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In shape vs. racing shape: How I view my fitness level

Posted Aug 05 2011 12:44pm

This morning, I woke up nice and early to get in a speed workout before work. It was only my second speed workout since I got the boot off after my stress fracture , and I was a little bit nervous. As I was planning my workout last night, I decided to do a 5k with a one-mile warm-up, one mile tempo, and one mile quick but not sprinting. This morning, I completed my first warm-up mile in a 9:13/mile pace, did my second mile in an 8:26/mile pace, and then finished up with my last mile+ in 8:58/mile for an average pace of 8:52/mile.

As I cooled down and figured out my splits, I felt the frustration and sadness begin to set in. Today’s speed workout was challenging for me. It was difficult for me to maintain my tempo pace during the second mile and stay under a 9:00/mile during the third mile. During my tempo mile, my breathing was labored and heavy. The run today did not feel effortless and easy; it was a struggle for me. A thought crossed my mind and made me grimace: I’m out of shape.

For a few minutes, I felt bad for myself. I thought back on the races I’ve done in the past year, and I compared my pace from today’s workout with my pace during those races. At both the Wine Country Half Marathon in October 2010 and the Kaiser Permanente half marathon in February 2011, I maintained a sub-8:30/mile pace for the entire 13.1 miles. Today, it was challenging for me to hold that pace for one mile. I felt frustrated as I thought about how much I’ve slowed down since my stress fracture back in March.

Running at Kaiser in February

After my run, I came home and flipped through some recent photos from our trip to Canada last month. Most of the photos are of me and J doing active things–hiking, biking, walking around, farming. As I thought back on our time in Canada and my last few weeks in San Francisco, I realized something important: I may not be in race shape, but I’m still in shape. Staying active, strong, and healthy is a top priority in my life, but being fit will mean something different throughout my life.

Hiking in San Francisco

Biking in Vancouver

A few years ago, being fit meant playing college soccer. When I first moved back to San Francisco in 2009, I was exhausted from my work and graduate school, so being fit meant going to the gym three or four days a week. Starting in January of 2010, being fit meant running four or five days a week and gradually working my way up to running longer distances. In September of 2010, being fit meant completing my first sprint triathlon . Before I fractured my foot, being fit meant running four or five days a week, completing long-distance races and speedy half-marathons, hiking on the weekends, and swimming or spinning one day a week. During my two months in the boot, I kept myself fit by lifting weights, cranking on the arm bike, swimming, and doing lots of ab work four or five days a week. Since getting the boot off, I have kept myself fit by doing a combination of running, swimming, cycling, and hiking between four and six days a week.

As I thought about what I’ll call my “fitness life” over the past five years, I realized that my definition of being fit has evolved considerably, and it continues to change and develop in conjunction with the events and circumstances in my life. It can be motivating and inspiring to think about what being fit has meant to me at different points in my life, but it can also be demoralizing and frustrating as it was this morning. At every step along the way, I need to remind myself that where I am in terms of my fitness is a combination of factors and a reflection of the rest of my life. As such, I choose how I’m going to respond to and think about my progress and level of physical fitness at any given moment. This morning I completed a speed workout for only the second time in four months due to a stress fracture. Last Sunday, I completed an 8-mile run for the first time in five months. I can choose to feel frustrated about both of these things–my tempo run was much slower than my tempo runs from six months ago, and eight miles is nothing compared with the 20 that I ran in March. Or I can choose to feel incredibly accomplished–I went from not running at all in April, May, and part of June to completing a speedy 5k and an 8-mile run this week! And both runs were FUN, exciting, and pain-free.

In the span of an hour this morning, I went from feeling frustrated and dejected to feeling excited, inspired, and motivated by my own accomplishments and progress. I was able to reassess my fitness goals and realize that where I am in my fitness life right now is a reflection of what’s been going on in my life and with my body for the past few months. Rather than feel badly about how much my pace has slowed and how many miles I’m able to run now, I feel inspired by my commitment to staying fit and constantly redefining what this means to me. I do have hopes of someday returning to my sub-8:30/mile half-marathons and 30k (or more!) races, but for now I will continue to do the activities I love that make my body fit, active, and healthy–and I will feel proud of myself for my dedication to this lifestyle.

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