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Weighty matters

31 January, 2010

The last couple of days I’ve been watching very carefully the hotspots on my calves, and jogging to places rather than going out specifically for runs. On Friday, I ended up in the gym. Going there in the early evening is a mistake I haven’t made for a while. Who goes to the gym in the evening, anyway? There is something vaguely depressing about it, and I think it’s partly to do with the various motivations that bring people to the gym at different times of day. There are many wonderful reasons to be there: it could be all about the ounce of injury prevention, while some go to burn fat and increase their metabolic rate, or they just like pumping iron, or spending some quality time with that fine-looking fellow in the mirror. The evening is a bit different, though. I can’t help feeling that there’s an element of performance. Which is fine — weightlifting is an olympic event, too, I suppose — but it’s just not my scene.

There is vast industry around working out why Europeans and North Americans lag so far behind African competitors in distance running. I wonder if a small part of this might be to do with the ‘cultural monotyping’, as it were, of the male form — this idea that skinniness is a condition that needs to be corrected one way or another. Compare though elite runners from Kenya and Ethiopia to those from Europe and N.America: they appear to weigh less, or look like they do. Is it because they spend less time building muscle, and more time burning fat? Seems to me that it could be both: if you carry more body fat, and therefore more weight, then you also need more muscle to protect your joints at high speeds. But it probably doesn’t make you any faster! Elite runners do think about their weight. That may seem crazy when you consider their already low BMI (for what that’s worth), but is this unhealthy if it results in a 2:20 marathon instead of 2:25?

In contrast, it took me, for one, a long time to overcome the kind of negative self-image that the mainstream media (and the bloated entities contained therein) imposes on the ectomorphic/ecto-mesomorphic body type. Unconsciously, I internalized the unhealthy perspective of a largely overweight and judgemental society, and I know that I wasn’t alone. Now, I’m not an elite runner by any means, but if I’m also not the only one who struggled with this growing up, then I wonder if there couldn’t be many more in the running.

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