Book Review: Born to Run

Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A fun book about the mentally defectives who think running 100 miles through the desert is a good time.

McDougall is a big, affable, somewhat self-effacing dude who sucks at running. He wants to get better at running now that he’s approaching middle age, so he tracks down an insane ex-boxer named Caballo Blanco (white horse) who stalks around the Copper Canyon down in Mexico, living near (though not quite with) an indigenous tribe of reclusive ultrarunners called the Tarahumara.

The book is equal parts biomechanical investigation of running, exploration of Tarahumara culture as seen by a sequence of unhinged gringos, and memoir of a decidedly unpleasant race through secluded badlands in Chihuahua.

Sadly, it coincides with my whole evolutionarily guided return-to-nature vibe (lovingly referred to as “my ungabunga bullshit”) and now I’m investigating minimalist sandals or those stupid little foot gloves so I can emulate barefoot running in Philadelphia without turning my heels into pincushions for discarded heroin needles and broken bottles of Yangler.

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Book Review: Exercised

Exercised: Why Something We Never Evolved to Do Is Healthy and Rewarding by Daniel E. Lieberman

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Let me begin this by dropping some quotes from the group chat where I was bitching about how much I hated the author:

“Um well ACTUALLY hunter gatherers aren’t that much more fit than modern westerners bc they don’t even like running or training and they only run 50 miles a day once in a while so basically what you’re doing is wet, grotesque nasal snivel really normal and okay”

And he keeps dropping in anecdotes about his life as all these pop sci guys do. The intro was how he was in Hawaii to watch the iron man triathlon and he was gloating about how he got to go back to his hotel and have tropical breakfast while the competitors were doing the 112 mile bike ride

Now he’s on the strength chapter talking about how he lifted for six months and “hated it, the gym was a joyless dungeon and nobody seemed to be having a good time”

We get it, professor. You’re an honorless geek.

Trying to refute the canon that humans have been social sleepers throughout history and didn’t start doing this “one to a room” shit until the past couple centuries by saying “well I’M conditioned to ONLY want to sleep with my WIFE who’s a GIRL (yes she smokes weed)”

“And when the other anthropologists on the safari all slept in the same bed I CHOSE to sleep on the floor”

“I never thought of classifying boxing as a sport because I never thought of it as a sport”. You guys wanna road trip to Massachusetts and jump this dude real quick? We can find him at Harvard, he name-dropped it 12 times so far.

Now that we’re through that, I remember why I put off reviewing this book for so long.

The science was good. Exhaustively researched, well-designed, cited appropriately. The author of the book is a dweeb-ass coward, and I cannot conceive of why they would choose an audiobook narrator with a lisp. I had no choice but to give it two stars because there was nothing wrong with the information, per se, and I did learn some things. Gorillas have a 40 lb colon to extract all the nutrients from their herbivorous diet, which is why they got big ol’ guts and don’t move around too much. Nature’s natty vegan powerlifters.

My issue, aside from a disgust that borders on the innate arachnid reflex, is that Lieberman’s a poisoner. He’s using these exercise studies and vague interpretations of the anthropological record to encourage us to be callow and lazy, and to accept these obvious personal failings in ourselves as “not our fault” and “the result of an evolutionary imperative” because our squishy machinery is designed to minimize effort and, in so doing, minimize caloric expenditure.

Which would be just peachy, if there were any value in convincing people to accept their lack of willpower and fallacious appeal-to-nature lethargy in the midst of the greatest obesity epidemic humankind has ever seen.

But since a third of American children are overweight or obese, and a sixth have diabetes or prediabetes, maybe gently whispering “Shhh, you’re fine just the way you are because of evolution :)” is not only unhelpful, but actively harmful.

It is bad to be lazy. I encourage you to feel bad about it, then take steps to correct it. Our closest primate relatives throw shit around a lot, and an argument can be made that we are evolutionarily predisposed to that, especially with the layout of our pectoral/deltoid throwing muscles. So imagine an evolutionary biologist tells you that it’s totally normal to want to throw shit at everyone at your little cousin’s quinceanera. How you gonna feel about that? How’s she gonna feel about that?

Probably bad.

Like this book. And I was especially disappointed because all the topics covered in the book were pertinent to my interests. I would’ve loved to love it, but the author and the speech impediment of his mouthpiece made it impossible.

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Book Review: The Furious Method

The Furious Method: Transform your Mind, Body and Goals by Tyson Fury

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Hands down, the best depression book I’ve ever read. And I’ve read a lot of depression books. Especially for being such a happy-go-lucky fella.

