We live in an age of wanting it all and wanting it now. We can order meals and have them delivered in less time than it takes to cook them. We want to watch a movie and a few minutes later it’s streaming on our computer, phone or television. We have a question – we can Google the answer. Our lives have become, “on-demand”. We want it – we get it. Gone are the days of working and waiting for something. That is just old-fashioned thinking to many.
This on-demand world has started to creep over into the sporting arena. We want to do (insert sport or adventure) and we want to do it now. We make bucket lists with more and more extreme adventures. It use to be a pinnacle for many to someday accomplish finishing a marathon, they would spend years running 5k’s then 10K’s then a handful of half marathons before jumping up to the marathon distance. It seems today those years of prep have been replaced with the latest (insert training program) to get you from couch to marathon in the quickest time as possible. If your goal is to just click off another experience to make you more interesting at a cocktail party than this on-demand schedule can work and arguably does for many. But what are the hidden costs to this accelerated programing?
The most prevalent place this on-demand athletics is happening seems to be in the Obstacle Racing world and flowing over into the trail running world. Obstacle Racing is a fantastic sport because; everyone can do it at all levels. The sport offers something for everyone and at all levels. The entry-level races are accessible to all fitness levels and are designed to be that way. Really these are a gateway to sport, which is great! However, as you enter into the world you are especially in the case of some series, pushed to go further and further distances, earning additional medals for completing certain events in one year.
Not everyone is ready to take on a 5K OCR, an 8-10 mile OCR, and half-marathon distance OCR all in the same year. And arguably we all have fallen into the trap of too much, too soon, and wanting to keep up with our friends. We see the longer more challenging events and want to really push ourselves, pushing your limits is great BUT pushing them without a proper foundation is a terrible idea. In the trail running world I am starting to see more crossover from OCR, which again is great, more people being active is awesome! BUT, when someone signs up for a race double or triple what they have done before with no foundation of training, the results can be disastrous. The same can be said for another sport/training I do, CrossFit – Rhabdo that thing that gets talked about in the media happens most to guess whom? Reasonably fit people (mostly men) who have been out of training for a little while and then try to train at peak intensity without building back a foundation.
The key to all of this is foundation. Can a reasonably fit person just jump into a half marathon distance obstacle race and finish? Probably. Can a runner who has only done a half marathon finish a 50K? Probably. Can a former athlete jump back into training and lift heavy weights from the get go? Probably. Are there going to be consequences? Probably. Is it the best idea for your long-term health to do any of the above, probably not and here is why…
Fitness, and your overall health should be a driving factor in all athletic endeavors; sometimes we all put this to the side to appease the ego. But really, the point of all of this is to live a happy, long and healthy life. If the things we do are not meeting all three objectives it’s time to reevaluate. The problem with this on-demand fitness trend is we click off the happy mark, because it’s cool to do something outside the norm, but often possibly sacrifice the healthy or long life part. The medal, buckle, PR whatever isn’t as cool if you suffer long term ailments from it. Injuries post race are not a badge of honor but more a sign of the things you didn’t do right.
Doing long events and more challenging things does not have to come at a sacrifice. The human body is capable of amazing things! I still very much believe “you can do whatever you put your mind to” but have added more recently “with proper preparation”. Have I personally always followed this advice, “hell no!” if anything until recently I have done the exact opposite of this. But only now with a little more experience I see my own folly, especially in the endurance sports world. You shouldn’t fake endurance sports, at least if you want to preserve your body for the long-run and continue to enjoy these sports into the future and 10 or 20 years down the road.
I see many obstacle racers wanting to make a jump into the ultra running world as it offers a new challenge and is a tough as nails sport. More extreme endurance events are creeping into the OCR arena as well, challenging racers to go further and push boundaries more and more. I say never stop pushing yourself, BUT you don’t have to do it all at once.
As a friend gave me this story in a conversation today when speaking of his own “too much, too soon”; in 2007 he completed his first marathon, then immediately wanted to do a 100K trail ultra. He went out for a 3-hour training run shortly after the marathon with no food or water (he didn’t know any better at the time). During that run he quickly found out that a 100K would be much more than he should realistically do. He signed up for the 50K, finished it, gained confidence, met people, and learned a lot about ultrarunning. Today his resume is extensive and has run 100 mile races all over the world. As he said if he had done the 100K it would have been like, “jumping into Calculus 3 before taking Algebra 1.”
This is not only in the ultra world but also in the OCR world. It’s totally ok to only do 5K distance races, you don’t earn extra points if you struggle and suffer through something you aren’t ready for yet. Really, no one is keeping track and you don’t get bonus points for pushing yourself to injury. Starting slow and building up slowly is the key to longevity in any activity or endeavor in life. Sports are not an on-demand activity; they take handwork, preparation, and dedication. All of these things make it much more gratifying when you do finish them. It may take a couple years to reach your ultimate goal and that’s OK! As well one type of race or distance completed doesn’t make you better than anyone else.
If you like what you are doing keep doing it, if it makes you healthier, happier and leads to a longer life, than you are winning. And that is the ultimate goal in life. Leave on-demand to your television programing and not to your health.
Have you fallen into the trap? Has it affected you?