For me, it’s running a marathon at 7,200 feet with no real starting line, using my weakest muscles in a workout, and picking up something I never thought I could.
On June 9, Austin Fit Magazine held its first annual AFM FITTEST competition. I heard nothing but wonderful things about the event and love the idea of AFM naming Austin’s “fittest” person. I wanted to compete but was in Taos, New Mexico, where I have spent the last month training for my upcoming marathons and half Ironman-distance races.
Rather than come back to Austin for the FITTEST, I decided to stay in Taos and run the Taos marathon instead. The race began at 5 a.m. at 7,200 feet in the pitch dark with no fewer than 28 starters (and no more than that, either). The race began, tracing large, open fields on the planes of Taos. Six or so horses actually ran alongside and galloped happily beside us, more than likely wondering what in the world we were doing there at such an early hour and what exactly were we chasing.
What are we chasing when we compete? Is it the elation and relief of the finish line, the guiltless pleasure of the food we eat afterwards, or the fact that a Sunday competition makes our entire week better? For me, it is a combination of all three and then some. I love feeling fit. I love pushing my body to its limits and then asking for more, and I love being able to share these moments alongside 28, or thousands, of the closest friends I have never met. The effects of a hard competition can offer a sense of accomplishment lasting much longer than sore calves or biceps. After a hard race, I can actually feel myself getting fitter, both mentally and physically. I am more cheerful and “smilier” and I sit a little taller. My mind is clearer (once I get my first meal in, that is) and during some of my races, I have had my clearest, most true-to-the-soul thoughts, as if the raw pain had stripped me down to the core of my own reality. At the end of the Taos marathon, I felt like I had run 36 miles and was thrilled to finish underneath a four-by-four-foot plastic “FINISH” sign with nine spectators surrounding it.
I have been a long time runner in Gilbert’s Gazelles training group. The workouts are a blast and are constantly changing. They offer a variety of hills, interval training, weekend long running, and circuit training. The circuits are often the most challenging for me because they make me work outside of my “fit” comfort zone…they also leave me the most sore. I appreciate these workouts because, although I can run, bike, and swim for long periods of time, I am not always the strongest in my upper body and core. I marvel at guys and girls who can knock out rapid-fire pull-ups and sit-ups (maybe I stayed in Taos for yet another reason).
My fiancé Matt has been a long time devotee of Atomic Athlete, which is led by a group of thrill seeking, highly trained coaches whose motto is “stronger, faster, harder to kill.” I have always been a bit intimidated by these guys, as I would often see them while doing my Wilke hill repeats with the Gazelles, breathing like a dog, responsible only for my body weight. Meanwhile, these guys started their group intervals with tire dragging up this monstrous hill! The leader of Atomic, Jake, joked that I should join them, that I would have fun with those tires. One look at my noodle arms assured me I would not. However, I have since taken Matt’s lead and participated in quite a few workouts, carrying things like kettlebells, sandbags, and even Olympic barbells and have actually loved it. Take that noodle arms! Now…am I getting “fitter” by working out with these guys? Absolutely. However, I probably FEEL stronger than I have actually become. After carrying these things around, I have much more confidence in picking up objects such as heavy duffel bags and groceries. After all, I have become “harder to kill!”
So, in reflection, becoming your FITTEST can be done in many ways. Enter a race, even if it only has 28 starters and no real starting line; pick up something you never thought you could, and then do it again and again. Embrace doing the things in life that challenge you the most and keep you struggling the longest because, in the end, you will not only be your FITTEST self, you might be smilier (and sit a little taller), too.
Desiree Ficker began running at an early age with the encouragement of her parents, avid track and field fans. By age 9, Ficker was competing in cross country/track and field at the Junior Olympic level. Her running career continued throughout high school and college, where she ran on scholarship for the University of Alabama. After completing her degree in 1998, Ficker was inspired by watching the triathlon Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii, and began competing as an amateur while teaching and coaching in Maryland. In 2001, Ficker began her professional triathlete career, moving to the Colorado Olympic Training Center for training. She moved to Austin eight years ago, where she continued her racing career as both a professional triathlete and runner. In addition, Ficker has also founded the Ma Ficker Foundation, which raises money for colon cancer research, in honor of her mother.