“The Pursuit of Endurance: Harnessing the Record-Breaking Power of Strength and Resilience” | Athletic Bookworm Highlights
This month, The Athletic Bookworms read The Pursuit of Endurance: Harnessing the Record-Breaking Power of Strength and Resilience by Jennifer Pharr Davis, about FKTs (fastest known times) and the setting thereof. I was psyched to read a book on this topic by a woman, and it was a cool one to follow up our winter read of North by Scott and Jenny Jurek, because it focused on the same trail—the Appalachian—but told a different story.
A couple of my main takeaways:
On appreciating nature vs. record setting
I’ve contended with this on a minor scale—when we speed-hiked La Cloche last year, we had a very very small amount of blowback around ‘not taking it in’ and ‘not stopping to smell the roses.’ FKT attempts on the Appalachian Trail = that sentiment x a million. Pharr Davis writes, “Critics claimed that by hiking the trail in sixty-six days, he hadn’t appreciated his surroundings. It must be impossible to enjoy the sights and sounds of the forest, they insisted, if you’re hiking that fast. And some feared that by setting a fastest known time Warren was turning a hike into a competition, a trail into a racetrack.”
“The truth is I have never felt more present. A recreational hike allows you to zone out; a record forces you to focus. Whether it was excruciating or exhilarating didn’t matter; in the end, I felt every step.”
^ 100% This.
“Endurance isn’t the ability to overcome pain; it is the ability to embrace it with no end in sight.”
“The thing about a long, grueling journey is that it strips away who you’re not and allows you to discover what’s left—or who’s left,” she says. “One damn good reason to pursue endurance—and choose suffering—is to get to know yourself inside and out. When you reach that moment where you gave more than you thought you had and accomplished more than you thought you could, it’s clear who you are… One of the most important lessons the trail taught me is that I need vision and want direction. It doesn’t matter how hard you are working if you are walking the wrong way.”
I loved this—again, I haven’t done any kind of multi-day stuff like she has, but I have done a lot of really freaking hard endurance races and training. And as a very non-athletic kid until I was in my 20s, I can very safely say that learning endurance and putting in those long miles taught me more about myself than any time at a desk ever did. Even now, the trail is where I get story ideas, make big decisions, and get my best work done.
Consistent High Performance
Pharr Davis quotes professional speaker and business consultant Dr. Czech saying, “Whether you are talking about sports or life in general, the main thing you are trying to achieve is consistent high performance. You can’t operate at 110 percent. It’s mathematically impossible. So what we strive to do is enhance our potential on a daily basis, to go from performing at, say, 60 percent, to performing at 80 percent. Then once you accomplish that, the goal becomes repeating that higher level of performance.”
This was such a great reminder, just kind of hidden in a casual conversation in a chapter. (Isn’t it funny what you end up taking from books like this?) Again, I just love the reminder that it’s not really moments of greatness that set us apart, it’s consistent high performance—doing well much of the time, versus having one great moment and then a huge period of stagnation. Something like an FKT illustrates this beautifully, when you’re talking about consistent solid performance over 45 days, versus going HAM days 1 through 7 and blowing up completely.