the most was this British girl named Martha. She taught me a lot about the UK and British slang. It turns out that there instead of calling someone “hot,” you’d call them “fit.” (Though it sort of seems to apply more to girls? Maybe someone can clarify that?) The phrase “I hooked up with this hot girl” becomes in British “I pulled this fit girl.” To which I said, “Pulled? That’s weird.” And she said, “Hooked up? That’s gross.”

But, if you think about it, it sort of makes sense. What correlates to attractiveness? Generally, fitness.

Fitness is weird, though, ephemeral. It comes and goes and, sometimes, the harder you hold onto it the more it just slips away. I was at my most fit, by all accounts, in the fall of 2008. This picture is from then and doesn’t it look fit, scary possibly and not totally attractive, but fit? Maybe. I’m actually not sure. Can you even see fitness or, after a point, is it all in your head:

Not exactly an ad for fitness.
Not exactly an ad glamorizing fitness.

That high point was largely because we had moved to Marin and there was a shitload (official quantity) of way better riding and running than there had been in Sacramento, but also I wasn’t really working a ton. I went to work, I came home, I never had stuff I had to do in the evening and I was the opposite of stressed. I was bored. Even though I liked my boss and the organization, I lasted six months before someone offered me a different (much more stressful) job and I took it. Goodbye peak fitness.

I was the most unfit I’ve probably ever been ever around December 2003/January 2004. It turns out that I had always played sports and stuff. So, when I stopped doing that abruptly in college, it never occurred to me to do the whole lifestyle fitness thing instead. Literally. Did not cross my mind. I’m pretty sure I had never been to a gym just to go to the gym — as opposed to specifically training for something (which I didn’t do much either, because the gym was a weird place to me/is still a weird place to me now) — before 2004. By December, none of my pants fit me. The button on my favorite pair of jeans popped off when I bent over to pick something up. I had to walk part of a 5K in February or March of that year and that was when I was like yeah, so, this is not good.

(I have no pictures of that time, largely because Facebook didn’t add photos until my sophomore year, so where would these pictures be? In actual print? Let’s not be crazy.)

But, even at those points, they were relative degrees of fit and unfit for the general population. And, everything else in between, has been even smaller degrees of difference that seem like huge, giant, massive gulfs.


Summer 2010.
Summer 2010.

Verse this:

Summer 2011
Summer 2011

In which one was I more fit? Who even knows, right? Impossible to tell.

(B. The answer is B.)

Right now, I am out of shape. I ran mile repeats on Monday and I couldn’t even keep the last one under 6:30 despite almost shitting myself on the side of the high school boys’ soccer practice. Three months ago, I ran mile repeats 15″ faster. 15 is a lot of seconds. It’s infuriating. Two months ago I was very in shape and very fit and then I blew it all on a terrible race and wasted all my fitness.

I thought I’d hold onto it longer and come back faster and be totally ready to PR a half-marathon next weekend. That is 100% not going to happen. If I even ran the half-marathon, I’d definitely hurt myself. I ran 2 x 10′ at half-marathon pace last week and the only reason it was 10′ was because I couldn’t make it 15′. At least I think I couldn’t. Maybe my fitness is partially in my head. But, then, I was crippled the next day. My leg collapsed under me. And, that suggests that it’s not really current half-marathon pace doesn’t it?

So, am I fit right now? No, not really. Super no. Am I more fit than lots of people? Yeah, sure, definitely. Am I ever going to be as fit as some of the people I know? Hah, not ever, never ever.

If I was going to draw a graph of my fitness in the last few years it would look like a roller coaster (of emotion! what.) and the differences would seem huge. Minutes and minutes worth of time in a race. But, I can only draw that now, in retrospect. From the three years between peak fitness in fall 2008 and calling it quits on triathlon in fall 2011, I don’t think I could have told you during it when I was fitter or better or more ready than other times. Every now and then there’d be a workout or a ride or a series of days that’d I’d think huh, I’m getting stronger, I couldn’t have done this before. But, then there’d be a workout or a ride or a series of days that I’d think what is wrong with me??

A year ago, I was pretty close to the fittest I’ve been and definitely was running the fastest I’ve ever run. I was consistently floored at what I was able to do, though I bombed sometimes. But, at the end, when I looked back at the training log and what I’d written to Mario in the comments about workouts, it was pretty much, everyday: “I’m exhausted and this was terrible. I thought I was going to throw up and my legs felt like 100 pounds.” Not one time did I write: Man, I am fit.

When were you the most fit?

3 thoughts on “What Does It Mean To Be Fit?

  1. I wrote about this in my trusty paper diary almost a year ago, “when did I last feel fit or really in shape?” The answer is certainly not now! But even having raced “pro” for 3-ish years, I think the only time I felt really fit, as opposed to “I’m too fat, I’m too slow” (even when I really wasn’t fat or slow) was in 2009 after doing 3 TBB training camps in a row from February through November. AKA the first year I went pro and the only year I was at training camps practically full time. By the end of the year I had broken 10hrs twice in the IM two weeks apart but I was also starving myself inadvertently and kinda miserable. I was definitely fit in the two years following that, but was always chasing how fit I felt back in 2009. I wish I could answer “when were you most fit?” with “NOW! Right now, baby!” but I also realize my priorities have shifted big time to more grown-up things like work and career and paying off those stupid student loans. I’m still way more fit than anyone I work with but it’s such a far cry from where you and I “used to be” but I don’t wanna dwell on that too much, it makes me a little sad. 😦

  2. My experience (as someone who competed in a sport for the first time ever at age 26, so in other words, my *limited* experience) is that I never know when I was fit until I’m really not fit anymore. I look at pictures (and training schedules…) from the middle of training for Vineman last summer and I’m like, OH, that’s what that was! Fitness!

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