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.

This:

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?

Weight and Training: Understanding What It Is Everyone Cares So Much About

The past few days I’ve gone a little nuts with the eating and drinking.

Wednesday I had some cookies for a “meal” while at a meeting, then came home and had half a bottle of wine and hummus for dinner, with more cookies for dessert. Thursday, I had five strawberry mojitos — they must have been virgin or something, because I swear I was just drinking strawberry juice — and a burger and fries. And, then because I didn’t have a pizookie at BJs, I decided to make a batch of mint-chocolate chip cookies Friday night and finish the bottle of wine. Saturday, I took it easy. Just a burrito. And, then Sunday, I had french toast in the morning with eggs and sausage, and then two pints, some pizza, and a brownie sundae.

All of which meant last night I was laying in bed and really felt like throwing up. And, not in an abstract way. I mean I actually could imagine the food coming back up. I thought it might make me feel better, like when you’ve had too much to drink.

That’s not something I would actually do — force myself to throw up — because it’s 1. gross and 2. crazy. But, laying there, I could imagine what people feel like before they do.

Growing up, I never thought about food or weight. At all. Not even a little bit. I was vaguely aware that what you weighed was something other people cared about and that twice a year the doctor would tell you to jump on a scale, which I always found fascinating, but it never crossed my mind the other 363 days. It’d have been like caring about learning to sing opera. Why would you?

When I tell people that I never learned to care about this and I grew up with no ability to understand why someone might stress about their weight, they think I’m overcompensating or lying, protesting too much. I’m not. I simply never lived in a house with a scale until I was 22. I also am incapable of identifying car brands, couldn’t have told you which was the Pacific Ocean until I after lived in California for two years, and can only vaguely pretend to care about musicians because I have sensed over the years that it would make me weird if I didn’t.

So, besides health classes and Lifetime movies that went on and on about anorexia and bulimia, I remained blissfully unaware. (Evidently, now, health classes go on about diabetes and obesity.)

I headed off to college and for a whole wealth of reasons — mono; being sick limiting me from walking on to the cross-country team; in turn, laying in bed a lot and watching TV; all-you-can-eat buffets in the dining hall, which included unlimited sugar cookies that were easy to sneak out in giant tupperware containers; eating those sugar cookies while lying in bed and watching TV; a diet that consisted mostly of cookies and Hot Pockets — I went from being something around 108-114 lbs. to something around 126-131 lbs.

As I understand it now, that’s a large weight gain. But, I swear, you couldn’t tell. Sorta.

Here are some pictures from when I was in high school:

Don't I look cute. Getting ready for a dance.
Don’t I look cute. Getting ready for a dance.
Which one is me?? And ok, yes, I look freakishly skinny in this photo, but I think it's just because my head looks really big.
Which one is me?? And ok, yes, I look freakishly skinny in this photo, but I think it’s just because my head looks really big.

Here are some pictures from my freshman/sophomore years, when I was “bigger:”

I just find this picture hilarious. Ignore the slightly underage drinking in the photo. It was years ago. I would never do that now. Obviously.
I just find this picture hilarious. Ignore the slightly underage drinking. It was years ago. I would never do that now. Obviously.
Which one am I??
Which one am I??

So, can you tell? Yeah, probably, somewhat. But not really. At no time did I ever enter the realm of unhealthy, even when once I bent over and the top button popped off of my favorite jeans — something I, to this day, regret, because I loved those jeans. Still, it genuinely never really occurred to me that I was putting on weight. I laughed when the button popped off and cursed the laundry machines and bought new clothes over Christmas break.

Self-confidence has never been an issue. For better or worse.

That meant that precisely when you thought I’d have developed a sympathy and understanding of what other people were going through, I didn’t. Instead, I thought: hah, I can put on 18 lbs. and you can’t even tell. (Sorta.)

It wasn’t until I started on the triathlon team that someone really gave me a reason to care about what you weigh. Because it can make you go faster. (Actually, I think the main lesson I took from the nutrition guy that first year on triathlon was: Eat immediately after workouts. I’d stand in the showers after swim practice, then, with my giant bag of M&Ms and swear to everyone it was “recovery food.”)

I’m mostly a rational person, and also I like eating, so while I was aware that there’s a theoretical optimal race weight, I didn’t go nuts. It was all a theory. You lose weight, you gain it, you try to eat some vegetables, whatever.

But, once there was a scale in front of me and numbers, then it was easy for it to just become another target to hit, like any workout. Certainly, numbers wouldn’t go down every day or forever. You don’t get faster every day or forever, either. Instead, you’d write them down on your calendar next to your training and look at the overall trends and nod in satisfaction.

When I told someone this once, they said I had an eating disorder. Which, I thought, was idiotic, because – besides being wrong – it missed the point. Caring about the weight numbers was no more unhealthy or obsessive than caring about the bike power numbers or the swim splits or tearing yourself up because you couldn’t hit your track times. It’s probably not even the most messed up thing plenty of athletes worry about.

Yet, briefly, as I tried to get down to something close to race weight once (in a healthy, reasonable way over six weeks, ok), I could almost see what it was everyone cared so much about. I wasn’t going to keep driving those numbers down, obsessed, until I became a 60 lb. skeleton of a person, because that’d be 1. gross and 2. crazy. But, I could see that cliff edge off in the distance and understand how someone might find themselves looking over it.

So, the past few days I’ve gone a little nuts with the eating and the drinking, which I’ll stop for a while and which I’ll probably do again at some point, because, you know, it’s life. And, I will probably feel horrible again when I do, like I will be full for the rest of forever. And, then, regardless of whether I had the chocolate-chip cookie platter or the salad, I’ll go out and try to hit my targets and my goals and my paces. I’ll write down my little numbers and stress about them.

I’m sure you can understand.