A few months ago we started a virtual book club.
You can read about the idea here.
You can buy the Joy of Movement here or from a local bookshop or your favourite online retailer.
What’s the plan? Christine, Catherine, and I are reading a chapter a week, for seven weeks and writing about it here. We did that for Nia Shank’s book The 100 Day Reclaim: Daily Readings to Make Health and Fitness as Empowering as it Should Be. And we liked it so much we’re doing it again. Read what our reviews looked like here.
What’s different this time? We’re inviting you to join us. Read along and put your contributions in the comments. It doesn’t need to be a lot. A few sentences, a few paragraphs, whatever you’re moved to write.
Want to catch up?
This was a hard chapter for me to get through but that’s my issue, not the author’s problem. I am not the right audience for the discussion at hand.
Chapter 7 was about the motivation, benefits, and mindset for doing endurance events.
I am not wired for endurance events. I am not even wired for considering endurance events.
This may be, in part, due to my ADHD issues with time perception (lots of things already feel endless to me – I don’t need to take on extra ones) but also, I have a visceral negative reaction to the descriptions of the pain and suffering that are part and parcel of these events. I cannot wrap my mind around someone undertaking them on purpose. Even the descriptions make me frustrated and angry.
Is this a logical reaction? No.
Does it make any sense at all? Nope.
Would I try to talk you out of doing an endurance event? Also, no – because that’s your business. However, if you tried to talk to me about an event like that, I would probably have to stop you so you could find someone more positive to talk to about it. I wouldn’t want my issues to put a damper on your excitement and accomplishments.
McGonigal says that that what separates ultramarathons from masochism is context and I am just going to have to take her word on that.
Anyway, all of that being said, there was useful information for me in this chapter.
I appreciated the observation from hiker and author Jennifer Pharr Davis that you don’t have to get rid of pain in order to move forward. This idea has bounced up for me in a variety of contexts in the past and while Pharr Davis is primarily talking about physical pain, it also applies to other types of pain as well. I find comfort in the idea that sometimes you can have challenging circumstances AND still keep putting one foot in front of the other (literally or metaphorically.)
I did feel some connection to adventure athlete Terri Schneider’s discussion of her exploits. She describes how pushing her body to its limits felt joyful and how she felt freed from expectations about how a woman ‘should’ behave. As a martial artist, that resonated with me. I do enjoy a tiring class or belt test and I have definitely felt like I was stepping outside some ‘shoulds’ by taking pride in my punches and kicks.
However, the biggest feeling of connection and resonance for me started when McGonigal was describing her own experiences with wall climbing. Her description of a metaphorical ‘reaching-out’ to others for support when she couldn’t quite muster up her own faith made sense to me. And I enjoyed the resulting discussion of interdependence and how being able to offer and receive help is an added benefit of certain types of exercise.
After gritting my teeth through most of the descriptions (again, this is my issue, not an issue with the writing nor an issue with the people described) I was happy to have found this section at the end that let me relax into familiar territory and ideas that resonated with me.
McGonigal explores the mystical world of the ultra-endurance athlete in Chapter 7. The stories chronicle pain, suffering, determination and hope. These are lofty sentiments, sincerely expressed and wholly appropriate to explain the process of achieving super-human feats.
But what about the rest of us? I, for one, don’t plan on running 100 miles, cycling across country in less than 2 weeks (check out the Race Across America if you’re interested), or hiking the entirety of the Appalachian Trail. What is there for me to take away from these stories?
We are many of us endurance athletes, but of a different sort. Committing to a practice of running, swimming, walking, cycling, lifting, playing, training day after day, year after year, is most definitely endurance activity. We deal with aging, injury, illness, natural disaster, job loss, divorce, and depression. Life events can send us into distraction, despair, cynicism, and loss of agency.
Don’t leave yet! Here’s the good part: endurance is all about acceptance and hope. Acceptance that where I am is not the end, but rather a point along a line (maybe an undulating one) that leads me through my relationship with my body. The hope is for completion of segments of that line—new personal bests, recovery after injury or illness, or finding a new normal amidst a backdrop of very non-normal circumstances.
Endurance athletes like those McGonigal talks with strike me as special creatures with niche talents and unusual psychological makeups. They are cool to watch and hear about. For most of us, though, being an endurance athlete looks like life: get up, eat breakfast, put your gear on, pump the tires, and set off. You don’t know what it’s going to look like or feel like. But it’s what you do. That’s endurance to me.
Again, I liked the stories best. If there’s a reason to read this book, that’s it. There isn’t enough detail here about the studies that are mentioned to satisfy a reader who cares about research. That said, I’m not interested in challenging McGonigal’s claims and the stories are inspirational on their own.
(An aside: If you want a great research book on the topic of sports endurance, read Alex Hutchinson’s Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance. I loved it and started reviewing it here and got distracted.)
A confession, while I am not an ultra-marathoner, endurance is in my sports repertoire. I’ve ridden my bike some pretty long distances. I liked that McGonigal’s discussion of ultra-races includes the community and connection aspects of such events. I’d never be tempted to ride my bike alone 660+ kms but I’ve done it lots now as part of the Friends for Life Bike Rally fundraising ride with hundreds of other cyclists. Recently I reviewed a book about a woman who rode around the world and for her, it was global community that sustained her.
But I know that’s not true for all endurance athletes and I wondered if some of the solo sorts might feel left out by this chapter. Cate has blogged here lots about her solo cycling adventures, also major endurance events, and while they’ve never tempted me, I know she’s not alone in craving that kind of radical independence.
Have you been reading along? What did you think? What bits of this chapter spoke to you?