Thursday, June 18, 2009

Fit to Ride, Part One: Going for the Goal

Eleven years ago, I thought I had fitness all figured out.

At 5'3" and 115 pounds of camp-counselor-suntan, I looked pretty fair in my wedding dress. I knew how to put four food groups on the table in the form of a tuna casserole with white pasta and cheddar, plus a side of canned green beans dressed up in vinegar and minced onion. Every weekday, I attended at least one aerobics class at the local gym. People at the office, to which I ran or biked in almost any weather, considered me a "health nut." All I can say is, Good heavens! What would they call me now?

I've learned a lot since then, you see...including that I was neither well-nourished nor fit during that time. I was merely young and genetically blessed with a mesomorphic body type. In those days, I believed fitness was about burning enough calories to make a pair of jeans look good. I hadn't a clue about the impact of micronutrients on long-term health, the nutritional nightmare that is processed foods, the benefits of high intensity interval training -- or, for that matter, just how sexy a little muscle can be.

And it showed. This embarrassing photo was taken in the spring of 2005, when I was 27. Was I appallingly overweight? No. But I was a far cry from the leanness and strength to which I now aspire.

Between then and now, I've put hundreds of self-study hours into an attempt to understand nutrition and fitness. Though my formal qualifications on the subjects amount to approximately zero, I have at least managed to identify my goal -- always a good first step.

It's a simple goal, and one that's critically linked to my beliefs about fitness for endurance riders. Here it is: To achieve leanness, cardiovascular endurance, and a high level of functional strength supported by whole food nutrition.

Why this goal? I believe that an ideal endurance athlete -- the human half -- must be both lean, that is, have a low body fat ratio, and strong, which I could casually define as having the muscular and cardiovascular capacity to exert maximum power during productive work. (Note that, as discussed in the comments precipitated by this post, "lean and strong" looks different on different people. I'm not talking about preparing for a beauty contest here. This is about contributing my fair share in a team event.)

So, how does a person become lean and strong? As you can see by the above photo, the answer is not to be found in a "healthful" diet of barbequed pork chops, roasted potatoes, and asparagus with lemon butter, plus an hour of step aerobics or a jog at dusk. That level of effort may hold you around average -- but in case you haven't noticed, "average" these days comes equipped with devastating rates of cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, arthritis, and myriad other degenerative, disruptive, deadly, and largely preventable diseases.

Pharmaceutical companies love "average."

I, on the other hand, am not a fan of mediocrity. My horse can't be "average" and strive for a 20,000-mile endurance career (like the equine half of this admirable pair. Note especially the rider's fitness program -- Hint: it ain't step aerobics)...and neither should I.

It has taken me a few years to figure out how to leave mediocrity in the dust. I'm still learning, of course, but over the next week or so I'll attempt to codify my most important lessons in a series of posts about workouts and nutritional concepts that may strike some readers as extreme. For those who are interested, however, I hope to offer a jumping-off point for your own pursuit of ideal fitness -- for your horse's sake.


Related Posts

Fit to Ride, Part Two: Vice and Advice

Fit to Ride, Part Three: Eating Clean

Fit to Ride, Part Four: Sweet Surrender

Fit to Ride, Part Five: Eating Green

Fit to Ride, Part Six: Milk Got You?

Straight Sailing: Thoughts on Fitness for Endurance Riders


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Boots and Saddles 4 Mel said...

Yep - I agree. I try to make health and fitness a lifestlye. It's definately more than wieght and fitting into my jeans. It's how I feel, how I perform etc. I was fortunate enough to have never been able to eat whatever I wanted and stay thin. I have always had to choose my foods carefully and be active. As a result, at 24, I'm much better off and have some really good habits.

I am going to be very interested in seeing your workouts. Although running remains my core activity (because I really enjoy it - especially my fartlek runs), I'm constantly looking for other stuff to supplement it.

Lori Skoog said...

You have great discipline and a good brain to go along with it. My observation is that too many Americans have difficulty committing to do things that are not "easy." And not just physical things. I have been retired since 1999...I have done chores every morning and night for nearly 30 years and am much stronger than most of my friends at this age...but I too, could stand to drop pounds. Bad knees and bone spurs can have a great impact on your activity (especially the speed with which you do things).

