I don't associate training with a particular intensity of exercise. The six months before I moved to New York, I was spending more time in the gym than ever before or since. I was there by six every weekday; three days a week I spent an hour on the elliptical before an hour-long sculpting class, and two days I went to an hour-long spin class followed by an hour-long yoga class. On Saturday I did two to three hours of running, step class, yoga, and sculpting, and Sunday was my rest day. I was working hard and in great shape. But I wasn't training. I was working out twelve hours a week because it made me happy and because the gym was where I knew people and felt comfortable. I liked being flexible and strong, but I wasn't going to the gym every morning with an intention to make myself faster and stronger; I was going to the gym because it was part of my day. I was maintaining, not training.
Now, I am training. I have a plan for my workouts for the next twelve weeks, culminating in the half-marathon I plan to run. I have articulated goals for distance and less-articulated goals for speed. Some of my workouts don't have specific goals, so in some ways they're like maintenance workouts - but they're part of a larger training program. Today's workout was a spin class; spin classes are generally conducted as if the instructor is trying to jar maintainers out of a rut and force them to train for 45 minutes.* Sometimes I like this, but as I get further into my training program, since spinning is my cross-training and is not supposed to exacerbate fatigue or any injuries, it may become a problem.
It's easy to think of training as the hard work that is done at the gym, but actually training is fun. When I see people training, I'm often jealous of them, or wish I knew them so we could discuss their regimens. But when I see people who are clear maintainers - people who come to the gym every weekday, or three times a week, and spend 30 or 45 minutes doing cardio at the same intensity every time, and then do their sets of leg lifts and crunches and biceps curls, and then stretch and refill their water bottles and go home - I admire them. They come to the gym even though exercise isn't their focus, even though something else is occupying their primary intention in life - their training focus is on their work, or on raising their children, or on going to exciting bars every night, or whatever - and they do what needs to be done to maintain, and they do it again and again, without getting discouraged, for months or years. It's that skill, the ability to persist in the absence of progress or even hope of progress, without any goal besides to continue taking care of things, that I admire, and I think it is the people who are able to do that, to maintain all areas of their life at all times, who are happiest and best off.
* It isn't relevant to this post, but I'm annoyed by the fact that female spin instructors often try to urge the class to higher levels of performance by invoking bathing suit season, which is always either coming or here. First of all, it's hard to think seriously about bathing suits when it's twenty degrees out. Second, the instructors especially like to do this on steep climbs, and most women who are trying to look good in a bathing suit are more focused on burning fat than building muscle, which is best done at a lower resistance level but for longer periods of time. Third and most importantly, I don't like the assumption that we are and/or should be exercising with a goal to look good in a bathing suit. Perhaps this is my own bias, i.e. no matter how many marathons and half-marathons I may run, and even if I am someday able to do a pullup, I doubt I will ever approach a bathing suit without anxiety, and if I do it will be a psychological and not a physical triumph. But really I think we can all agree that there are more important reasons to go to the gym than to conform to society's ideas of how we should look in a small piece of nylon.