Where do you draw the line?

So lately I’ve been using the elliptical machine to keep my cardiovascular fitness up while I wasn’t running much. I could have done a spin class but I didn’t really fancy it. I wanted something similar to running and something that I could control depending on how I felt.

With spin it’s very much go-go-go, whereas I can do whatever I fancy on my own. But invariably I’d find it so incredibly dull and would require some sort of entertainment to get me through. I found watching YouTube videos on my phone an effective way of keeping me on the machine. I would want something a bit mindless but also motivating and inspiring. So I ended up watching lots of fitness vloggers go about their lives. This entailed the types of training they did in the gym, the foods they’d eat and just generally what they’d get up to. Pretty much like the blogs I read really but visual, obviously.

I found myself watching videos of vloggers who I’d never in my wildest dream ever want to be like (which is actually quite different to the blogs I read). Not because they’re terrible people but because their goals are so far beyond what I’d ever aim for or want. But it wasn’t half fascinating to watch.

Some of the fitness vloggers were bikini competitors. At first I really had no idea what that was. I knew it was vaguely bodybuilding but I had no idea that you could (or would even choose to) train for months to just stand on a stage, in a bikini, and basically show your body off. These women would train, bodybuilder-style, in the gym and then drop their calories down to “cut” in order to show off their newly honed muscles. Like really cut down their weight – we’re talking 16% body fat.

To me it doesn’t look attractive at all. Why on earth would you do that? Why would you want to? For a short period of time on the stage?! Many of them would apply a shed loads of fake tan, wear unbelievably thick make-up, have fake nails, fake hair and boobs… and these muscles popping out everywhere from their hard bodies with barely an ounce of fat on them.

And before they’d go to that point, I’d watch them weighing out their food. ALL their food. Counting macros and calories with scrupulous detail. As the competition gets closer and closer, their food would basically be oats, tilapia fish, chicken, sweet potato and rice. I even watched one girl take her scales TO THE BEACH to weigh out her snacks while she sunbathed.

But this is a genuine thing. Apparently this is not crazy disordered behaviour, but an effective route to achieve their goal. They are not seen as disordered, but focused and determined. They work hard, striving every day to get one step closer to their dream. They have coaches, actual qualified professionals (most of the time), who guide them through this process.

I watch, fascinating and bewildered. I enjoy watching it because it’s just so mad and bizarre and I’m carried along their journey, hoping they do well. Whatever “well” turns out to be… winning a trophy, placing so they can go to another, better competition, or just achieving a certain body to prove they could.

It got me thinking. Their goals are a million miles away from my goals. I love running and hope to run many marathons in my time. I want my body to be strong and injury-free. Of course I try and watch what I eat most of the time (weekend adventures aside…) and I care about what my body looks like. But I have to stop myself before I say, “I’m not as obsessed as they are”.

Am I sure about that?

I’ve had many people (non-runners and people who aren’t interested in fitness) say to me “I don’t know how you do it”, “you’re so motivated”, but mostly “you’re crazy”. I get up at 5am most weekdays to go to the gym to remain strong and healthy for running. I’ll spend hours over the weekend running long runs while most people will be in bed. I walk round a park on freezing Saturday mornings setting up a course to then run round in teeny tiny shorts, my thighs turning pink with the cold. And I’ll finish smiling.

I’ll turn down social events when I’m in the thick of marathon training, or make sure I’m leaving so I can get home in bed for 9pm. I rarely drink alcohol. I’ll cry to my dad on the way to work about my latest injury. I’ll sob because I so desperately want to be outside, in that blizzard/hurricane/storm so I can get in my precious miles. I’ll pour over my spreadsheet to make sure I’m getting in the miles I need, I’ll analyse past performances on Strava comparing where I am now to where I was then. Can I run that pace? Am I faster? What’s my segment best?

I’ll endure hours of painful sports massages. I’ll roll about on the floor in awkward positions to get that knot out of my calf/glute/hamstring. I’ll spend hundreds of pounds on trainers, gymwear, running clothes, gels, foam rollers, running books and magazines, running holidays… it goes on and on.

There’s not one day that passes that I don’t not think about running or what I’m going to do at the gym. My weekends revolve around my running and fitness. My year is broken into when my next marathon is, when I’m training and what races I can squeeze in between.

Am I obsessed?

Where do you draw the line between determination and obsession? When does drive and ambition turn into something darker? Do you need to be an outsider looking in to gain a certain perspective? Am I wrong to have judged those bikini competitors just because it’s not my goal and it’s not what I’d do?

