This post was started in September of 2011. It’s a bit more personal than normal, hence the delay in it’s completion and publication.
Bigorexia. Biggerxia. Body Dysmorphia. However you decide to spell it, it all means the same thing. If an anorexic can’t be too thin, a biggerexic can’t be too huge. Steroid huge. Obsessive size. Not quite big enough.
I’ve always been a yoyo – rail-skinny, pretty fat, skinny-fat, fat-fat, skinny, fat…wheeee. Always self-concious, always aware of being too skinny (weak) or fat (and still weak). Bring on the self-esteem issues!
15 years ago I plowed into weight training at full speed and in short order I was measuring my food, buying all kinds of strange potions and powders and generally being obsessive about it all. It worked, sorta. In day-to-day trim I weighed 180 flabbyish pounds (I’m 6 feet tall) but had bounded up to 195 and still didn’t have arms to fit my shirt as tightly as my belly. A beach ball with stick arms. As I started training and learning about food, I dropped down to 170 and then slowly back up to 197. This time instead of the 24% bodyfat reading I’d received when I started, I was down to 15%. More muscle than I’d ever possessed and in the best shape I’d ever been. I wanted more. I fought my way up to 205 pounds at 11%. Not enough. I pondered pharmaceutical assistance in my Lorax-like quest of biggering and biggering, but could never find enough money. I managed to avoid steroid trip not so much by wise choice as by accident.
I floated in and out of the gym as I got married and moved to the other side of the world, came back, moved to Europe and came back yet again. I never did find that combination of size, strength and confidence, always dragging along that travel-trunk of insecurity.
One of my aspirations while training was to take my scrawny flabby self from 180 pounds to 220. “6 foot, 220″ always had a nice ring to it. I’ve achieved that. And more. Three months ago (12 months now) I peaked at a solid 230 pounds. And by solid I mean undeniable, not rock-hard. 230 pounds of fat-ass. Egads – this is not the type of 220 I wanted to be!!
Enter today – July 2012. Riding has made a huge difference – my mood, my cardio, my overall health and of course my weight. Certainly cured me of wanting to be bigger – hauling one’s self up a climb becomes increasingly arduous as your weight goes up – 20 pounds is a big deal. People don’t give 20 pounds the respect it deserves – go to grocery store and throw 20 pounds of ground beef in your cart. That’s a lot of meat!
As I get closer to 40, I am more comfortable in my own skin. I am who and what I am – I gain weight easy but I’ve got a skinny structure underneath it all. I’ll never be a healthy 220 pounds – it would either be a fat 220 (again) or a drug-assisted version. I’m okay with that, meaning, I’m happier being a lean, healthy 185 than a muscular yet unhealthy 220. I’m certain that there is no combination of size and strength to address insecurity. That’s a beast one must slay on their own.
After watching bits and pieces of the TdF this year, I am amused by the “cycling physique”. Enormous, powerful quads and hamstrings (thighs), muscular calves, skinny torso and the arms of a starving supermodel. The reason there’s so much carnage with cyclists when there’s a pile-up – apart from having just .5mm of stretchy-pants between them and the pavement – is their lack of mass exposing their skeletons and making them fragile. Dainty. 5’11″ and 140 pounds. This year’s TdF champion is 6 foot 2 and half inches tall and weights less than 170 pounds. Most of it is their thighs I’m sure.
Man, if you ever wanted a dirty sport for doping – there you go. Now in fairness, the testing is driving the users out of the sport slowly but surely. As the testing science starts to catch the doping science, the peloton gets cleaner and cleaner and 2012 looks to be the beginning of a new era. Two of the three podium winners for this year – Brad Wiggins and Chris Froome, both riding for Team Sky out of Britain – are outspoken anti-doping advocates. Wiggins took the lead early and never let it go showing that, after 15 years of the dirtiest cycling around, clean riders aren’t only competitive, they’re champions.
Oh, but how do we know they’re not cheating? In fairness, we don’t. It’s easy to prove someone did – hey lookie here, a failed drug test from athlete L. Much harder to prove that someone didn’t. We have no failed tests, but we believe he cheated. Mathematics to the rescue!
I love this stuff – as an engine fanatic (I loooove automotive engines) I learned everything I could about them, digging deeper and deeper and unearthing all sorts of mathematical models. Imagine how pleased I was to find that similar mathematical models exist for people! An engine can pump X amount of air in a given time frame. Using known data, we can determine the reasonable expected performance of any given engine without having to actually measure it. When it performs well outside our expectations then either our data presumptions are wrong or they’re cheating. With people it’s even easier – there’s far fewer criteria. With a small handful of exceptions, none of which are racing in the Tour de France, we’re all 2-lungs, 1 heart, air-breathing, calorie burning machines. We vary in how much air we can breathe or how efficiently we pedal a bike (or run) or how much of our food is turned into energy at the pedal but we all function within a range, elite cyclists in a pretty narrow and specific range. That translates to a specific output (watts) per kilogram of body mass. That power output can be used to predict performance, particularly when climbing. So working the math on a rider’s weight and hill-climbing performance, we can determine their power output per kilogram with pretty good accuracy. Compare their actual output performance with the statistical norms and tah-dah! We have a winner, or a cheater.
So – how do we know that Brad Wiggins and the rest of the Tour leaders aren’t cheaters? Again, we don’t – but we can say that their performance ranks where it should. In fact, in the climbing stages of the 2012 race, the best times wouldn’t have got them into the top 40 just a couple of years ago. They’re riding like elite human not superhumans and they’re winning. Now that’s big.