I just finished reading "How Bad Do You Want It?" by Matt Fitzergerald and let me say, this book is AWESOME! It has definitely become one of my all-time favorite books. Matt does an excellent job of engaging his readers with his simple writing style and captivating stories. He begins every chapter with a story about the trials and tribulations a well-known endurance athlete has faced. He then intertwines fascinating lessons in psychology within each of these stories.
I cannot help but dive into some of my favorite chapters...
A Race is Like a Fire Walk
The book opens with the story of Sammy Wanjiru, the winner of the 2010 Chicago Marathon. Interestingly, Sammy did not come into the 2010 race as the most fit marathoner. In fact, he was far from it. He had been battling a stomach virus days before the race; in addition, he had suffered a knee injury earlier in the year and as a result was 10lbs overweight and could no longer keep up with his training partners. Nevertheless, his heart, grit, and mental toughness was unrivalved and he ended up passing the leader at mile 26.
Matt argues that Sammy "overcame physical weakness with psychological fortitude...he was reckless, but that made him mentally fitter than other runners".
Matt goes on to provide what I think is a fascinating definition of exhaustion: "the maximum level of percieved effort he or she is willing or able to tolerate". He provides evidence of exhaustion as being a state of mind, rather than a physiological state. He references research studies which have demonstrated that caffiene, music, and transcranial magnetic stimulus can enhance performance by "allowing individuals to push closer to their physiological limit".
The second chapter focuses on the story of Jenny Barringer, the most decorated female college runner. During her senior year at the 2009 Cross Country Championships she collapsed in the middle of the race and finished 163rd. She didn't have an injury or physiological reason for collapsing; in fact, she couldn't explain it herself. She simply choked during the biggest race of the season.
How could such a talented runner choke during such an important race? Matt argues that she "failed to brace herself for discomfort...she was ready to move on (to a profesional running career)...she lost the appreciation for how intense suffering is during a race".
After graduating from college, Jenny moved on to her professional career where she was now among much greater competition and expectations. One might expect her to choke under the pressure; however, she was able to thrive. In her first professional season she won the 1500m World Championships. What was the difference between the NCAA Cross Country Championships and Worlds just a few months later? Her change in mentality. She went into Worlds "expecting to run harder than ever and to face the fight of her life".
Time is on Your Side
This chapter focuses on evidence that by "setting time goals that stretch just beyond your limits, the perceived effort to obtain those goals will become more endurable".
To provide an example Matt tells the story of Greg Lemond. In order to win the 1989 Tour de France he had to finish the 25.4km time trial in record time. Well, Greg not only shattered the 24.5km time trial and won the Tour de France, but 15yrs later, even with advancements in aerodynamics and training, his record still stands.
The Art of Letting Go
In yet another fascinating chapter Matt talks about "flow", pushing back goals and worries and staying focused at the task at hand. He provides the example of Siri Lindley, whom early in her career struggled with anxiety and a lack of self-confidence. Matt writes that those "lacking self-belief are so anxious about their goals that it pulls their attention away from the task at the moment".
As Siri Lindley later stated in an interview "real confidence comes from real results and real training".
The Workaround Effect
Neuroplasticity is a fascinating topic (granted, I was a Neuroscience major at the College of William and Mary). The ability of the brain to form new neuronal connections is what allows us to learn and adapt.
Here are some fascinating articles to learn more about the topic: Standford's Huntington Disease Website, an excellent article published in Brain on how physical activity may enhance and preserve neuroplasticity, an interesting NBC special on how physical exercise may delay progression in Alzheimer's Disease, and lots of nerdy articles from Nature.
In Matt's book he tells the story of Serena Burla. During the peak of her carer she had to have a tumor removed from her right hamstring. As a result of the surgery, she lost a signficant portion of her hamstring muscle. One would think this would end her running career; however, her brain was able to re-wire her running mechanics. She returned as a strong professional marathoner, running the NYC marathon in 2:37.
Also in this chapter Matt tells the story of Willie Stewart, a talented rugby player who lost his arm during a roofing accident. Matt does an excellent job of describing the hurdles WIllie overcame to train for his first Ironman. He ended up finishing the race as not only the top diabled athlete, but also among the top 1/3 of all athletes.
One of my favorite quotes of the book come from Willie. When asked what he would have done if he had both arms, he replies "I wouldn't have done any of it".
I can go on and on about the remaining chapters, but I will let you read it for yourself. Remaining chapters include: