Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance

A Book Review

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At first glance, this book by Alex Hutchinson would seem to be just another running book. After all, that’s what the cover photo shows. But in reality the book examines the slippery nature of endurance by looking not only at running, but also mountain climbers, skiers, cyclists, free diving, and more. Regardless of the activity, the boldest among us continue to push the known boundaries of endurance.

Is There a Limit to Endurance?

This is the central question of the book. It turns out that endurance is analogous to nutrition; every day it seems some “qualified person” comes up with the latest and greatest theory. Case closed; mystery solved. Well, until the next day. Then someone comes along and changes the game; moves the marker.

New records are constantly being set, from 25-year-old medical student Roger Bannister’s 4-minute mile to Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya setting a new world marathon record in Berlin. He ran an amazing time of 2:01:39. Ask anyone who is a distance runner; this time is phenomenal under any circumstance. Kipchoge says, “It’s not about the legs; it’s about the heart and the mind.”

He’s on to something there and that is precisely what this book explores. We can talk about physiology all day long but there is something else going on here. The real issue is that the “something” is so hard to quantify.

This book is a must-read (or in all honesty a must-listen since I listened to the audible.com release on my long runs) for any of us weekend warriors who are looking for a little bit more inspiration. The latest nutritional supplement may give us an edge or not but is it real or a placebo effect? Does it matter? You decide.


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The Importance of Rituals

Charles Darwin's Daily Rituals
Charles Darwin’s Daily Rituals
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So. This is the most important bit. Insomnia. Can’t sleep, brain runs like a freight train right through the night. But the thoughts keep coming, the leftover refuse of books recently read and audio-books droning on I assume.

So here it is. I’ve been thinking about how important rituals are. Sometimes the big ones that your church orchestrates. Sometimes the little ones that we do everyday.

One of my big ones: when she-who-must-be-obeyed is home on the weekend, in the morning, I always say “Do you want some coffee?” Of course she says,”yes.” That’s part of our morning ritual. Then I make it for her.

And so it goes.

Rituals and Monotheism

Rituals have been around since the beginning of time. They can keep things the way they are or they can change things. A good example is in the years after Moses brought the Jews out of Egypt. Egyptians believed in many nature-centered Gods. All societies were along those lines. But things were about to change.

When God revealed his existence to Moses, he also started laying out many rituals — the Feast of Ingathering, resting on the Sabbath, the redemption of the firstborn son, observation of Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and many others.

What is the reason for all these detailed rituals? In his book The Rational Bible: Exodus, Dennis Prager tells us, “One way people guard against the temptation to create idols and other false gods is by observing regular rituals that keep them focused on the One True God. One of the appeals of idols is that they exist physically, whereas God does not. The practice of physical rituals helps keep people attuned to the reality of God’s presence; otherwise, God can become too abstract and difficult to connect to.”

Rituals in Sports

Some rituals in sports can seem downright quirky but they do serve a purpose. Good luck and the idea that if things are done ritualistically, the outcome will be favorable. For example, Michael Jordan wore his North Carolina shorts under his Chicago Bulls shorts in every game; Curtis Martin (New York Jets) reads Psalm 91 before every game.

Before every serve, Serena Williams bounces the ball exactly five times. 
Wade Boggs, third baseman (Boston Red Sox), woke up at the same time each day, ate chicken before each game, took exactly 117 ground balls in practice, took batting practice at 5:17, and ran sprints at 7:17. (Boggs also wrote the Hebrew word Chai (“living”) in the dirt before each at bat.

Rituals and Superstitions

Many rituals are performed to keep bad things from happening. Remember step on a crack; break your mother’s back? Is it still applicable from beyond the grave? No sense in taking any chances. The advent of the Fitbit has created a new ritual — get those 10,000 step in or wallow in guilt.

Here are a few more: knocking on wood to bring good luck or to bring rain. Avoiding walking under ladders or crossing paths with a black cat. Unlucky Friday the 13th can cause anxiety in even the bravest and most rational souls. If you happen to look at the clock when it shows same figures for hours and minutes (10:10 for example) you can make a wish.

If you are walking with someone and you are forced to separate and each of you walk around either side of a pole, you have to say “Bread and Butter” three times or else it brings bad luck.

Daily Rituals

One reason to indulge in daily rituals is to keep our lives in balance; routine breeds stability. For men, a morning shave is not just good hygiene. It also prepares us for the upcoming day.

A daily walk or run is a healthy ritual. Doing it in the morning can clear the night’s cobwebs and prepares us for the day. Doing it in the evening can relax us and help us to unwind. It’s common to tackle emails the first thing when arriving at work. With that task in the rear view mirror the real work can begin.

The bottom line is that the importance of rituals can’t be understated. They give life a comforting stability in a chaotic world. Now, I’m off for my morning run so I can get on with my day and be productive. Knock on wood.


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Running in the Cold Weather

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Running in the Winter Snow
Running in the Winter Snow

When I headed out the door this morning to put out the trash and the recycling bin I noticed a small change in the air. OK, the temperature was almost exactly like yesterday and the humidity was not giving me a break, but the air had a certain feel to it. We have turned the corner.

Fall Season Running

Here in South Texas, fall is the best time for running. Spring is good but fall is the best. Maybe it’s just a feeling of relief from the summer heat. Whatever, as long as it cools off.

This doesn’t mean I’m ready to start breaking out the singlets or t-shirts yet (those that I still have left after the flood from Hurricane Harvey) but not having to carry a water bottle is a relief.

I favor trail running in the fall. The trails can be stifling in the summer heat but in the cooler temps with the leaves falling it can be a mystical experience. One caveat–I still have to remember to keep moving; the mosquitoes will find idle bodies.

Winter Running Clothes

When it gets really cold it’s hard to decide what to wear. I like watch caps (or beanies if you prefer) but they can be itchy depending on what they are made out of.

Long sleeve t-shirts work well for me. A windbreaker and a pair of gloves are also nice since they can be put on and removed as the situation calls for. Generally, I don’t need anything on my legs. I don’t know why. Even when I was stationed in the tundra-like state of Maine I didn’t need those long johns on my pins.

That said, I am no stranger to running tights. The better quality ones are light enough to be comfortable without being stifling. Remember that what feels warm enough when you start will quickly become uncomfortable.

Don’t Change Your Running Routine Too Much

When the weather turns cold, it’s tempting to modify the successful training routine. This can be a mistake. What worked before will continue to work. If you are doing marathon training you can still continue your yoga or stretching, just do it inside.

Rather than shortening your workouts, search out better locations. As mentioned above, trail running is excellent in cold weather because it cuts down on chilling wind. But there are other possibilities. The Weather Channel and other sites can give you detailed info on wind direction and strength. Plan in advance.

Running in the cold weather does require a shift in technique but it does no mean abandoning your training plan. It might help to pick a race goal to train for. Setting your sights can also set your outcome.


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10 Habits of Highly-Successful Runners

A healthy runner is a happy runner.
A healthy runner is a happy runner.

Article edited on 07/20/18

By definition, we runners are creatures of habit. We simply don’t feel right if we miss a workout and sometimes push harder on the next one to make amends. This makes it a healthy habit in our eyes and occasionally just a bit on the kooky side in the eyes of our sedentary counterparts.

We are also goal-setters. This is easy for beginning runners when the opportunities are as open and unlimited as the blue west Texas sky. The first 5K, the first 10K and so it goes until we have marked off our bucket list so many pounds lost, that first marathon or ultramarathon.

But what happens after that? Do we crater? Hopefully not. Although I must admit that I don’t see as many of the old crew at the races as I used to. I don’t do as many as I used to anymore either; I just focus on the Texas Bridge Series.




But I do keep running. My goal now is just to keep running until I eventually lay down for that long, long dirt sleep. Now that is a worthy goal. With that in mind, lets look at some the 10 habits of successful runners. As I define success, it’s keepin’ on keepin’ on; with 5 ultras under my belt more distance isn’t the answer it once was. For you it might be still climbing that ladder of goals.

Do Your Strength Training. Many runners neglect the weights and this is a mistake. Building and maintaining lean muscle mass balances us out and reduces the prospect of injury. There is a good reason that those in the know continually stress the importance of maintaining a strong core. Choose exercises that work the upper body, core and lower body. Shoot for 3 times a week. There is really no reason for a gym membership unless you need the swimming pool. Resistance bands are very economical and versatile and will even fit in your suitcase if you spend time on the road.

Chow Down on More Vegetables. You don’t have to adopt Michelle Obama’s school menu, but try to fit more organic veggies into your lunch and dinner meals. The point is that high-quality carbohydrates lend power to your workouts, and their antioxidants help keep the potentially damaging free radicals at bay.  Myself, I’m nuts about salad. Try to select vegetables of different colors since that virtually guarantees that you will get a broad range of nutrients. And don’t forget to add some cheese; calcium and protein are good things.

