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Born To Run
I've just finished reading this amazing book, initially recommended to me last year by Quincy Larson (creator of freeCodeCamp). It has been eye-opening.
As you've read in the recent Do the Opposite letters, I've recently started running again (preparing for a couple of races in September and October) so I've been reading books on running both for motivation and for learning more about the mechanics of the sport. This book, however is so much more than that.
It's a great story - even if you don't care about running, the narrative that Cristopher weaves captures the imagination completely and doesn't let go until you've read the book from cover to cover. It's both his personal journey of learning about running - he wanted to avoid getting injured when he ran, which he seemed to get very very often. Along the way he discovers the remote tribe living in the Copper Canyons in Mexico - a tribe called Tarahumara, who have still preserved he culture of long-distance (ultra long distance :) ) running.
There are a couple of important points the book makes:
Humans are, biologically, literally, born to run. We are physically wired for running long distances. We used to engage in "persistence hunting" whereby a group of humans would run animals like horses, antelopes, until they collapse of exhaustion. We have an unparalleled 'cooling off' system - through sweating and the fact that our breathing does not depend on movement. For example, a tiger can only make one breath each step it makes as its lungs (together with the body) contract - when the rear legs and front legs almost touch when tiger runs, before expanding back as it runs another step. We, on the other hand, because we walk and run vertically, are able to disconnect breathing from the actual steps we take. We've also developed the Achilles tendon - compared to other primates who don't have it. (more here: https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn18728-achilles-tendon-is-key-to-evolution-of-human-running/) For more details on this, check out the book :)
Another big thing is the fact that the shoes we are used to - cushioning our feet and 'embracing the foot' are, in fact, very bad for our feet. The feet are made for running and they get stronger, both in terms of muscles and tendons, when they get direct feedback from the ground we run on. The statistics are that from 100% of runners in the start of the season, but the season's end there are only 20% left uninjured. It's weird because with all of our fancy engineered shoes we should be getting less injuries - but in reality, the likelihood of getting injured running has been rising ever since the 70s.
The best case scenario is running barefoot, but that's pretty unrealistic and a bit scary to be honest :) At least for now. The next best option is getting minimalist shoes - shoes with thin soles and none or almost none cushion for the heel and the rest of the foot. There are shoes like Vibram FiveFingers and shoes like Merrell: https://www.merrell.com/US/en/barefoot-1
This happens not only with shoes: It's interesting that we tend to think that the more comfortable we are, the better - closing our eyes on the fact that in nature and biology, it works the opposite way. When people were sent into space, the scientists have proposed hypotheses that without the force of gravity weighing the spacemen down, their bodies will get stronger, and they will become the healthiest they've ever been - instead they got muscular atrophy and other more serious health conditions. We think: "I am going to get that soft, comfortable mattress and submerge into it when I go to sleep" - instead we have to deal with back pain all day next day. We wash our hands 100 times a day, never touch anything remotely dirty and end up with a weak immune system and a bunch of allergies.
Maybe it's time to rethink our relationship with comfort?
Books They Couldn't Put Down
I've asked people on Twitter what was the latest book they've read that once started, they couldn't put down. Check out their responses here.
1) "How a Lifelong Messy Person Can Learn to Become Neat" by Alexandra Samuel
This is a topic I'm very interested in - as I've been struggling with this for years. I am good at cleaning and tidying up whenever a big cleanup is needed (i.e. when we've invited a bunch of friends over for dinner), but I am absolutely terrible at maintaining the order and the tidy state of the apartment.
Over the years as I work on myself, I've become better - with things like vacuuming and washing the dishes (I listen to audio-books doing those so I "almost want to do" them now. The problem is everything else - I am missing the 'triggers' that will alert me about these chores on a regular basis.
The article has some great tips, but the one I loved the most is establishing these 'triggers', kind of like IF conditions: "If I see a shirt on a chair, I will pick it up and put in in the wardrobe", "If I see something (an item) on the kitchen surface/ table, I will put it into its proper spot".
2) "How to Fall in Love With Boredom and Unlock Your Mental Toughness" by James Clear
I find myself coming back to this article over and over. We all need to persistently teach ourselves to get comfortable with repetitive, "boring" tasks that are the requirement of consistent growth.
It's not fun to be writing a blog post every week; it's not fun to spend an hour coding every day; it's not fun practicing the violin for 5-6 hours every day, etc. I would say that 98% of the activities that we do that are good for us, are not fun and are boring.
That's the thing, though. If you learn to prefer the path of most resistance every time (which never gets easy and always requires that 'push of willpower'), you will finally start achieving the things you have dreamed of and planned for years.
I can say that with confidence because that's exactly what I've started experiencing once I started making those tough choices (all inspired by David Goggins' book). This whole year I've been slowly pushing myself to finally start increasing that momentum (of things I am uncomfortable doing, like this newsletter ;) ), but reading that book has accelerated that.
"Hard choices, easy life. Easy choices, hard life."
― Jerzy Gregorek
3) "Survival of the Friendliest" by Kelly Clancy
More research is revealing that evolution doesn't always work through aggression, domination and force, but also works through "relaxed selection" as well, where organisms cooperate to create a safer environment for each other, in which evolution's creative forces are unleashed, since it doesn't have to channel all the resources for 'maintaining' and surviving.
Cooperation also helps species survive in a sense that the more they are able to work together, the higher are their chances for long-term survival. Case in point: humans.
Tweet that resonated with me
"Poetry, music, forests, oceans, solitude — they were what developed enormous spiritual strength. I came to realize that spirit, as much or more than physical conditioning, had to be stored up before a race."
— Herb Elliott, Olympic champion and world-record holder in the mile who trained in bare feet, wrote poetry, and retired undefeated
"Let us postpone nothing. Let us balance life's account every day... One who daily puts the finishing touches to his life is never in want of time."
— Seneca, "Moral Letters to Lucilius" (aka "Letters from a Stoic")
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