Today I have two recent book reviews, both looking at athletic performance and becoming the best athlete you can be.
Endure by Alex Hutchinson is a book about the limits of the human body and our capacity to face physical challenges. Hutchinson is an award-winning journalist, has a PhD in physics, and competed internationally as a top distance runner. In the book, he provides an incredible amount of scientific evidence and research to demonstrate our physical and mental barriers to maximal performance. Factors including pain, muscle, oxygen, heat, thirst, fuel, and the brain/belief are all addressed. Hutchinson also tells the story of Nike’s monumental project to try to break the 2-hour marathon. Although the project was unsuccessful in 2017, the margin was only missed by 25 seconds and showed the world that a sub 2-hour marathon might actually be possible.
I found the book very thought provoking: what is the underlying cause of an athlete slowing down, how much of our limits are in our head, what defines our pain threshold, what gives someone that extra kick at the end of a race? The book showed that even when you think you have given your all and you cannot go any faster or any longer, the body almost always has more to give. Here are some of my favorite quotes:
“Pain is a sensation, like vision or touch; it’s an emotion, like anger or sadness; and it’s also a ‘drive state’ that compels action, like hunger.” Page 85
“Training is the cake and belief is the icing—but sometimes that thin smear of frosting makes all the difference.” Page 260
“Know that when the moment of truth comes, science has confirmed what athletes have always believed: that there’s more in there—if you’re willing to believe it.” Page 261
“Human vulnerability… it’s what connects all of us, as we confront our own personal limits on the bike paths and mountain trails of the world, to those pushing back the limits of our species. Nothing is inevitable; nothing is simply mathematical.” Page 267
Let Your Mind Run by Deena Kastor is a memoir about Kastor’s life as an elite athlete and marathon runner. Kastor won the bronze medal in the 2004 Olympic Marathon. She also ran American records in all distances from the 5k to the marathon. Kastor still holds the American record in the marathon in 2 hours 19 minutes 36 seconds. It is fascinating to read about her growth as an athlete and the transitions she goes through in life. She addresses the mental strategies she applied to get through tough times and shows how interrelated running and life are.
I believe no two people can train or think the same way, and different techniques work for different athletes. However, there are always some pieces of advice you can find from reading about the successes of others. Here are some of my favorite parts of the book:
“The same qualities that build a better person also build a better athlete.” Page 65
“If you’re pushing, the race is always hard. The strength I developed came from not being afraid of the fatigue. Every cell in my body shouted ‘I’m exhausted!’ by the end of each long run. But my mind was quick to respond. ‘Yes, but you can still move forward.’” Page 201
Kastor also discusses the idea of replacing words such as “hard, cold, and tired” with words such as “challenging, tough, and adapting” to “provide a greater feeling of strength and purpose.” Page 83
Any recent books you have read that you recommend? I love reading nonfiction sports books, but I have been trying to branch out to other genres!