We’re pushing our physical limits more and more, but to what end?
What is your extreme? We all have one and they vary as much as our fingerprints. One thing is for sure, however, we’re flocking to extreme fitness in droves. Crossfit gyms have now topped 6,000 nationwide, P90X has sold over 7 million copies, Half and full Ironman events are selling out in hours. And the Spartan Race, Warrior Dash and Tough Mudder are possibly paving the way for a new Olympic sport. What happened to Jane Fonda and Richard Simmons?
About 30-ish years ago Jane and Richard changed the way we do fitness. They made it cool to workout with videos, indoors, at the gym and in group classes. The 80’s… Ah, the leg warmers, the neon (oh, wait, that’s back again!) and the music, will forever be etched in some of our minds as where it all began. Similarly, today, we go to yoga, pilates or Soul Cycle. I assume some people still go to a gym, but I’m not sure who. Unless of course, it’s Mr. Tanman still trying to out lift his buddies at Gold’s Gym in Venice. People are now heading outdoors for bigger, better and more extreme events.
According to Running USA’s 2014 Annual Report, “Over the past 25 years, the number of U.S. marathons with more than 1,000 finishers in a single year has increased 360% (20 in 1989 vs. 92 in 2013).” Obstacle course races such as those mentioned above started just a few short years ago and have grown from 20,000 annually to over half a million participants every year. In 2000, I signed up for the Malibu Triathlon two months before the event. Now you it sells out 6 months prior.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the fact that people are pushing themselves and accomplishing greater fitness goals. I scour the internet looking for my own next challenge. Will it be the Leadville 100 mile mountain bike race (already signed up!)? Or the TransRockies 120 mile running stage race, where you run about 20 miles a day for 6 days. I want the top of the mountain and I want the unique experience. What I don’t want is a life of injury and disappointment. I don’t want it for me and I don’t want it for you.
Laird Hamilton, one of the pioneers of Big Wave Surfing, said that it took him many years and thousands of little waves before he started surfing the big ones. For him, it was a natural progression of challenging himself. In the special edition, Injury Prevention from Runner’s World, they write about how most injuries happen because athletes ramp up their mileage too quickly. It’s the same reason Crossfit gets such a bad rap. People are flocking to their local Crossfit “box” but pushing themselves beyond their limits and getting injured.
Pushing our physical limits is good, but only to a degree. I have a friend who has been sick on and off for a couple of years and he attributes it to over training. Over training will lower your immune system and allow germs and bacteria to have their way with you. Be smart, use your wisdom, take days off, eat right and train right, then feel free to live the life you never dreamed you could. Growing up, I never thought I’d run a marathon. For me, marathons were for Olympians and professional athletes. In 2000 I ran the Rock N’ Roll marathon in San Diego, then signed up for a triathlon, then started doing Adventure Racing and the rest is history. I love it, but I stay smart about my progression. I train, I do yoga, I foam roll, I keep my body as healthy as I can so I can experience a very unique view of the world and of my own potential.
Personally, I don’t believe we’ve even begun to scratch the surface on human potential. I’m quite certain that in 30 years from now our lifespan will be 20-50 years longer. I’m hoping we’ll be able to do that naturally, but I’m sure science will have a large roll in keeping people mobile and help to minimize pain. I hope I’m still around to see the lifespan of the child who is completely vegan, meditates, practices yoga, is an ultra marathoner and who just loves every moment in life (google Kilian Jornet for some inspiration). For now, I’m going to keep up my running, my cycling and all my other challenges. Most importantly, I’m going to stay grateful for the opportunity I have to partake in all the good times. So stay healthy, get outside and push yourself. Just do it wisely!
Photo Credit: flickr.com/FunkDooby