Its been three months since I decided triathlon and I were no longer good friends. Like many unhealthy relationships I had been struggling for some time to turn my back and walk away, the familiarity and fond memories playing tricks with my tired mind, I was incapable of really seeing what was going on.
Still, the foray into the unknown was more frightening than continuing down a road that wasn’t helping me grow or allowing me to consider a bigger picture. And so like a high wire performer I continued to try and master walking the thin line between fitness and health. But I was failing. Big time.
I became so used to feeling tired that I no longer recognised fatigue for what it was. I no longer experienced periods of boundless energy. I mistook feeling ok as feeling good. Gradually though I pieced together what was going on and made the decision to start giving my body the love it deserves.
Since I have given up endurance exercise and continued my studies into health and nutrition I have realised that there are probably only a minority of endurance athletes who are truly fit and healthy. There are many who are fit, very fit, but the tell tale signs of a struggling body are there for all to see: the poor recovery, the ongoing fatigue, the insomnia, the self doubt, the digestive issues, the weight issues, the repeated colds, infections and injuries that take just a little bit longer to heal, the dry skin, the fraying nails, the skin rashes, headaches, nausea, the hair loss, the unbalanced hormones, the anaemia, the low vitamin D …etc etc…. Its hard to understand how we can accept any of these things as normal. Yet we do. I did. Low vitamin D – when most endurance athletes spend hours and hours outdoors each week…. maybe its time to ask ourselves why these things are happening in our bodies, rather than just applying a temporary fix.
For a group of people who are so highly in tune with their bodies on one level, many athletes are shockingly out of tune with their bodies on the most basic and seemingly most important of all levels: health.
There are likewise plenty of healthy(ish) people who are possibly not very fit- depending upon the definition of ‘fit’. But what is fitness without health? In todays modern society is being able to cycle 100 miles in 5 hours a fundamental life skill? What about the pressure and strain that the body faces in order to achieve this? Is that a risk factor for health and as such is the drive and desire to be fitter and faster inversely affecting the health and wellbeing of the very thing that on which this goal depends – the body.
Health can be described as : freedom from disease or illness
Fit can be described as : adapted or suited. Qualified or competent.
The balance between fitness and health is hard and not always obvious. Typically I observe people potentially damaging their progress and recovery by eating badly. Running 10 miles does not make a bag of chips less damaging – the trans fats and high carb content don’t magically transform not something less damaging to your cells. That bar of chocolate still contains enough sugar to cause unstable blood glucose and an ensuing rise in cortisol that could add to your already stressed body. And yet time and again I see people who mistakenly assume that punishing their bodies with hours of exercise somehow negates poor food choices, when in fact just the opposite is true! It seems that for some, food is simply about calories in and calories out. Sigh. Then again, we once believed the world was flat too.
There are some who get the balance right. They achieve a high level of fitness with good health, they invest time into learning about how to recover and grow; what they can manipulate within their environment to do so.
This is a really great article that discusses being fit and healthy and I encourage all athletes to have a read :
Don’t confuse being able to run 26.1 miles with being healthy; fitness is not a passport to an illness and disease free life.