I guess we all have our own obsessions and goals… and it’s managing them and keeping them under control that’s key. I know from experience of injuries not to put my whole heart and soul into running because when it all comes crumbling down, you need something to be left with, whether that’s anything to do with fitness or not. But after thinking about it, I do judge those vloggers less harsh now. We all have goals, and those goals require different routes and methods, however bizarre they seem to me. People in glass houses…

What do you think?

Would you say you’re obsessed about anything?

Has anyone ever commented on your hobbies?

10 Replies to “Where do you draw the line?”

  1. I really like this post, Anna. Lots to think about here. I’m just as guilty as you at judging photos on instagram/twitter of bikini competitors and thinking “why the eff would you do that?!” I see people weigh out every gram of rice and think “that’s seriously out of balance”. But then I’m sure people will look at some of my posts and think “she sets the alarm for 4:50am? That’s ridiculous!”

    I think ‘the line’ for me is if there’s genuine enjoyment in each process. Whilst I don’t exactly enjoy getting up at 4:50am, I’d still get up at 5:45am even if I wasn’t at the gym. I really don’t mind getting up 55 minutes earlier and I genuinely love being at the gym at that time of the day. When I see people weighing out grains of rice….they don’t seem to enjoy the process and that’s why I question it. But as you rightly say, who am I to judge? It’s not my life.

    Really good post Anna – certainly made me think.

    1. Yes I fully agree. I love going to the gym and I love running. Getting up at 5am IS hard for me but I’m happy to do it because I know I’ll enjoy it when I’m doing it and know how good I’ll feel for the whole day. Not every time is like that of course, some days are a grind and I bitterly hate my alarm but overwhelmingly I feel good to do it. I suppose it’s just how much of a grind things become before you go “OK is this worth it?”.
      AnnaTheApple recently posted…But I’m still a runnerMy Profile

  2. I like this post. and I think that you are more determined than obsessed.

    I do exactly what you mention in this post – During a training cycle I go to bed early on Friday night so that I’m up before dawn for my long run on Saturday, I don’t join pub crawls with friends if I have race the next day, if there is a race I really want to do I will do it irrespective of the entry fee/flight/hotel cost. 3 out of 4 of my marathons have been in different countries so I always think that I need to make the trip worthwhile by having a time to aim for or beat. The recent trips I’ve made on my own have always been running trips – after the first one I thought the best way to see different cities is by running through them. My running motivations since my first trip are 1) having a time to beat, 2) Having more cities to visit and run through [I have so many that I want to do but only get 25 days annual leave a year :-)], 3) Adding medals to my wall.

    I think I probably am obsessed with running holidays. I don’t know …………………………………….. maybe

  3. You have inherited Grandad James genes – not obsessive just determined to have your own goals and try to achieve them – don’t ever lose that.

  4. This is very thought provoking! I’m not sure what the answer is, but for me, obsession is all consuming – can’t think of anything else, can’t engage in ‘normal’ life (whatever that is). I don’t think that I have ever been obsessive, but I can be single minded about stuff sometimes. I think that is more me being stubborn though.

  5. It is funny- I have seen a phrase which goes along the lines “obsessed is what the lazy use to describe the dedicated”, but I am not sure I 100% agree. Some people think I am obsessed with running, because I do love it, but I think I have a balance- I do mainly 4 runs a week, so I am not running every day, and I am not doing crazy mileage (I need an incentive to get to 100 miles in one month).
    I saw a documentary about that sort of body building, and it actually did take over their lives, and I think that’s where the line is. Yes, I might leave somewhere early if I have a long run the next morning, but I am not letting running dictate my life (partly why I’m not doing another marathon any time soon, as I feel like the training really does take over). If we are somewhere and there’s a parkrun nearby, I’ll go, but equally we will also go away for the weekend and I won”t go to one. I think once things stop you from normal life (eg never seeing friends) then that is the line.
    Maria @ runningcupcake recently posted…Swindon parkrun – Lydiard parkMy Profile

    1. I wouldn’t say you’re obsessed at all. I’d say you have a healthy hobby.
      Yes I agree – when it completely takes you away from a normal life then it starts to become questionable. Also, when the goal is reached what happens then? It can be quite hard for these people! I know I feel a bit down post-marathon because you’re like, “and that’s it!”.
      AnnaTheApple recently posted…But I’m still a runnerMy Profile

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