Monthly Archives: October 2017

Two Hours

The Quest to Run the Impossible Marathon, by Ed Caesar

Only within the past few decades has the marathon caught popular attention. In the early years of the sport, spectators and participants alike thought it folly to attempt such a long-distance run. As athleticism progressed and amateurism turned into professionalism, more and more people began to consider the marathon not only an achievable distance, but one to be undertaken with gusto and spirit. Similar to the 4-minute mile, there has long been speculation about the limits of human endurance and what is possible or impossible to achieve. Science predicts that a runner in perfect circumstances will be able to run a marathon in 1:58 and change, though the world record sits at 2:02 and change. This book chronicles the story of Geoffrey Mutai, a Kenyan runner with the dream of breaking the barrier, and all the speculation and research surrounding the mythical limit of human abilities. Detailing the ins and outs of marathon training, race strategies and conditions for world record attempts, and the nuances of different types of success in the marathon world, this book blends fact with intrigue, connecting hard science and theoretical discussions to Mutai’s personal story and experience as a professional marathoner.

“Two Hours: The Quest to Run the Impossible Marathon” by Ed Caesar is a comprehensive look at everything to do with marathons. Caesar primarily focuses on Mutai’s story as a constant thread throughout the discussions of research, race conditions, and International Association of Athletics Federations regulations about what marathon courses are and are not eligible for world records, among other details of the sport. His research is thorough both on the science side and of the personal stories. The book chronicles Mutai’s background and upbringing in rural poverty, comparing his experience and noting similarities with brief profiles of other notable East African runners. The book alternates chapters, spending one chapter focusing on the personal story, and the next talking about exercise physiology, developments in racing, or some other aspect of marathoning. His tone fluctuates throughout the book, and sometimes he adopts a more casual tone when recounting personal stories from the athletes, or a more knowledgeable tone to talk about VO2 max, and sprinkles his own interjections and the occasional sarcastic comment throughout. Regardless of the tone or content, the book is relatable and understandable to anyone with passing familiarity with marathons.

For the most part I absolutely loved this book because I learned so much more about marathons. I had no idea that only loop marathon courses were eligible for world records (the finish line has to be within less than half the total course distance from the starting line). I also appreciated the theoretical conversations about what running conditions could possibly lead to breaking the 2 hour barrier (more of a time-trial rather than a professional race setting, similar to when the 4-minute mile barrier fell). But as a woman runner, I would have appreciated slightly more mention of the fact that women run marathons too. Overall, though, this book is an excellent read and I certainly recommend it to anyone with an interest in running.

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Option B

Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant

After the unexpected death of her husband, Sheryl Sandberg was sure she would never feel happiness again and was concerned that her children faced the same future. In hopes of reconnecting with others, reengaging with work, and reestablishing routines with her family, Sheryl reached out to others about her struggles. What she found helped lift the fog and see that she was not the only person in the world to experience profound and unexpected loss that changed everything about her life (she was not alone), but also that other people had already found ways to cope with overwhelming emotions in a way that helped bring new growth into life after terrible suffering. By seeking out old wisdom that was new to her, Sandberg was gradually able to process through her grief, discover new strategies for coping with all the emotions that hit her at the most inopportune times, and learn new habits and routines to maintain a sense of stability amidst chaos. A mix of Sandberg’s own story, the suffering of others, and astounding creativity and resilience of people who have already “been there, done that,” this book offers concrete examples of personal tragedy and hope that things can and will change.

“Option B” is a joint effort by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant, though it is narrated from Sheryl’s point of view (with a disclaimer in the first chapter explaining that decision). Grant is a professor of psychology, and he knew Sheryl before her husband died and was one of many people in her life that were instrumental in helping her move through her grief. Throughout the book, Sandberg shares openly about her struggles with grief and how it interfered with her professional role, personal life, and ability to help her kids after loss. She mixes her own narrative with several other examples of personal loss, tragedy, and struggles, each one also demonstrating the ability to overcome unthinkable circumstances. The bite-sized chapters make it easy to move through the book, and offer insight into the experience of tragedy and concrete strategies for overcoming it. Sandberg and Grant have done thorough research into the ways people develop resilience, and each chapter shares information on people, organizations and communities that have come up with effective methods to bounce back, and sometimes even bounce forward, after adversity.

This book is an excellent tool for anyone looking to strengthen their healthy coping mechanism and find strategies for strengthening and protecting their mental and emotional well-being. I learned so much from the innovative resilience strategies discussed in this book, and plan to incorporate some of them into my future volunteer training sessions at work. If nothing else, this book offers ample inspiration about the indomitable human spirit and the will to survive, thrive, and continue engaging in life. I was amazed at the creative solutions people have developed to cope with struggles, and also that one of the community programs that sounded like it had been developed in the past 5 years has actually been in existence for almost 40 years! Well worth the read.

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