Training is going well – my transition from walking to walk/running is coming right along, and I’m about to try out some new shoes that will hopefully work better than my current ones (the shoe thing is a whole blog post for another time.) I’m consistently doing the last hill repeat of each week faster than the first hill repeat from the week before. I’m feeling pretty good about where I’m at in the training.
The hatemail keeps pouring in – they are a cranky bunch. One of my haters favorite things to do is to make up something, say that I said it, then work themselves up into a lather talking about what a horrible person I am for saying it. It’s pretty hilarious to watch it happen, but sometimes they hit on some things that are actual issues. Recently one of the popular things that my haters pretend I said is “Ragen takes over 12 hours to do a marathon and claims that proves she’s healthy.” Not so much. But there is a ton of confusion around the concepts of health, fitness, and athletic events and I think it’s worth trying to clear some of that up today.
Health: According to the World Health Organization “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” This seems pretty black and white and I think that health is a lot more gray – does this mean that if someone has a stubbed toe they aren’t healthy? If they have anxiety they aren’t healthy. If someone is born with a permanent medical condition does that mean they never have a chance at health? I think that health should be multi-dimensional, I think it’s also important to be clear that it’s not entirely within our control (things like genetics, access including income, environment and more can effect our health) and that it can be a moving target, and based on each individual’s body, circumstances, and situation.
Fitness: There are a ton of definitions here, one of the most widely accepted is from University of Oregon professor of Physical Education H. Harrison Clarke, Ed.D. “The ability to carry out daily tasks (work and play) with vigor and alertness, without undue fatigue and with ample energy to enjoy leisure-time pursuits and to meet unforeseen emergencies.” There again, this is a moving target that depends on what kind of daily tasks you want to/have to participate in, what kind of leisure-time pursuits interest you, and what emergencies you might deal with. I’ve always been taught that fitness is built on four pillars: strength, stamina, flexibility, and technique in various proportions based on what you are trying to accomplish/what sport you are trying to play etc.
Athletic Event: This would be a test or application of some form of fitness. In my case a marathon, it could also be a 5k, hike, yoga competition, whatever. It could be organized, or just by yourself in your house, neighborhood, gym etc.
These three things have some things in common – none of them is a barometer of worthiness, none of them is entirely within our control, and none of them is an obligation.
While these three things may have some stuff in common, be connected in some ways, they aren’t the same, nor are they interchangeable. A person could meet the WHO definition of “health” having never done anything “athletic.” A person could have tremendous fitness in one area but not in others – for example someone could be incredibly strong but have very little cardiovascular stamina, or be able to run long distances but have limited flexibility and not be able to touch their toes. There are people who don’t even come close to the WHO definition of health who complete serious athletic events. There are people who are seriously engaged in fitness who never choose to participate in an athletic event. Again, none of these are a reason to judge someone, they are all perfectly cool ways to be.
This becomes particularly important when it comes to athletic events. My completing a marathon was proof that on that day and under those conditions I could successfully complete 26.2 miles in about 13 hours. That’s all it was proof of – it doesn’t prove that I’m healthy or that I’m not healthy, it may or may not be representative of my overall fitness. Lots of people who were capable of completing the Seattle marathon much faster than I could have possibly completed it didn’t finish the marathon at all. That doesn’t mean that I’m more fit or healthier than they are, or that there is any shame in their attempting and failing. Athletic events depend on fitness and preparation but also on lots of factors on any given day many of which aren’t within our control.
The problem here isn’t people’s health, or levels of fitness, or decision to be involved in athletic events – or not. The problem isn’t even really the confusion of these three things. The problem isn’t my marathon time. The problem is people who feel the need to judge other people based on these factors and the way that tends to discourage people from participating, and how much that sucks and how many people are dissuaded from taking part in athletics because they don’t want to deal with this kind of bullshit. It’s one of the big reasons that I continue to be so public about my participation in athletics, and to create safe spaces to talk about health, fitness, and athletic events, and to advocate for inclusivity in athletics for anyone who wants to be involved (while being very clear that there is absolutely no obligation to do so) for people of all sizes, dis/abilities, fitness levels etc. – and to invite the haters to drink a big steaming mug of suck it.
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