Make Running Your First Activity of the Day. After your coffee of course. You afternoon runners know the drill; the later it is in the day, the more things arise to threaten your workout. Plus the fact that it gives you altogether too much time to talk yourself out of it. And isn’t it worth the early wake-up call to already be endorphin-saturated when you are faced with the prospect of a boring meeting at the office? Enjoying another cup o’ joe? When you set your alarm before bed, be sure to allow enough time for your warm-up routine. Be sure to set out all your essentials the night before so you can plug ‘n play. That means shorts, shoes, socks, water bottle, etc.

Get in Some Cross-Training. As good as running is for us, it is very stressful on the body. Some swimming, spinning and time on the rowing machine will maintain your level of fitness while at the same time giving your joints a break. With that in mind, a couple of good times to work cross-training into your schedule is on the day before or the day after a hard run. I’ve found that some slow yet long lap swimming is just the thing to elevate my heart rate while also getting a great all-over stretch in.

Dump the Gadgets Once in a While. We have become obsessed with cell phones, GPS, earbuds blocking out the world and God knows what else. It will do your soul good to leave all that junk behind every now and again when you hit the road or trails; get out of your box. Enjoy the sights. Listen to your breathing. Smell stuff. Do something nice and redeeming that doesn’t reek of “me.” I run early in the morning and stop to pick up earthworms that have slithered up onto the sidewalk and lost their bearings. I toss them back into the deep grass before the ants can attack them like so many Lilliputians on Gulliver. Weird? Hell yeah, but you wouldn’t believe my karma bank account. Besides, all this will remind you of why you run in the first place.

Make Your Weekly Long Run a High-Quality One. If you are not already doing a weekly long run now is the time to start. They are not just to be used as part of a marathon program. The physical benefits are many including beneficial enzyme changes in you legs, new capillary growth, and musculoskeletal strengthening. Remember to follow the 10% rule to avoid injury—don’t bump up the distance more than 10% from one week to the next. If Saturday morning is your long run, Friday is a good candidate for a rest day.

Be Your Own Cook. Try to say goodbye to restaurants, fast food places, and greasy spoons, at least for dinner and breakfast. Problem is, you can’t control the ingredients or portions when someone else is doing the culinary duty. Case in point: I tend to have high blood pressure and don’t need all the salt that they seem to administer with a front end loader. Can’t cook? Take a cooking class or just practice, practice, practice.

Warm-up before Your Run and Stretch Afterwards. Many runners neglect these two steps and that’s just wrong. Warming up will loosen the muscles that you need limber in order to hit your stride. You might not feel like you need to stretch afterwards (you are already loose as a goose) but during cooling down your muscles will begin to contract rapidly. Static stretching, not ballistic, can prolong that action and reduce soreness. A foam roller can work wonders. Focus on your calves, hip flexors and hamstrings.

Slather on that Sunscreen. Running for hours and hours is a blessing and a curse as far as the sun is concerned. On the one hand, you don’t have to worry about a vitamin D deficiency. On the other hand, your chances of developing skin cancer go way, way up. As a general population, 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer. Ouch. And that estimate also takes those spooky milky-white goth types into account. Try to use a sunscreen that is made for sports, meaning that it will not sweat off as easily.

Finally, Get Plenty of Sleep. Sleep is essential for all of us but it is especially critical for runners because the body undergoes some major repair action when we check into nod-land. In fact people that are taking statin meds to control cholesterol are advised to take it only at bedtime because that is when the blood really gets cleaned up.  Cutting back on sleep can cut the amount of glycogen that your body will store for fuel and may result in weight gain. And besides all those interesting facts, the dreams are just fun, right? If you want to boost the enjoyment level, work on developing your lucid dreaming abilities.

If you need to work on one or more of these 10 habits of highly-successful runners, now is the time. Start working them in one at a time and chart your results. And have fun.

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Running Recovery for any Distance

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This article was updated on 8/11/18.

Upper thigh muscle pain from running.
Upper thigh muscle pain from running.

Experienced runners have learned how to listen to their bodies and know all too well how to tread the thin line between injury and the optimal health that leads to peak performance. They understand and implement running recovery methods for any distance.

