A few years ago, there was this great show called “Fit to Live”, based on a book by the same name, which challenged contestants to escape a simulated burning building from the 30th floor, or rescue themselves from other life and death situations. It focused on whether, given common obstacles, a person could survive these challenges or would perish. It was a pretty harsh reminder that if you’re not fit enough to climb stairs, or carry something heavy, or just sprint from something serious, it could mean you lose your life.
I’ve been thinking about that a lot these last few weeks, as I just moved into a new apartment. It’s a “walk up” which means to get to the third floor, semi-palatial estate (let’s be real, it has air conditioning, which makes it semi-palatial), I have to actually walk up 3 flights of stairs. Every time I want to go home, that’s the requirement. Three flights. Every time I buy something, order something, or simply finish a day with my 15 pounds of work stuff, it’s 3 flights. Those three flights don’t seem like much, but I couldn’t help but think of that Fit to Live concept again on Friday evening, when I returned home to find my spanking new Adirondack chair from Land’s End – parked just outside the front door and not, to my disappointment, next to my third-floor door.
As I hauled the slightly awkward box up the three flights (I did have to stop once), I found myself really irritated. I was sweaty from the walk home from the train. Then I was sweaty again as I hauled the box up the stairs. The packing weight was a mere 42 pounds. But it came in a box that was 3′ x 4′ x 1′ (at least) which meant for somewhat tough going. Alas, I prevailed. But I couldn’t help think “this should be easier”.
Also this weekend, I took a nice long bike ride along our lakefront path. When I returned, some 16 miles later, I needed to haul the road bike up the back stairs (in my bike cleats, which was hysterical). The bike weighs in somewhere around 17 pounds, so you can imagine, it was easier. But my heart was still beating faster, and my legs let me know they had been used quite a bit that day. And in the end, I couldn’t stop asking myself the question: “Am I fit to live?”
The simple answer is: I don’t know. Over the years, I’ve discovered that I have great reserves when it comes to endurance running, cycling, or swimming. I can hike for miles, and though it’s challenging, I know I can do it. But, in direct proportion to my weight, I’ve never had any delusions of being speedy at any of these tasks. I’ve been a long distance girl, to be sure. And the thing with emergencies – and, with life – is that they’re not all long-distance kind of things.
Does my failure in the world of anaerobic excellence mean that I’m not strong? Certainly not. Could I deadlift my own weight out of, say, the Tennessee River? (Hypothetically, this might have had to happen at one point in my past). No, I most certainly could not. (But I could have swam my way out of it, to be sure.)
And what about wandering around – just simple wandering? My friend and I were walking around Michigan Avenue a few weeks ago, one night after work. My right foot (the one with the annoying plantar fasciitis I’ve been working to heal) was bothering me, and as we walked to dinner (me with the 20 pound computer bag on my shoulder), I was wishing I’d worn better shoes. I was cranky and it was only the steak ahead that kept me moving. The foot hurt, from something as simple as shopping. Now THAT’s annoying. And yet, it was only the pain that was a problem, not any kind of shopping endurance. It wasn’t an anaerobic weakness that felled me there, just a pain problem.
For many of us, though, something as simple as climbing three flights of stairs instead of one flight is a big deal. Running across a street to beat a light is tough. Digging a hole for that new fence makes us sweat. Shoveling a sidewalk can be annoyingly difficult. Some of this is to be expected. Work makes our heart race, and our bodies sweat. And sometimes we don’t like that feeling. So we shy away from it, and take a seat, or a ride, or pay someone else to do the hard work for us. And in doing so, we continue down a path that involves a lot less work, and a lot less of what I call cross-training for life.
Here’s the catch, though. We all know we have the ability to train our bodies for this kind of demand, too. Many of you are dedicated runners and triathletes, and you have incredible reserves of strength and character. But maybe, just maybe, you’re like me – and you take the easy way out when it comes to everyday life sometimes.
That can change. You can make a promise to start small – by doing your own yardwork, or by getting friendly with your stairs. (After four weeks in the new place, walking up three flights is so much easier than it was when I started, I’m actually kind of amazed). And you can keep doing it by looking for simple ways to get more activity in. Can you walk to the store, or bike? Can you walk up the stairs to the train, instead of the escalator? Can you, once in awhile during your run, run for a block just a bit faster than you normally would? Yeah, you probably can. And if you can’t do it all, today, you will, if you just start focusing on it, a little bit at a time.
So I guess my advice today is this: don’t take the easy way out. Find the equivalent of your third-floor walkup, and test yourself on it regularly. Accept that it’s okay to struggle with the anaerobic activities of life, but think about challenging yourself on more of it. Work to fill in the non-endurance fitness side of your life. Trust me, you’ll feel stronger, and healthier, and more ready for whatever comes next.
See you on the path –