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.
Fit to Ride, Part Two: Vice and Advice
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