Apologies up front if this rambles a bit. I have a love-hate relationship with running and have gone through cycles for years where I run all the time and then abruptly stop because it’s so awful. I’ve tried other types of cardio, but nothing else has ever worked as well for me.
I was overweight as a kid, so much so that that I didn’t smile with my teeth in pictures because it gave me a double-chin. In fifth grade we did a time capsule in September to see how much we’d change by the following June. Part of that was a weigh in, and when the kid behind me saw my weight he proudly yelled “Yes! I’m not the fat kid anymore!” These are a couple egregious examples, but just about every day in adolescence included some hit to my self-confidence and mental well-being, and by the time I was in high school I had ballooned despite the fact that I was in multiple sports and lifted weights year-round.
For twelve or thirteen years I was uncomfortable with how I looked, until I made a point of getting into running in college and lost a bunch of weight over the course of nine months. Since I had back surgery in high school, running doesn’t just bring me cardio pain but also sciatic pain as well, which shoots down my legs into my feet and can sometimes be so bad that it keeps me up at night. Of course, the pain is there regardless of whether I’m running, and gets worse with less physical activity, so it’s no excuse not to work out.
As of my thirtieth birthday, which was yesterday, it’s been nine years since that summer where I got intensely into my cardio fitness. Of course as we grow older it’s more difficult to keep up with our physical activity, either because of life or work demands or the general fragility that comes with age. I tweaked my back playing flag football in 2018, for instance, and even two and a half years later the resulting sciatica down the leg I always thought was the “healthy” one is still effecting me.
I write all this preamble not for sympathy but to say that I am not a natural runner or in no way predisposed to being physically fit. Everything I have in my fitness is earned, be it good or bad. It’s been twenty-two years since I first realized I was “the fat kid”, and I suffer minor insecurities every single day that harken back to that time. I’ve gotten good at laughing them off or ignoring them, but they’re still there. What I’ve gotten much better at since college, though, is celebrating the simple fact that I’m out here trying to stay fit when there are so many things in life that encourage us to be sedentary.
I may never have a six-pack like I wanted in high school or college, but that’s never going to stop me from trying. I got a Fitbit a few years ago to track my heartrate, because I figured it was a simple and important way to see how I was doing. I was excited to turn thirty this weekend, if only because I knew it would put me into a new cardio fitness category of men in their thirties instead of twenties. My cardio fitness score is fifty-two, which is good for a man in his twenties. For a man in his thirties, though, which I now am, it’s very good.
It’s almost embarrassing that I care about the Fitbit cardio score as much as I do, especially considering I don’t know any of the science behind it, but I was thinking about it on and off for months leading up to my birthday. I’ll never be the superhuman some of my friends are, and I’ll always have the stretch marks from the near-obesity of my youth, but at the end of the day that fat eight-year-old who didn’t smile in his pictures because of his double-chin has grown into a man who has very good cardio fitness for men of his age. I’m pretty damn proud of that.