Friday, September 21, 2018

Book Review: Endure by Alex Hutchinson

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As a long distance runner, I've always been fascinated by the subject of endurance. Especially because running long distances has never come easily to me. While I was able to train for and run several marathons, I never understood the science behind the training. Why is the long run 20 miles? Why do some runners do more than one long run? Is carb loading really necessary?

I trained for my PR marathon using an unconventional combination of running and interval training in the CrossFit box. My coach pushed me hard, hoping to get in my head--in a good way. It worked. When naysayers dissed me, I always commented that "endurance is endurance".

As it turns out, I was right. There's also a mind/body connection. Endurance isn't as simple as it might seem.

I've been a long time fan of Alex Hutchinson, who has been writing his Sweat Science column first for Runner's World and now at Outside Magazine. Being a skeptic of bad science, I have always appreciated his very thorough analysis of the research on all things running. When I saw that he was releasing a book on endurance, I was really looking forward to reading it. I knew that Endure would be thoroughly researched and after reading it, I am not disappointed.


"The limits of endurance running, according to physiologists, could be quantified with three parameters: aerobic capacity, also known as VO2max, which is analogous to the size of a car's engine; running economy, which is an efficiency measure like gas mileage; and lactate threshold, which dictates how much of your engine's power you can sustain for long periods of time." ~ Alex Hutchinson, Endure
This quote from the book got me thinking: what kind of car would you compare yourself too? This sounds like a good Facebook quiz, right? I've been struggling with running and so let's see what kind of car I am right now: My engine size? Probably a 4 cylinder. My gas mileage? I'm not overweight and I run kind of slow, so I guess I'm pretty economical. My lactate threshold, aka my motor's endurance, is where I fall down. I'm like one of those cars that starts moving fine but eventually starts blowing smoke out from under the engine. Burning oil. I just got new shoes, but like tires, it's probably not going do much more than improve the ride. Since I use run/walk intervals, I guess my body is a 1972 Gremlin that starts and stops as it moves on down the road.

Putt putt putt
The Wendymobile
Anyways...it was great to be reading this book while learning about Eliud Kipchoge's decisive win and new marathon world record at Berlin last weekend. After watching Breaking 2 and Kipchoge's attempt to break the 2 hour finish time in the marathon, I was so intrigued. What makes Kipchoge so fast and so efficient? Hutchinson talks a lot about elite marathoners in the book. He was part of the Breaking 2 project and shares some of the findings and his thoughts about the outcome of that race. According to Hutchinson, Kipchoge's success isn't all physical. Tapping into the mind/body connection, Hutchinson describes Kipchoge as possessing "a serene and imperturbable confidence" and wonders which came first--Kipchoge's Olympic gold medal or the confidence.

Hutchinson shares anecdotes--about all levels of athletes as well as some of his own throughout the book, which is divided into 3 sections. In the first section, he reviews the history of endurance and gives background on different theories regarding endurance, the second section tells stories of athletes who have pushed their limits beyond what we mere mortals would think is normal, and in the third section, he shares research into pushing beyond the limits. Hutchinson is a big believer in the power of the mind and he shares his thoughts on that as well.

You might think that a book with all this science would be boring but with Hutchinson's engaging, narrative style, he makes it interesting. This isn't a training manual, but there is plenty of fuel for thought. Speaking of food, he does address fueling and hydration, which I found fascinating. Fans of the LCHF diet might want to read the science behind that diet. He's got a good sense of humor too, sharing a story about an explorer who got so dehydrated that his lips disappeared. But, Hutchinson comments with a bit of irony, the explorer "didn't get heat stroke". 



I completely enjoyed Endure and even if you're not a science nerd like me, there's something here for everyone who is interested in endurance. You might not find any answers, but then again, you might learn something that will help you run farther and longer. It's probably not a pair of shoes, though.
"Endurance is 'the struggle to continue against a mounting desire to stop.'" ~Alex Hutchinson, Endure.
Have you read Endure? What did you think? Have you read any of Alex Hutchinson's articles for Runner's World or Outside Magazine? What kind of car are you? Don't forget to share links to your reviews with me so I can post them here!



