"It turns out the essential challenge of endurance sports really is psychological"- Matt Fitzgerald, How Bad Do You Want It? Mastering the Psychology of Mind Over MuscleIf you are looking for a book that tells you how to reach your goals, this might not be the book for you. But if you are looking for inspiration, for that push past your perceived limits, or for stories about athletes overcoming challenges, this book provides that and more. In How Bad Do You Want It?, Fitzgerald shares stories of athletes, both well known and obscure who ignored the voices in their head that told them to stop, to turn around, to quit. Throughout the book is advice and information to help the runner build their mental muscles to help them race their best.
It was no coincidence that I chose this book for my April book club selection. With my bucket list race, the Big Sur Marathon, on the horizon, I wanted to read something that would drive me up those hills and across that finish line. Who knew that I would develop severe plantar fasciitis and have to bag my training plan, instead cross-training via bike and pool running? I needed all the motivation I could get, and I found plenty in this book.
"Endurance sports are therefore a game of 'mind over muscle'"-Matt Fitzgerald.The book starts off with a discussion of the "psychobiological model" of endurance. Fitzgerald does a nice job discussing how the athlete perceives his effort versus what is actually going on in the brain. He says that the brain itself becomes fatigued during exercise, and this fatigue leads to an increased perception of effort. So the goal for the athlete is to change his thought process. He uses the term "the wall" to describe that limit, but states that an athlete can overcome that wall by working on mental fitness.
"The one thing an athlete can control is how she deals with what life gives her" -Matt Fitzgerald.This quote kind of reminds me of one of my favorite mantras, given to me before my first Chicago Marathon by my friend Sandy, who has completed an Ironman along with many other endurance events. She told me to "go with what the day gives you". I've taken that advice to every starting line since then. In the book, Fitzgerald says success is all attitude about the way an athlete feels. An athlete with a good attitude will perceive a lower level of discomfort and be able to push harder. Fitzgerald calls it "bracing yourself". He says you should always expect your next race to be your hardest race and prepare yourself for the worst to race your best.
Besides giving the reader a mental pep talk, Fitzgerald shares real life stories of athletes who pushed themselves beyond their limits to achieve a goal. My favorite story was about cyclist Thomas Voeckler and the 2004 Tour de France where he pushed ahead and wore the yellow jersey way longer than anyone would have expected. He was dying out there, but he hung on until stage 15 before he succumbed to the inevitable. But even though he didn't win he was a hero in his home country of France. As riders say, "the yellow jersey gives you wings" to describe the phenomenon of riding better once they have the yellow jersey. The jersey made Voeckler push way beyond his abilities because he believed he could. The crowds cheered him on, and that too pushed him. Fitzgerald describes that as "the audience effect", where the presence of other people has a positive effect on performance. You've probably felt that at a big race, when a spectator calls out to you and tells you you're looking strong. I know I have!
There are plenty of amazing stories, but no book on endurance athletes would be complete without a chapter on Pre. Steve Prefontaine was a legendary runner. There's a great story about Pre running in the 1971 NCAA XC championships. He was challenged immediately by another runner who wouldn't give up. Pre was pushed to the limit but just wouldn't quit. Winning the race, he made it look easy but readily admitted that it wasn't. That's how he approached every race. He is best known for this quote which he stated before a race:
"The only good pace is a suicide pace and today looks like a good day to die".- Steve Prefontaine.He often asked himself "is it worth it?" referring to pushing himself to the limits of his endurance. Yet he always rose to the challenge. He was tough. No doubt it was worth it to him.
"To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift."-Steve PrefontaineBut the book isn't just about high performers. This book is for ALL runners. Fitzgerald talks about John Bingham as well. Bingham, who gave himself the nickname "the Penguin" is known for his slow, steady, back of the pack pace. He became the voice for a whole new group of runners. But in spite of admitting that he would never win a race, he still pushed himself to his limits.
"In spite of all my talk about the joy of the journey, at some level I'm a closet competitor." -John BinghamHe encourages runners of all abilities to chase their goals of getting faster for that transformative experience that comes with trying as hard as you can.
After reading this book, hopefully, we'll all be tougher runners. Just ask yourself: How bad do you want it? Give it your best, no matter what your best is.
What did you think of the book? Did you draw motivation from the stories? How do you get your head in the game during a tough event?
Here's the link up badge! You can find the link up at the end of the post. The link up stays live for 2 weeks--it will close April 1, but the comments stay live forever! Don't forget to link back to this post, and please read and comment on the other reviews. If you want to review a different fitness-related book, please feel free to link up with us as well! Remember, sharing is caring! I'm so grateful to all of you who participate in the book club!
Next month we are reading Running: A Love Story 10 Years, 5 Marathons, and 1 Life Changing Sport by Jen Miller. This sounds like a book any us of could have written! Jen is a writer for Runner's World as well as the New York Times. I'm really looking forward to this one.
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