Book Club · Book Reviews · fitness

Book Club Week 7: The Joy of Movement, Chapter 7

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?

Read Week 1 here: https://fitisafeministissue.com/2020/03/10/book-club-week-1-the-joy-of-movement-chapter-1/

Read Week 2 here: https://fitisafeministissue.com/2020/03/17/book-club-week-1-the-joy-of-movement-chapter-2/

Read Week 3 here: https://fitisafeministissue.com/2020/03/31/book-club-week-3-the-joy-of-movement-chapter-3/

Read Week 4 here: https://fitisafeministissue.com/2020/04/09/book-club-week-4-the-joy-of-movement-chapter-4/

Read week 5 here: https://fitisafeministissue.com/2020/04/16/book-club-week-5-the-joy-of-movement-chapter-5/

Read week 6 here: https://fitisafeministissue.com/2020/04/21/book-club-week-6-the-joy-of-movement-chapter-6/

Christine

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.

Catherine

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.

Sam

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?

cycling · eating disorders · feminism · fitness · motivation

A return to fitness in 2018 (Guest post)

Biking with a friend

I love to make New Year’s resolutions, although I sometimes have uneven results. My main and most exciting New Year’s resolution for 2018 is to do 218 workouts – they don’t have to be particularly strenuous or any set length but they have to be fun and pleasurable.

I hope that 2018 – the year I turn 40 – will be at my fittest year ever. This isn’t an extreme goal because my fittest year was probably 2011, when I was running regularly, had not yet gotten my driver’s license so cycled everywhere out of necessity, and impulsively bought an expensive personal training program. I was 33, so it is not as if I am trying to re-live athletic teen years, which would be considerably harder. I was actually the type of kid for whom gym class was a nightmare. I walked the field when I was supposed to run, regularly ‘forgot’ my gym clothes, and dreaded group sports when my lack of any skill would be humiliatingly apparent to all my classmates.

I was not fit in any sense of the word until my late twenties when I started to cycle everywhere often, in those years, pulling two children and/or groceries (!!) in a bike trailer. When I was 30 and newly single I decided to try some new activities: running, roller derby, hot yoga, and weight-training. I felt fantastic, met some great people, and began to think of myself as a fit, even athletic, person. I felt strong and powerful and had a lot of fun. I still remember the exhilarating day I ran 13 km for the first time. As someone who a couple years earlier could not run one block, I was extremely proud of myself.

Unfortunately, the fitness activities got confused with and integrated into disordered eating habits, which dulled my enjoyment. Healing from disordered eating, which for me meant restricted eating, and unattainable weight loss goals, meant also giving up some of my fitness goals. But now I am about turn 40, a busy PhD student, community activist, and mom. Giving up a strong focus on fitness may have been necessary for me to heal from disordered eating but it also meant that I lost the physical and emotional benefits of fitness especially the almost magical effect it has on my ability to deal constructively with stress.

I miss the camaraderie that accompanied roller derby practices and group runs. I miss experiencing my body as strong and powerful. When I think about my life in ten and twenty years, I want fitness to be an everyday part of it. So, I have made a plan to get to my fittest this year and to re-discover the joy of fitness.

The plan is simple: do 218 workouts in 2018 which will include some weight-training, a gentle triathlon, and a few no-pressure and fun 5 or 10 km runs.

Maybe I’ll even, finally, attempt a fall half marathon – but only if it brings me joy. I also hope to cycle year-round instead of taking a long winter break after which I always feel hesitant and creaky. The focus, other than doing the 218 workouts, will be on feeling pleasure in moving my body and having fun participating in physical activities with other people.

There will be absolutely no weight loss goals or restricted eating plans and I will steer clear of others who have integrated those elements into their fitness plans and motivations. I’m excited, motivated, and ready to have fun and feel strong!

Kayaking in Venice in 2017

Becky Ellis is a PhD student at Western University who studies the bee-human relationship in cities. She is a mom to four kids and a community activist. Becky loves gardening, cycling at a leisurely pace, and taking millions of pictures of bees. She also maintains the blog Permaculture for the People about social justice and urban permaculture.