I wouldn’t be the person I am today without the fitness. I know that I sound a little too comparable to those home gym television ads, but it’s the truth. Fitness paved the way, well, for a lot of things. If you asked me what the top three were, I’d say confidence, self-worth, and awareness.
Quite frankly, I never considered what I was doing as a fitness-based activity. I always perceived it as a means to an end. For example, when I moved away for college, I brought along my mom’s Specialized Stumpjumper (circa 1986 or something nutty like that) because I didn’t have a driver’s license and, well, how else was I going to get around? At the time I felt like a total turd, but it later opened up a whole new world of commuting for me. And you can bet your bottom dollar that running has served me well, though if you asked me in middle school if I actually enjoyed running I would have told you “no, ugh, whatever.” But, fast forward 16 years later, without my now-ritualistic neighborhood cruises, I would have never figured out which area of Salt Lake City I wanted to buy a house in.
So, yes, fitness has worked well for me, but on the other hand, I haven’t always worn it as though it were a prized gem. It has been a real wacky process of figuring out what I enjoyed and what I thought I should be doing. But, to help keep me sane, I’ve broken down fitness into the following categories.
Fitness as a Means of Exploration
There’s something about exploring bipedally or “by pedals” that invokes a childlike part of my soul. The aspect that I’ve enjoyed the most (about exploring an urban setting) is the intimate relationship that fitness has encouraged between me and my surroundings. When I run, walk, or bike, I have a heightened awareness of what’s going on around me. To me, this is important because it forces me to remain in the present moment. As a result, I’m much more keen to the simple shifts in the sidewalk profile or stark changes in scenery, and in turn I’m in tune with what my body and brain needs. Not to mention, when I take the time to smell the roses, I’m less inclined to be preoccupied with social constraints or nuances.
Recently, a friend introduced me to a real novel idea: listening to books on tape (if you will) while walking. Between the endless myriad of to-dos, work, and whatnot, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed with the sheer amount of stuff that needs to get done in a day. So, if you’re like me, and wish you had more days in a week to read, listening to a book on tape while walking or running is an easy way to achieve two means of self care (those being fitness and reading). Evidently said friend has gotten so engrossed in a book that she rambled about through neighborhoods for over an hour. So, not only did she explore her city, but she was able to enjoy a well-deserved book.
Fitness isn’t restricted to walking, running, or cycling: there are other fun ways to engage your body that are more strength or speed based. And the beauty of living in an urban area is that you have an adult-sized playground at your fingertips.
Groups like the November Project have recognized such an innate availability, and have meetups across the states. Activities range from lapping stadium steps to obstacle-course-inspired workouts in neighboring parks. However, if you’re more of a lone wolf than you are a social butterfly, running stairs or working on high-intensity interval training in your local park can be a fun alternative. Also, strike while the iron is hot when encountering empty playgrounds: monkey bars and their compatriots present awesome opportunities for strength-based workouts. And your 10-year-old former self will be extremely impressed.
Fartlek training is also another great alternative for urban-based endeavors. If you’re not familiar with it, “fartlek” means “speed play” in Swedish. And while it’s certainly not a new methodology by any means, fartlek allows you to make the most out of a time constraint. Fartlek is akin to tempo training, but the difference for me is the distance that I choose to run. With fartlek, I run much shorter distances and I run much harder (than I would during a tempo run). This allows me to squeeze in a solid 20-minutes of intense cardio, regardless of how busy my day is.
I can get caught up in the novelty of numbers. But, recently I’ve been pushing myself to go for a 1-mile run or walk, even if I ran hard the day before and especially if I haven’t done much activity that day. And I don’t do this just because I feel the need to fulfill a quota or get a beach bod. I do it because that singular mile can improve my mood beyond words comprehensible: because regardless of whether or not I’m happy or sad, that 1-mile boosts my confidence.
Cultivating this kind of go-to is important. Feeling the immediate gratification of doing something nice for yourself is unparalleled (though, a day off has its weight in gold, too), and sometimes you just have to “walk it out,” whatever the “it” is. But, on the opposite side of the spectrum, I’ve found that challenging myself can be equally as rewarding… it’s just not always The Most Fun in the heat of the moment. That being said…
Fun Type Two
Some days I’m in dire need of a super grueling activity. Usually those same days end on a “Well, I’ll show those turds” kind of note. And while I may never actually “show those turds,” I certainly can put the pedal to the metal and grind out some frustrations.
On days like these, I like to run trails. Hard. I’ll often bring my dogs with me, because their dependably goofy and happy smiles always help me make light of a tough steep or a low-ego-kind-of-moment. But, more often than not, as my stomach creeps up and into my throat, I semi-regret my decision to turn up the heat (regardless of how stoked the dogs are). The getting-there part of the process is rarely fun, but once I reach the top or even as I finally make my way to the bottom of the trailhead, I feel so much better having pushed myself. Most of the time.
Take advantage of free, social events that are being hosted by local stores or organizations. Retail stores such as Lululemon, Patagonia, or REI will often provide monthly, weekly, or biweekly events for the community. These events can range from fun-runs, yoga, and even strength training workouts. In the past, I’ve discovered when these events are occurring by way of signing up for a retail store’s email newsletter. However, I’ll let you in on a not-so-secret secret: your very own Cotopaxi hosts a mellow and trail run aptly called the “Trail Tromp.” Every Thursday at 4pm, a group of runners meets at the Cotopaxi retail store location and cruises the nearby trails, so if you’re in the Salt Lake area, we’d love to see you!
Though, it’s important to note that as we mentioned in Part 1 of this series, fitness has a variety of different mediums and they all work (or don’t work) differently for different folks. So, again, what works for me may not work for you, but we’d love to hear your suggestions along the way.