The Physiological Reasons for Recovery

First the good news—running causes your body to produce endorphins. These are the chemicals responsible for the so-called “runner’s high.” There’s no need for recovery there.

Not surprisingly, of all the elements of your physical makeup your muscles sustain the most damage during a run. The longer the run is, how challenging the route is and your present level of conditioning are the main factors that determine the amount of damage.

The larger muscle groups such as the buttocks and the thighs shoulder most of the load and consequently sustain the most damage. Generally the damage is temporary and nothing to worry about. This is often referred  to as DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness). This is usually experienced after adding mileage to your weekly long run or tackling a marathon.

Running Recovery Guidelines for Different Distances

As you might imagine, the longer the distance is, the more involved and important recovery techniques become. Here are some to consider:

  • Typical training runs. Most of your mileage is of the familiar day-in, day-out variety. These workouts may not cause any soreness but it is important to follow these 7 basic running recovery tips. Cooling down properly, stretching and re-hydrating will go far in ensuring that you can lace up tomorrow injury-free!

  • 5K, 10K and half-marathon races. Any of these will impose more stress on your body than a training run. You still need to follow the basic tips but you might find it beneficial to take a very slow cool-down run after re-hydrating. Also, do some light stretching before climbing in the car for the ride home.

  • Full-marathon and ultramarathon recovery. Now you are entering into a more complex recovery situation; your muscles are almost certainly experiencing some micro-tearing and need some serious TLC. This calls for a multi-day recovery. Of course you will be building from all the recovery actions listed for shorter distances but you should add more rest to begin with.

Be generous with the ice packs for the next week or so, whenever you note soreness or a twinge of pain. Feel free to be a lazy bum (no activity) the first day following the event but eat copiously and nutritionally. Begin light stretching on the second day. Beginning on the third day short, easy recovery runs are in order but only if you feel like it.

As soon as you feel up to it, get back to your normal base. To insure staying injury-free, don’t neglect to incorporate your warm-up routine prior to every run. It may be tempting to skip but it is one of the best investments you can make.


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Do Transgender Athletes Have an Unfair Advantage?

The above image shows some effects of testosterone.

Regardless of what we might think of transgender bathroom policies or how gender-shifters should be affected by many other social issues, sport is a particularly sticky area. Sports performance is indeed affected by hormones, muscular structure, heat tolerance, and even height.

It’s no secret that this gender issue is huge in the Olympics. In particular, testosterone levels in women, transgender or natural, affects performance. Take the 25-year-old South African woman Caster Semenya for example. She is a natural woman but has an intersex condition. This means she possesses the anatomical sex characteristics of both males and females.

By definition she is hyperandrogenous. Her body provides much higher levels of testosterone than the majority of other female athletes. It follows that this builds greater muscle mass and bone mass which permits her to run faster and train harder with fewer sports injuries.

Should She Compete against Men or Women?

This introduces a moral dilemma. Semenya dominates the 800 meters. Certainly many factors allow her to do this but it is irrefutable that her higher testosterone level gives her a clear advantage. In fact she is built like a man—broad shoulders, narrow hips, very muscular, and even a masculine jawline.

This brings us to the moral question; if her competitors took testosterone supplements in order to even the field it would be considered doping. Semenya isn’t doping but does she have an unfair advantage because of her condition? Since her testosterone is abnormally high for a woman, more like a man, should she compete against them instead?

To address that question, at one point track’s governing body, the IAAF, placed a ceiling on testosterone levels in female athletes. When that happened her performance came somewhat down to competitive levels and the common speculation was that she began medically suppressing her testosterone production in order to meet the requirement.

Since the IAAF removed the ceiling she has become virtually unbeatable once again. Depending on one’s personal outlook, it’s easy to draw a conclusion about what is “fair” and what regulations should be in place.

High School Sports are Affected Also

Recently, a transgender wrestler named Mack Beggs from Euless Trinity High School has been easily dominating the girl’s field at a competition at the Berry Center in the Cypress-Fairbanks school district.

Beggs was a girl but is now a transgender boy taking testosterone. Ironically, he wanted to compete against other boys but the University Interscholastic League rules force Beggs to compete as a girl instead. If that’s not a case against illogical wrongheadedness, what is? Once again testosterone is a huge factor. The really sad thing is that some of those testosterone-lacking girls were probably hoping for a sports scholarship.

So, what’s right and what’s wrong? Where should the lines be drawn? Each of us has to decide for ourselves.
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