These are meant to be very un-specific questions
How do you consider yourself to be compared to your friends?
How fit do you consider yourself to be compared to the general population?
Self Deprecating Fitness
I'm not Very Fit. Reasonably Fit perhaps, but not Very Fit. Really Fit is another country and getting a passport involves a lot of hard work. Mr/Mrs Really Fit does an Ironman triathlon in under 12 hours.
Some of this is typical British self-deprecation where blowing ones own trumpet is considered crass and generally bad manners. Any American style self promotion is generally viewed to be in "poor taste" and may be subject to a raised eyebrow or eye roll.
Exhibit A: Excerpt from a chat with a colleague who is a Cat 2 cyclist and races cyclocross, regularly placing well in the Three Peaks CX race. He is Very Fit.
him: "You'll be getting good at the cycling then?"[This is all part of the deal. I know him to be fitter than me and through this exchange we establish this order informally, using the playing down of our own abilities as acknowledgement of each others skills as an exchange of friendship. Anthropologists and psychologists have probably written many papers on such things. I'm neither so we'll leave it there.]
me: "Well I'm getting better but I'm not as fit as you."
him: "Me? I'm not that fit."
me: "Yes you are."
him: "Yeah but there are lots of people fitter than me."
The last line is key, "...there are lots of people fitter than me." Fitness is relative.
It's everyone else's fault I'm so unfit
At the risk of violating the above principle of self-deprecation, taking the population of the UK as a reference, I'm most likely of above average fitness. I average about 5 hours of exercise a week with the cycle commute, general bike riding and a spot of fell jogging (not really running - self deprecation again). I've completed the Fellsman, a couple of 45 mile walks, a 6h 30m on the Yorkshire 3 peaks, occasional adventure racing, a triathlon, mountain marathons, etc. But I still don't think of myself as being Very Fit.
A big part of this is the company we keep. I have a lot of friends and acquaintances through running and climbing and cycling. If I was to judge my own fitness against theirs, I'd have to say I was average. Maybe I should start hanging out down at the local McDonalds to feel fitter?
There's more to it than just running up hills
What about the mental side of fitness? The part that keeps us pushing on when we'd much rather call it a day and sit down next to the fire with a slice of cake and a pint of tea?
Endurance events seem to have more than their fair share of people in the V40 and above category. There could be a number of explanations to this, but it still remains that you can still cut it, indeed get better, as you get older. I'm certainly hoping that this is the case as it means I haven't hit my prime yet!
I've certainly found myself to be more determined of mindset as I've got older. Some things that used to be important aren't as much and I am much more confident in myself and self reliant. I have a better appreciation of the signals that my body sends me and what they mean, where my limits are and the experience to know that a short bad spell will be over in a bit and then it will be business as usual.
Life toughens you up?
As we get older we are more aware of the finite time we have and, hopefully, we are encouraged more to enjoy it to the full. Are our forties the magic decade? Our children are less reliant on us, our careers are generally more settled, do we have less pressure than before?
I'm not there yet but I'll let you know what it's like when I do. I'd be interested to hear from my friends who are there about what they think.
My physio has, stencilled on the wall in their reception area, the motto "Pain is temporary, quitting lasts forever". Set against the scale of our lives, a little suffering during a fell race is a mere blip.
This is helped by the human brain's incapacity for remembering time. We can remember discrete events in a run for example, a rock, sweat, a view, out of breath, a good bit of trail but we can't relive the whole thing in real time when we remember it. It's a safety mechanism to enable us to actually function and not be stuck in loops of memories and remembering memories ad inifnitum in real time.
Similarly we can't remember pain. We can remember being in pain but we can't bring back that specific sensation. Bloody good job! Add some rose tinted spectacles and even the most horrific, Type 3 suffer fest has good memories associated with it. We can fool ourselves that it was actually fun!