Sunday, April 10, 2011

Disregard Exhaustion

When you are doing something strenuous and find yourself at the point of utter exhaustion, convinced you'll do yourself harm if you don't immediately stop and rest, you actually still have tons and tons of reserve energy left. The body's warning actually cuts in way before you actually run out of juice.

I didn't realize that before I heard a highly entertaining and surprising Radio Lab program called
"Limits of the Body", which profiles normal, non-athletic people racing across the continent on bikes, hardly sleeping. I can't think of any single broadcast program that has more dramatically changed my outlook.

For example, last week I spent hours sprinting up and down sand dunes with a large, heavy sousaphone (we were shooting a music video). That was after dancing two miles down city streets with the same sousaphone. Afterwards, I walked back to my car, which wasn't where I thought I'd parked it, and circled a mile of city streets trying to locate it. Realizing it had been towed (and lacking proper ID), I took the train home and walked a mile to my house.

After the first hour of that, I was totally ready to quit. But I didn't, and, eleven hours later, I was unimaginably sore and whimpering softly. But I survived, no problem. And, apparently, I had miles and miles left in me, so long as I was willing to ignore my body's overly vigilant warning signals.

This is stuff athletes and adventurers know from experience. But it's quite an important lesson for us slightly more sedentary types. Please listen; you'll be glad you did!

As a bonus, I've collected links to all the web pages and DVDs recommended in the broadcast plus the listener comments on that same page:

Web site: Race Across America

Film website: Bicycle Dreams--The True Story of the Race Across America

Web site: The masochism angle

Amazon: June Havoc's autobiography, including tales of extreme dance marathons in the 1930's.

Amazon: "Big River Man", a film about a guy who swam the entire Amazon

Web site: 24 Hour Solo Mountain Bike Racers, who race 200 miles, climbing 30,000 feet, without a rest.

Web site: The Texas Water Safari - a 260 mile canoe/kayak race with a 100 hour time limit ("even though one feels TOTALLY spent, the body still finds a way to continue and finish")

TED video: Ken Kamler's TED talk on a terrible Mt. Everest disaster "where many people died, but one particular individual could very well have been featured in this Radiolab."

Amazon: "Through Hell & High Water", documentary about rowing across the Atlantic (note: non-American DVD, requires a multi-region DVD player).

1 comment:

Richard said...

Thanks - some of those stories are great! Its completely true, too... I went from being the typical 240-lb computer geek to an IronMan triathlete, and a big part of what kept me going was the constant wonder that I could do so much more with my body than I ever thought possible. Its a feeling that people who've been athletic from the beginning never quite understand, I believe (just as I don't get what its like to expect to end up on a podium at the end of the day).

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