A few years ago, I was staffing the Phoenix Fitness and Training booth at the Indianapolis Sport and Fitness Expo down at the Indiana State Fairgrounds.  It was a nice event with about 100 vendors, but the highlight of the event was the CrossFit competition that commanded center stage.

As I watched some of the events and WODs, an old feeling came over me.  It was a feeling of wanting.  There was one time in Southern California where I felt it the most.  I was out there for the International Bike Show when it used to be in Anaheim.  It seemed like every one of the locals had “the Look”.  They had the biceps, the tan, the cool outfit and the confident swagger to go with it.  I was just a goofy Indiana guy with a VERY bad cycling tan. (the kind of tan that makes farmer tans look good). I felt odd.  I felt like the nervous middle school kid who was on the outside ring of the cool kid’s inner ring at the school dance.  On the outside looking in and just hoping to be noticed and invited in.

I felt on the outside looking in at the cool kids doing their WODs.  The guys were bulging out of their shirts as they warmed up and then all of their rippled muscles glistened on display as they toss their shirts to the side to start the competition.  For the next 12 minutes, the 6 competitors in that particular heat threw themselves into the tasks at hand: Olympic style barbell lifts, box jumps, rope climbs, burpees and more.  It was a very impressive 12 minutes.

It left me for wanting.  It left me envious of their shape.  Their accomplishments.

And then I said something very healing.  I said that I would love to run against them in a 5K.

That statement made me take pause and reflect on the moment that I was in.  Why were their muscles so envious?  Why were their displays of strength so captivating and mesmerizing? Why did I care?

A small, related digression.  I was at the OctoberFast 5K this past Saturday and I was warming up for the race.  I was sizing up my potential competitors and a few stood out: tall and lean, fluid and fast.  Then there was John.  If you want to know John’s last name, just go to TuxBro.com and look at the first place spot for the 5K.  John didn’t look especially fast while warming up nor did he display an outwardly bold confidence that would mark him as the eventual winner, but when asked by another runner what he hoped to run, he quietly said oh about a 16:15 for the 5K because he was just getting back into shape. He promptly ran a sub 5:00 first mile and kindly shook my hand after I crossed the finish line 2 minutes later for a lifetime best.

Much like me and most every other endurance sport person, John wears his fitness on the inside.  CrossFitters wear their fitness on the outside.

As endurance athletes, our training increases our heart’s stroke volume to pump more blood which is also in greater volume.  Our training increases the size and number of our mitochondria which are the power plants that provide the energy to exercise for long periods of time.  Our training increases the number of capillaries that penetrate our muscle fibers to deliver more oxygen.  Our training thickens our tendons and ligaments to handle hour after hour of repetitive stress.  Our training teaches our bodies how to be patient and burn fat for fuel.  All of that impressive adaptation often happens on the microscopic level and is never visible to observing eyes.  With runners and cyclists often having toothpicks for arms, you wouldn’t be able to pick out someone with those internal changes.  No one stands around the cooler at the picnic and says “Did you see the size of the mitochondria on that guy! He must be a STUD!”

So the next time that you feel a little less than when at the beach or at the gym, just take a moment to flex your heart stroke volume or display your capillary density in the mirror as you pose down.  Quietly talk to yourself as you say what impressively thick tendons and large mitochondria you have and when someone asks you what you are looking at, just tell them that you are looking at how beautiful and powerful are…..on the inside.