What Is “Fit”?

Last Sunday, I ran in the Oakland Running Festival’s “Run the Town” challenge: a 5K at 7:30am followed by a half-marathon at 9:10am for a total of 16.2 miles. I wasn’t feeling my best physically–I had a really bad cold, exacerbated by allergies, but I can be a pretty stubborn determined bugger–but overall, I did better than I expected. I was really happy with my 5K time (20:47) but I struggled with the half-marathon. I expected a finishing time of 1:55 – 1:58, so I was pleasantly surprised to learn that my official time was 1:50:34. Combined, I completed the challenge in 2:11:22 (how’s that for some fun coincidental math?).

Those numbers probably don’t mean much to you unless you run regularly, so here is some more context. ORF said it expected 10,000 participants this year, for all their races. Out of 189 “Run the Town” participants, I finished 14th overall–and ahead of the top female runner (the overall leader finished in 1:51:46). I found this factoid astounding (and a huge ego boost, not gonna lie). Like, being in the Top 25 of any list seems like a big accomplishment, though that may be my college sports fandom talking (being #14 means I get a decent bowl game!). But heck, I’m Top 15! And among my peer group–I fall in the Male 25-29 group–I finished #4. That’s Final Four status!

Now, the rest of this post isn’t me cherry-picking other flattering stats to show how great I am. Because after I was done patting myself on the back, I thought: “This is cool, but I still don’t have a six-pack.”

Isn’t that a depressing thought?  No matter what you can actually do physically, many of us still define physical fitness from a pure “look” aesthetic. For men, the prototype is the “V” shaped torso–broad shoulders and chest that narrow down into a slim waist devoid of flab. If you know me personally, you’re likely familiar with my weight loss story, when I essentially went from an XL t-shirt to a Medium (and in some cases, Small, if I’m feeling particularly brash). I know it’s a tremendous accomplishment, and it’s probably the greatest thing I’ve ever done for myself. But while I’ve remained around the same weight for more than a year now–and it’s a range I’m comfortable in–I also contemplate slimming down further, in pursuit of that ideal “look.”

The thing is, looking fit doesn’t perfectly match up with being fit. I think by a wide-range of definitions, I’m fit, and not just because I run regularly: I also lift weights, walk a ton, and my diet is fine overall. To get that six-pack, most of the work would be on the diet end, restricting my caloric intake while maintaining or increasing physical activity so I would lose weight overall. However, such a diet doesn’t discriminate–I would lose both fat and muscle, and monitoring your calories is a LOT of work (I’ve done it before, and it’s not fun). I’m not saying the payoff isn’t worth it–having girls and perhaps some guys gawk at my impressive physique seems like it would be fun (at least for a while), and looking at the mirror would be more pleasant too. However, getting the physique isn’t necessarily the hardest step. That would be maintenance, and considering I sit at a desk for most of the week, I don’t have ample opportunities to burn calories. In other words, it would be very easy to lose that six-pack physique. So would a glorious summer of shirtless photos be worth months of nibbling on protein and avoiding delicious carbs? Maybe, maybe not–but I haven’t been convinced that the payoff is worth it. I also don’t possess the necessary motivation right now, as beer and milk tea present a wonderful counterargument.

Look, I’m definitely not complaining about my current lot. Three years ago, walking up a long flight of stairs wiped me out and left me in a pool of sweat; my friends (God bless them) actually worried about my future health. Today, I can do pull-ups, I’ve been playing flag football for a year, I’m about to start playing recreational basketball, I hike with friends–it’s been a heck of a time to be alive. Heck, I ran 16 miles for fun last Sunday and was one of the best at doing it amongst people who choose to run for fun. Yet, I’ll admit, I’m still self-conscious about my undefined midsection that carries a layer of stubborn flab. But hey, to be human is to notice that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. I’m pretty sure cows just see grass.

Keep on pushing the pile, friends!



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