Nicole said...

Have to ask - is that a recent photo of you and Aaruba?? Seems like your injury wasn't too long ago - how has that fit in with your new fitness regimen? Are you almost ready to get back in the saddle??

Hope not only the fitness but also the healing is going well!

Mena said...

I eagerly await the rest of this series...

You look so strong and fit in the second photo! Congratulations on striving to become a great partner for your horse(s) and achieving that goal!

Carol said...

Very fascinating post! I must say that I would give anything to look like you in your "embarrasing photo."

I am trying very hard to loose weight, eat better and exercise (at least a little) each day. I know that I am a far cry from a good endurance rider, but to me...trying is better than doing nothing.

The story about Dr. Carr and Tulip was very inspirational. I really like it that he doesn't focus so much on winning the races he rides in, but more on finishing the ride, logging the miles, and caring for his horse. Very cool!

I also found the article about body types interesting. I knew there were different types, but not that there were necessarily names for them....I think I'm a combination of two of them.

Thank you for sharing the info. I, too, am looking foward to your future posts on fitness.

Carol said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Carol said...

OOops....sorry, but my comment published twice -- so I removed one. computers...*sigh*

The Mogur of Whitewater said...

All of this makes me wonder about our long-used menus for river trips. Most of those meals were planned with only two objectives: (1) to provide lots of calories to compensate for those burned off during a long, physically demanding day of rafting; and (2) to taste great and impress ourselves with our ability to dine well in the wilderness.

You know, of course, that my sister has long been an advocate of making our meals more healthful. (She says "healthy," but you and I both know that is gramatically incorrect.) And I'm far from convinced that her brand of "healthful" (borderline veganism) is actually good for human health.

Still, I can't deny that a full-time diet of the things we routinely eat on our raft trips would lead to early death. What I want to know, is can we still accomplish our goals one and two, while modifying our recipes to facilitate good health? Or is it okay to indulge ourselves for a few days every year?

Jackie said...

I'm looking forward to more of your recipes. I've been using the the baked oatmeal bars on ride mornings. The coconut curry has become a favorite, as well as the couscous & edaname dish.

To all the rest of you. Lets try and keep our spirits up as we try to emulate Tamara. If I can just be a little more like her I will be happy :)

LizGoldsmith, EquineInk said...

I too am looking forward to future posts.

Having fallen off the fitness wagon for the past year (as I launch a new business) I woke up to find myself having lost all of the fitness I had gained as a competitive swimmer and don't ike the way I feel.

Now I just need to find time to workout and ride and work and take care of my family and house!

Mena said...

Hey... I just started my own endurance blog, and I thought you might like to check it out.

Spartacus Jones said...

Excellent post.
You're so right.
Form follows function.
Most people are far too concerned with superficial appearance rather than performance.
Train to DO what you want to do, and you'll look like you're supposed to look like when you DO that.
And it'll be good.


Tamara of In the Night Farm said...

Once again, all, I apologize for my tardy response. I'll be on the road for just another couple days...

Boots -- I, too, really enjoy running. You're right, though, that it isn't adequate on its own. I'll address that shortly...

Thanks, Lori. :) I'm a big believer in the value of daily activity, such as farm work. However, some gains can only be obtained through diet more focused physical effort. Again, something I'll address shortly.

Hi Nicole and Mena -- That photo of me and Aaruba was taken last summer, 6+ months before I got serious about physical conditioning. ;) Nicole, that hamstring injury had an interesting (and not altogether negative) impact on my personal training schedule. It provided an opportunity to focus on upper body work.

Carol -- Good observation. Most people do, indeed, have characterics blurring the lines between the three, major body types.

Mogur -- The answer to both questions is "yes." :) The river menus can be modified/replaced with more healthful (but still high-energy) meals...and it's okay to relax the standards at times. (But I have to ask: Is it best to relax one's dietary standards when one is relying on his physical capacity to be safe and have a good time?) I think the upcoming posts will address this further.

Jackie -- You're sweet. And your comment motivates me to keep living up to my own standards!

Bingo, SJ. As usual. :)