Fitness is kind of an intense word. Synonyms for it include robust, strength, toughness, and vigor. Those are also sort of intimidating words, mostly because they carry a certain connotation or expectation along with them.
When I hear the word “fitness,” the image of an elite athlete comes to mind. When I read the word fitness, I envision high-intensity strength or endurance training. When I hear other people talking about their fitness routines or adventures, I assume they’re running half marathons on the regular or scaling Mount Olympus in record time. And when I attempt to partake in fitness, I realize that my preconceived notions of what fitness entails or what it “should” look like, well, it runs deep.
But you know what? Fitness doesn’t have to be daunting. Quite contrary; it can come in a lot of forms. Like, a mellow bike ride to the corner grocery store, a 20-minute walk on your lunch break, or a mile-long run throughout your neighborhood. And while there’s certainly nothing wrong with going out and slaying a 7-minute half marathon on the weekend, you’re simply not required to crush every activity. The only thing, per se, that fitness requires is a willingness to be creative and flexible, which is sometimes harder than it looks.
For example, I’m not one for races but for some reason, two years ago, I set out to run a half marathon. I didn’t necessarily want to run a specific race; I only wanted to run the 13.1 miles fast, hard, and well. For me, this meant running at a 7-something-minute pace. After running six days a week for about a month and a half or so, I flopped. Not only did I totally fail to complete the training, but I also ran myself into the ground attempting to fulfill the image of what I thought a runner should be. I had a big ask of my body—why couldn’t I be content knowing that I was getting out there and doing my best? Better yet, why do we, as humans, do that? Why do we hold ourselves to such high expectations?
“In truth, had I approached my training through a lens of exploration and genuine self-compassion (rather than what I thought I should be as a runner), I don’t think I would have crashed and burned as hard as I did.”
As much as I hated to wave my flag of defeat, I wouldn’t change that experience for the world. Yes, nursing a sore ego bothered me more than getting my butt kicked on a long run, but the foundation that the training created for me was well worth it. Going for pre-scheduled runs not only forced me to get organized with my week, but it also pushed me to explore my city. I was more than happy to amble through the local neighborhoods and look for creative endpoints (or bathroom breaks) in and around East Boston. In truth, had I approached my training through a lens of exploration and genuine self-compassion (rather than what I thought I should be as a runner), I don’t think I would have crashed and burned as hard as I did.
Even nowadays I catch myself getting frustrated on a 2-mile ramble through the neighborhoods. It’s just a fact: some days are harder than most. But I also recognize the glaring truth of fitness, which is that my run and your run are totally relative and unique to each and every individual. And not only that – each day is special and as a result presents new opportunities. I don’t have to run every single day, because every move I make is one that betters me in the long haul. In fact, as long as I get out and move, whether I go for a walk around the block on my lunch break or take the stairs rather than the elevator on my way into work, these efforts help me stay sane, healthy, and happy.