February 19, 2012

Why do you subject yourself to these things?

“Why do you subject yourself to these things?”

This, or something along these lines, was a question that a friend asked me the other day when I was expressing excitement for some of my upcoming events, like the Disney Princess Half and Warrior Dash.

“To prove that I can” was the only response I could come up with immediately, but the question stayed with me so I thought I would answer it more fully here.

First, the most pragmatic reason for signing up for these admittedly self-punishing races and challenges is to keep me on track with my weight loss.  Now that I’ve lost almost 65 pounds since I started this whole thing I better understand what keeps me motivated.  Signing up for some kind of race and acknowledging it publicly commits me in a way that nothing else will.  So, expect me to look for more races and athletic events and expect me to talk with you about it.  Publicly committing keeps me honest.  Additionally, I’m less likely to eat crap when I know I have CrossFit or an 8 mile run in the morning.  It motivates me to eat well.

Second, it part of my insatiable desire to be considered an athlete, and an extreme one at that.  I think that a lot of people who grew up heavy/fat/portly/chubby can agree that people may have thought of them as smart, funny, cute, humble, kind, jealous, awkward, whatever else and a hundred other adjectives but probably do not remember that other people, or themselves, saw them as athletic or as an athlete.  There are always some exceptions: lots of female softball players are a bit rounder and it doesn’t hinder them at all.  Also, there are a lot of men whose heavy bodies gave them an athletic advantage like in football, rugby, or wrestling.   But for me?  No, not athletic.  And so now, as I try to make up for something I can’t even label and try to redefine myself, being a casual exerciser is not enough.  I need to compete.  I need to improve.  I also need to visibly show people that I can do these things.  It is the bizarre, psychotic need to validate myself and be validated by others.

Third, it is addictive and quantifiable.  Losing weight is addictive.  Lifting more weight than I did a month ago?  Addicting.  10 and 11 minute miles?  All consuming.  I have to try to do them again.  Can I beat myself?  Counting pull-ups (or attempts at pull-ups) is a quantifiable thing.  Measuring weight?  I can count that and actually document improvement.  Dead lifting 100 pounds one week and 115 two weeks later?  That’s something I can write down and see on paper that I am improving and getting stronger.  Running one more mile than the week before is something I can keep track of.  Unlike my pants which some days fit better than others or my struggles with binge eating which can emotionally wreck me for days, finishing a race or doing what others think you cannot do is this identity-changing, all-satisfying, fulfilling experience I would wish for everyone.

So, with that, I think I’ll sign up for the Gulf Coast Pensacola Half Marathon in April.

1 comment:

Christopher Griffin said...

I totally feel you on those reasons. I find the personal goals addicting. Plus, I want to expand my identity. To be limited to your position in family and your job is so boring. I am a dad and teacher (or "that bald guy"). But I want to be identified as "that crazy guy that bikes everywhere," "runner," "athlete," etc., too. I was surprised when it turned out to work too. When I was living in NY, and MD this last year, I met people who recognized me specifically because they had seen me running some place. That is a cool feeling.