In the last week I participated in a 5k run (Thursday night’s Maudie’s Margarita Run) and Austin Fit magazine’s “AFM FITtest.” Both events were challenging in their own way, but they both got me thinking about how we (in particular women) look at fitness. The first event was a typical “fun” run, with about 1500 people signed up, and a few of us who were serious enough to want to know our times, and be competitive. There were likely equal numbers of women and men, Austin is a great place to be a runner, and I often see more women out on the trail than men. Saturday’s fitness event was a different story. This event consisted of twelve tests of strength, agility and endurance, including sprints, throws, jumps and the always hated burpees and pull-ups. Since I have been doing cross-fit workouts for the last few months, I figured I would give it a try. I was surprised that there were only fifteen women competitors in my age group (40-49) while there were at least 40 men in the same age group. As my group discussed the low numbers of women, we all thought that some of the tests would be intimidating to women, particularly the pull-ups, where many women can’t even do one (I worked on this one, so I was able to do five). I freely admit that I am a bit of a masochist when it comes to working out (how else could I handle crossfit?) but it surprises me that more men than women were attracted to this event, compared to a 5k.
This all got me thinking about how I approach fitness. In fact, this blog post was prompted by my friend Leslie who was asking me about Saturday’s event on our “Black Girls Run!” page. I wasn’t really sure what to say — I managed to get through all 12 events and score reasonably on all of them. But for me the experience of the 5k wasn’t that much different from doing the 12 different tests. They are all testing me in different ways, but in some ways it’s mostly mental for me. Having been an athlete all of my life, I love taking on new challenges (a la my new obsession with body hooping), and I approach each challenge with a similar mental and physical toughness that has gotten me through everything from a 400m dash to a marathon. They take very different forms of preparation, but for me it’s pretty much all the same in terms of how I approach it. I’m sure I developed this mentality during my years of running track and other sports from grade school through college. Having been blessed to have the advantages of Title IX and having grown up with my two brothers, I was always sure I could do anything that the guys could do. I started lifting weights in junior high, and continued with it through my 20s. I recognized early on the benefits of cross training, and even though running will always be my first love, I also enjoy the adrenalin (and endorphin) rush I get from being able to lift a particular weight, or complete a WOD (work out of the day). I’m much more careful these days because of issues with my back, but I have always focused on form vs. showing off how much I can lift.
So I struggle with how I can pass on the passion that I feel about fitness to others. How do we get more women to come out and compete in the FITtest the same way they do in the 5k? I have been blessed to see the blossoming of our Black Girls Run! group — getting more black women out and running has been a wonderful thing, and we were even highlighted in an article in our local newspaper:
So if we can work on changing black women’s ideas about running – how do we go about changing women’s attitudes about other types of fitness? Does it matter? I know that I’m an outlier when it comes to fitness, particularly for my age. Do men and women like me get a fitness advantage from the types of weight bearing activities we do? I don’t feel like I have an answer at this point, but it does make me wonder…it may be a natural shift as younger women start to do more activities and see themselves as competitive athletes, just as I lived in a very different world of athletic opportunities as compared to my older sisters. In any case, I hope I can be a role model to women of all ages, because for me, fitness is forever…