Next month, I'll be reading and reviewing What Made Maddy Run: The Secret Struggles and Tragic Death of an All-American Teen by Kate Fagan. This is the story of a young college athlete who struggled with depression and ended her own life. The book also explores the pressure and struggles that young athletes face, especially with the relentless onslaught of social media exposure. As a runner, a mom of a college athlete, and a pediatric nurse practitioner, I'm really interested in reading this book. I hope you are too. Bring tissues. I'll post my review on Friday, October 19.



I'm linking up with Running on Happy and Fairytales and Fitness for the Friday Five.




22 comments :

  1. I started Endure but stopped to read some other books (not because I didn't enjoy it, just cause I wanted to read something else).

    You are slow-er, you're still not slow in my book. Just like I'm fast-er, but still hardly fast.

    I've always thought endurance is where I typically fall down -- unless, apparently, I'm running downhill. I did some hilly 400s yesterday. I actually got below a 9 mm on the ones that were more downhill & not just once.

    I know that some of it is probably mental endurance, but probably not all.

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    1. I do think that there is such a mental component to running. Last weekend, I really got in my head when I started to struggle. This has been probably my biggest downfall, but I've come a long way from where I was 10 years ago!

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  2. I've read some of his columns in RW as well. I am not a science geek when it comes to running but this sounds like there is something to learn for everyone. I have no idea what kind of car I would be. I look shiny and strong but have no speed lol. Great review!

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    1. I just loved his analogy to a car that I had to go there. Hoping that I morph into something sleek and fast... LOL

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  3. Ooh, this sounds like a really interesting book! I hadn't heard of it but I'm going to go look for it now :)

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    1. Really interesting and it's definitely for those of us who want to learn more about the behinds the scenes stuff.

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  4. I'll be adding this book to my Amazon list. I am really intrigued by endurance and also think that I would train a little bit differently if I decide to run another marathon.

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    1. I just loved the marathon training that I did with Becky. It was so unconventional and it was fun. She got a lot of endurance out of me. Purists will say that our method wouldn't get me fast but it got me where I wanted to be and I didn't get injured. In fact, I ran one of my fastest half marathons 6 weeks later. This is what running should be about. Not breaking your body down.

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  5. Looks like a great book! Thanks for the suggestion. I'm reading Matt Fitzgerald's the Endurance Diet and it's been interesting.

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    1. I've read that--it's very interesting! In spite of all that expertise, it's not one size fits all!

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  6. This book is on my list to read. Hutchinson is one of my favorite writers in the running world. Right now, I am reading Peak Performance by Steve Magness and really, really enjoying it.

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    1. i'll be interested to hear your thoughts!

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  7. I'm currently listening to this book on Audible. It's my first ever audio book and at times I find myself zoning out. I *think* I might have to switch to actually reading it because, like you said, it is quite fascinating!

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    1. I won't lie--I have my moments of zoning out with the book too. It's just so much information for me to absorb. But fascinating.

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  8. I love the car analogy! You really should make that a quiz!

    I've read Runnera world for a very long time but I do not remember his column. Perhaps those were the years when I wasn't a reader or perhaps I just have a bad memory.

    The Maddy book sounds like a good one.

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    1. I hope you read it! I've had it on my Kindle for a while but I know it's going to be a sad one.

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  9. This does sound fascinating! Thanks for the recommendation. I definitely have much more endurance than I do speed...and I am quite thankful for that since I'm not super competitive in terms of racing against others. It's nice to be able to run far one day (like a half marathon) and feel pretty "recovered" the next morning (at least on the surface LOL).

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    1. I don't know that feeling! I've taken a week off running after my last half to recover. I pushed myself to my maximum.

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  10. I read this a couple months ago - lots of interesting stuff! I have to say that some of the more extreme examples he gave made really made me glad that our minds try to stop us before we reach our true limits of endurance. I would not want to experience the side effects of reaching my absolute limits!

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    1. There was plenty of food for thought. I'm a little sad knowing that I'm approaching the end of my running journey, watching my endurance dwindle.

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  11. This sounds fascinating and I will look out for it. I am pretty sure that my love of running long is mostly down to my high boredom threshold and ability to hang on in there more than my natural physical ability. I've always been like that. I found that runs that tested my resilience really helped in my last marathon training - running 13 miles not 20 the day after officiating at the cross country championships all day then dismantling the course, for example!

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    1. Well, those tough runs are really the ones that count--where you have to dig deep. It's all about that mental toughness, which he explores in the book.

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