Review: Carney’s What Doesn’t Kill Us

What Doesn’t Kill Us: How Freezing Water, Extreme Altitude, and Enviromental Conditioning Will Renew Our Lost Evolutionary Strength.

Scott Carney

Ok, the title is awful. But this might still be worth your time.

An exploration of the philosophy of weirdo fitness guru of the moment Wim Hof as well as the latest science on breath holding, cold immersion, and other bodily stressors which are very much in vogue in the fitness community these days.

So, basically catnip for someone like me.

Carney is an investigative journalist who previously wrote an expose on the cult of personality surrounding Buddhist teacher Michael Roche, and he came to Hof with a heavy dose of skepticism. He left a convert, incorporating Hof’s breath exercises and cold exposure philosophy into his daily life (with measurable improvements in his health) and eventually accompanying Hof and a group who attempt to set the record for group speed assault of Kilimanjaro… shirtless.

If, like me, you’re fascinated with the outliers of the health and fitness world, it’s a great read. Hof is probably the most scientifically tested fitness guru of the modern age, and many of his ideas seem to be panning out. Science appears to be showing that his breath holding exercises and advocacy for exposure to cold work on a variety of auto-immune issues. Of course, as with all things fitness, its impossible to say whether these results are placebo effect or real. But who cares right? Either way, its changing people’s lives.

Still, despite the good work, Hof isn’t without his flaws of ego and hubris, which Carney points out. That Hof knows these things about himself is a bit of a consolation, but suffice to say, I won’t be putting myself in his hands anytime soon. All in all he’s an incredible guy and this is an interesting story for the fitness enthusiasts among you.

Recommended for the enthusiast.

Review: Diana Nyad’s Find a Way

Find a Way

Diana Nyad

Diana Nyad’s moving memoir of her life as a woman, a lesbian, a world record holding endurance swimmer, and a survivor of child sexual abuse. The book was significantly better than I expected. I figured I’d be reading about Nyad’s legendary marathon swim around Manhattan and her decades long quest to swim from Cuba to the Florida Keys.  But there is so much more. There is her complicated childhood with a sexually abusive and manipulative father, her teenage swimming career almost destroyed by the sexual abuse of her coach, and there is her full adult life of relationships, heartbreak, travel, and enduring friendships. What I thought was going to be another in the long line of memoirs of endurance athletes, turned out to be much much more.

Sure the swimming is in here, and in enough detail to satiate the endurance nerds out there. There’s tons and tons of information here on her multiple attends to cross from Cuba to Havana. Including the the obsessive planning around currents, hydration, anti-jellyfish technologies, and more. There  is the insane training i(12 hours, straight, in a pool, 18 hours, straight, in the ocean) which boggles the mind. And there is the comradery of her support crew. I ate all this stuff up, of course, but what makes this book worth your time isn’t the swimming, it’s how the swimming fits into Nyad’s complicated, and compelling life story of arguably obsessive self determination.

While much of the story transcends the sport of endurance swimming, most of the book is still about the Cuba-Florida swim. If that incredible endeavor, with all its challenges and controversies doesn’t interest you, you’re likely to be bored. If it does, check this out, its better than you expect.

Recommended for the enthusiast.

Nyad in the water

Review: Jurek’s Eat and Run

Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness
Scott Jurek
Its rare that I’m without a book, but it happens. Last summer, it happened when I was on vacation in Vermont. Little dude was sleeping better than expected, and I had more time to read, so low and behold, three days into a seven day trip, I was out of books. I was running a lot that week, and had just finished Bernd’s Why We Run.  I was inspired to keep the running theme rolling. Heading to the local bookstore, I browsed the relatively small running book section and grabbed Scott Jurek’s Eat and Run, his combo memoir/ cook book.

Jurek in 2014

I have to say, I didn’t have high hopes. I’ve long admired Jurek as a runner – he has one of the most storied careers in ultra-running — but Jurek is an evangelical vegan and, after spending much of my twenties eating seitan and drinking soy milk, I’m not much for vegan lectures.  Thankfully, this book isn’t a polemic. Instead, it’s a moving memoir of a poor kid from Minnesota, from a family plagued by health problems who, through the usual mixture of determination, hard work and luck, became one of the most celebrated ultra runners in history.

The book is broken up into chapters, followed by recipes linked to the chapter’s theme. Jurek’s early years get vegan versions or mid-western staples; his chapter on running with the Tarahumara gets a Mexican influenced recipe, etc. The recipes look good, for vegan food, yet I haven’t made any of them.

But recipes are not why anyone is reading this book.  You’re reading it learn about Jurek’s adventures, as a multiple winner of Western States, a winner of Badwater, a winner of the Spartathon, the U.S. record holder (for a time) at the 24 hour race… and well, I could go on. There was a time when Jurek just dominated ultra-running and he recounts those years here with humor and thoughtfulness about what pushed him to such extremes as well as what it taught him, and cost him.  It isn’t all roses for a fulltime mountain runner, and Jurek’s honesty in dealing with the low points is admirable and makes up for the basically work-a-day prose.

If you’re interested in ultra-running, you’ll want to read this one. I’m giving this the recommended for the enthusiasts tag.