Sunday, January 16, 2011

In training (at play)

There seems to be no shortage of naval gazing (over said expanding waistlines) in the attempt for all of us to process an all-too obvious fact of modern North American living.

We are fat. We need to lose weight. And no one agrees on the prescription but many a brain cell goes into dissecting this phenomenon.

The losing battle of the bulge, as some would term it, puts on highlight the usual facts and perceptions. We don't eat healthy. We don't exercise. We try to diet. We fail. We try to lose weight. We gladly spend on fast food and high-fat lattes over healthy food, fruits and vegetables. Governments have a role in putting fat tax, fitness credits, regulating bad food industry. Industry have to provide us with cheaper healthy alternatives instead of two Big Macs for $4.99.

Yes, even on the concept of personal accountability come with it an interesting series of points. We say it's hard work to avoid eating bad. Unlike smoking, I read in this piece this weekend, people note that we all need to eat. And we do, very poorly.

The personal quest for fitness and a healthy lifestyle is a little too neat. Shows like The Biggest Loser focuses on this journey to a better self. Blogs like this one present you with the 'inspiration', and we follow and tune in and look at the few obese fight with themselves to become what they always wanted to be. Fit, trim with a healthy weight.

The fight against obesity, it seems to me, is a little off course. When you truely think about it, what the hell are we fighting against other than ourselves?

The idea for this post came to me while I was on my long run today. I wasn't thinking about losing weight -- though it is on my mind -- but about setting priorities. Even more than that, it was something a little more simplier. It was about putting aside the many options for a modern lifestyle and go back to simply playing.

It's been a month or more since I've gone out truely on a long run. Today, it was bitterly cold, but as usual, I never regret setting out for 16 miles. There were many moments, long stretches kilometres long, when I was running on fresh layers of snow, when I was running into the sun, the rays warming me, that I LOVED what I was doing.

I made my way to the Beaches, and along the boardwalk, I saw urban skiers trying to take advantage of 10 cm of accumulation, other runners going long, and people just out there for a morning stroll. A woman, taking a break at a bench in -10C, was smiling, eyes closed, as she leaned against her partner, her exposed face grinning into the morning chill. It was great to be alive.

When I was younger, my favourite weekend memories involved getting on the bike and just going. I ran amok in my parents' backyard, listening to the ball game on radio while I played a single-person's game of catch. Thump, thump, thump, the tennis ball would bounce off my parents second-story wall as I imagined myself fielding a pop fly. Every catch was epic.

We don't play any more, it seems to me. A trip to the gym is dreaded, seen as work. Even a marathon program is scheduling in your play time. We don't make time to play. I've been running downtown streets after work the past month, and in the dark windows, I see plenty of people congregating at restaurant tables or coffee shops. It occured to me that when I get together with friends, it's usually for a coffee or a meal. Playing is plugging in your PS3 or Xbox, or going to the movies with a tub of butter-free popcorn and Diet coke. Playing is a game of cards with a six-pack. Sometimes, we play, like skating a few minutes in a packed ice rink, followed by a full-fat hot chocolate afterwards.

It's all too neat, those stories of those who successfully fight obesity, but is that our template? To fight obesity is to admit that you lost something to begin with, or actually gained something. The rest of us, those who are semi fit, or eats kinda well and could maybe lose 10 pounds, where do we stand? How hard do we fight?

Maybe it's not by obsessing.

My favourite snapshot of a moment during my two hours and 22 minutes of execise today was at around the 14 kilometre mark. A dog was rolling in the snow, on its back, then got up and shook off the fluffy snow. It was the second dog I saw today jumping on the ground. It looked truely happy, and if you can imagine one doing so, it was almost making snow angels. I haven't seen anyone go and make snow angels in ages. I haven't done so in decades.

Ten kilometres later, I was hurting in the best possible way. My face felt both sunburnt and wind chapped, both warmed by exercise and UV rays but frozen by the winter's chill. But I thought about how fortunate it was that I found time on this glorious Sunday morning, to commune with my own personal passion. Yes, later I may be vegging in front of the TV, playing video games, or cooking a great meal, but even in the work that went into my long run today, I found that was nothing more childish that seeking some time for myself, some time to play in the snow.


A Deal Or No Deal said...

I love winter running Toronto. What makes it more heartening is a neighbourhood like the Beaches, where you'll see people skiing, walking around and generally making the most of a sunny day.

That said, I think combating obesity with exercise, as a public health strategy, will never be effective. I don't think any generation ever unanimously loved going to the gym or exercising. We simply moved more on a daily basis and ate less.

Living in Seoul, I walk an hour a day if I do nothing but go grocery shopping and then maybe grab a coffee. A trip on the subway can easily be a half hour walk if you count walking to the station, walking into it, and then walking back out.

Compare that with Brampton, where you weren't mean to walk anywhere. The nearest convenience store or coffee in a gas station.

Coupled with portion sizes, which is one huge difference I notice when I come back to Canada, and we've basically become carbon-based hoardes of food.

Boris T said...

Great post. I was out this morning myself, abet for a shorter run then you but feel the same. Way, next time I am making an snow angel.

Exercise and training should be more like play, if you dread the gym then you're going to a wrong place. I train at a place called the strenghtbox and it's like play every time I am there.

EndorphinBuzz said...

Wow. Beautiful post. My 2011 resolution was to get my running mojo back and make running fun again. I may not have that much weight to lose but I hear you on the playing part!

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