I picked this up expecting it to be a diet book. Tyson Fury lost 10 stone, which means 140 lbs in units used by real people. He mentioned in interviews he did so via “Dirty Keto” which meant a bunch of eggs, sausage, and Diet Coke, for some reason. Health and wellness book, written by a pro athlete who had just lost a manlet worth of weight in preparation for a championship match, it’s reasonable to assume the book would be about nutrition and exercise.

And in a way, it was, but only as a vehicle to battle depression. The Furious Method is the best compendium of practical coping skills I’ve found. It’s part self-help instruction manual, part mental health confessional, part autobiography, but the whole thing is done with a directness, an honesty, and a compassion I found totally disarming.

I didn’t know a lot about Tyson Fury before picking up this book. I knew he was a 270 lb British heavyweight champion who looked like an ogre but didn’t fight like one. I knew he stressed fundamentals and finesse. And I know he goes by “Gypsy King”, which I don’t think I’m even allowed to say, but I also know it’s a title earned by beating up all challengers within the traveller community. Yeah, you go ahead and tell him he’s cancelled.

So I naturally assumed this lumpy monolith was going to be a braying oaf. I was mistaken. He’s down-to-earth, eloquent, and a hell of a writer. The book is a forthright account of his struggle with bipolar depression and addiction, and exactly what was going through his mind at his highest highs and lowest lows. It’s a book that needed to be written, and a powerful blow against the stigma surrounding mental illness. There’s this lingering Puritanical boomer belief that if you got the depresso you suck it up and tough it out and you don’t talk about it. Don’t be a pussy. Well, Tyson Fury is the heavyweight champion of the world, and he’s a real piss-and-vinegar fighter, none of that slick cherrypicked Mayweather trash. If he struggles with mental illness, then it’s not strictly the purview of pussies, huh?

The advice is salt-of-the-earth, direct, and clinically accurate. Exercise. Eat well. Sleep enough. Get outside. Push yourself to do it. Reach out and get help. It’s the stuff we all know, but nobody really takes seriously, like mom telling you to make sure you wear a coat. Yeah, yeah.

Well, it’s fuckin cold out. Wear the coat.

If you’ve ever dealt with depression, I urge you to read this book, and do what it says. You can probably skip the My First Warmup sections of every chapter, but replace them with some other kind of functional cardiovascular exercise, because that is deadass THE way to beat depression. The studies have demonstrated, conclusively, that it works as well as or better than all those magic pills they keep heaving into our collective mouths like the Big Bertha arcade game.

Great book. Great fighter. Great dude. Yeah, okay, so he’s British. We all have our shortcomings.

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Book Review: Good to Go: What the Athlete in All of Us Can Learn from the Strange Science of Recovery

Good to Go: What the Athlete in All of Us Can Learn from the Strange Science of Recovery by Christie Aschwanden

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Science lady identifies that there’s a such thing as a “recovery industry” and it has been playing us for suckers since at least the 70s. She laces up her fashionable but functional athletic boots and charges into the fray to determine what helps us recover from exercise and what is a scam.

Conclusions: virtually everything is a scam. Icing, infrared, cupping, massages, foam rolling, supplements (even those that include the word ISO and MATRIX in their names somewhere), overhydration, all of it, is pretty much one big pricey hustle. Controlling for all other factors, none of these things reduced DOMS beyond placebo thresholds or improved subsequent performance beyond same.

So what does the research show actually DOES lead to improved recovery?

Eat enough protein. Eat carbs relative to exercise levels. Manage stress. Sleep so much.

That’s it, fellas. Sleep = recovery, and sleep is free.

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Book Review: No Sweat: How the Simple Science of Motivation Can Bring You a Lifetime of Fitness

No Sweat: How the Simple Science of Motivation Can Bring You a Lifetime of Fitness by Michelle Segar

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A sound concept and valuable information that probably could have been a distilled to a couple of sentences, rather than an entire book. The take-home is that if you frame exercise as self-flagellation or a painful part-time job you don’t get paid for, you’re not going to stick to it, and you’ll wind up exercising even less as a means of rebellion. Segar suggests to her clients that they frame movement as “a gift to themselves”. Personally, if anyone ever told me that, regardless as to how sound the advice, I would do all in my power to never have to speak to them again.

The remaining couple hundred pages of the book are her rephrasing that concept and giving examples of little Socratic traps she set for her clients to trick them into giving themselves “the gift” of getting off their asses.

To distill it even further: If you don’t like running, don’t run. Do kung fu or something. Don’t like kung fu? Do croquet. Don’t like croquet? Don’t force yourself to play croquet. Go be a gardener, gardening is movement. 60 minute blocks of mandatory, unpleasant sweating isn’t the only valid kind of exercise, and you can still stave off knee degeneration and diabetes by doing quasi-exercise like walking around the neighborhood with your dog and/or friends. It won’t make you an Olympian, but you don’t have to sweat blood and hate yourself for it to count as fitness.

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