Friday, August 29, 2008

birthday (body) fat's my birthday. and a big one.

and to mark the chronological milestone i figured to match it with a physical one--even though today is about neither, but really instead about a mental one.

i once had a coach who argued you could tell a lot about a person's character and mental state from their body. he asserted that the body and mind were one, and that each reflected the other.

he didn't mean this in a metaphysical good-versus-evil sense, but more from a practical, performance-driven angle. he never suggested that good guys had one body type and bad guys another--that just doesn't happen. instead, he said things like a fat, chubby body was indicative of an undisciplined, unfocused, careless mind, using the reasoning that staying on a training and nutrition plan necessary for a lean, athletic physique required discipline, focus, and care, and therefore anyone who lacked those qualities would tend to stray from the plan and subsequently expand into corpulescence. similarly, he'd also point out that people under emotional and mental stress tend to use food as a coping device, and would also put less effort into exercise, suggesting that any sudden increase in body fat indicated a mind experiencing excess stress.

this was relevant to him, because he believed that physical performance was a function of both a well-developed body and a well-developed mind. it was because of this that he would periodically have us check our body fat percentages and review our overall body proportions, on the belief that our bodies would show just where we were mentally. uttering maxims like "a lazy body means a lazy mind" and "your body can't hide who you are" and "the truth is in the fat" or--and the one i remember the most every time i wake up in the morning and get ready to shower: "the mirror does not lie."

i used to look back on this with a certain level of reservation. while it had a certain logic, i always discounted it with a self-enlightened air, reminding myself that the obsession with body fat and body proportions was probably responsible for so many athletes developing subconscious eating disorders, and therefore something negative that needed to be ignored for the sake of greater health.

thing is, i'm not so sure anymore. at least, i'm no longer thinking it's such a black-and-white, good-and-bad, yes-or-no situation anymore.

my time in endurance sports, particularly with Ironman, has been a journey of great personal introspection, contemplation, and discovery. while i never meant it to be this way, i've found that it's become a vehicle for personal development, bringing about changes in me intellectually, emotionally, and even spiritually--and these changes have matched, and even exceeded, the changes that have taken place in me physically.

a lot of it, i know, has coincided with major changes in my life, changes that encompassed school and career and family and friends and the larger world that spurred a great deal of re-evaluation and deep reflection about the state of living and existence. but an equal part of it--perhaps a greater part of it--i believe has been the demands made by the distance. you just can't undertake the amount and intensity of training required for Ironman without it affecting you in some certainly can't do an Ironman without it changing you forever. the commitment, the dedication, the suffering, the sacrifice exceeds anything most people have or will ever experience. no matter how good a shape you thought you were in before, it's nothing compared to the kind of shape you need to be in, and will be in, for Ironman.

and so in my odyssey through the distance, i've gradually seen my body evolve, change, transform from a bulky, clumsy exterior to a lean, smooth one, as the onslaught of miles demanded the shedding of useless deadweight in inverse correlation to an expansion in needed physical capacities. and the exterior changes have been matched by internal ones: with the passage of each mile, i've found myself being stripped of emotional and spiritual baggage, forced to relinquish burdens, pared of useless waste, so that there were no more delusions and distractions and artifice and pretensions and lies and half-truths and denials and, in short, that there was no more bullshit. so that what was left was the base essentials driving who i was and what i am and where i was going and, above all, why. so that i could see clearly (or clearly enough) to come to my senses and gain perspective and find myself and thereby finally begin to discover, with the awareness that can only come from the purity of that most necessary, the fundamental truths of life and living and all creation, in the silence of things significant and the realization of things profound.

as a result, i've started to come back a bit to my coach's beliefs, albeit from a slightly different angle. he looked to the body as a sign of discipline, focus, and care to competition and performance. but i look at this is just a pointer to something more: i look to the body as a sign of discipline, focus, and care to identity and being, with competition and performance just being vehicles for the spirit and the soul. this is in essence the ascetic tradition, holding that personal development involves both body and mind, so that the whole being is prepared and unified and thereby enabled to learn of the greater mysteries that lie beyond both.

it was because of this that i decided to mark this birthday with a goal of reaching 5-6% bodyfat--the magic numbers espoused by my coach as the target for all competitive athletes, since they constituted the barrier above which sports science considered useless deadweight and below which medical science considered inadequate for necessary biochemical processes. it's also a number that i never hit, neither my time under him nor my time ever since then. not even in my time in endurance sports.

so i chose that number out memory for him and his beliefs, but also as a target to help denote what i consider to be a milestone not just in age but in my own personal development...basically, a milestone in who i am.

towards that end, i've spent the past months since Ironman New Zealand in steady training, holding to a steady diet of workouts and nutrition, trying to get back to where i was a year ago, if not a little farther.

at IMNZ, for various reasons, i was not in a healthy state of mind, and i think you can see it in the photos of my body at the time:
i was a little overweight, despite all the training. and as much as i hate to admit it, i pretty much had fallen into the traps my coach had always warned me about: with all the (non-race) stress i was under then, i was eating more and working out less than i should have. and i very much was struggling with discipline, and focus, and care. in fact, i didn't even really care about at all--the race, the place, or even me. it shows. i was at 9% bodyfat. i'm kind of ashamed of what i looked like then.

it's been a number of months since then. there's been some trials. some good, some bad. a lot changes. a lot of transition. and a lot of thinking and introspection and contemplation. and all of it with the aid of the distance. i'm starting to feel in a better state of mind, and i think it's starting to show:
yeah i know, i'm just goofing around. but i did hit my target. my bodyfat now measures exactly 5%. that's right, 5%. i've hit the target my coach always wanted me to hit but never was able to. but it's a target that's not just a number. it's not what he thought it was.

because for me, that number is not just about the body and what that body can do. it's about what that number represents. and for me, that number represents everything that's happened to me in endurance sports. in the distance, with the distance, because of the distance. the passage of the miles that have wrought so many changes in my mind and my heart and my spirit and my soul. the journey that has released me from self-destructive deadweight of unessential burdens. the path that has enabled me to discover the empowerment of deeper truths. the odyssey that has led me to find myself and my God...or at least as much as anyone can hope to begin to know.

1 comment:

Bob Almighty said...

Happy birthday!

Also if NZ was overwieght than my pudgy arse must be down right obese!

All that aside glad to hear things are starting to look up.