I'm only halfway through this memoir of a world-record cold-water swimmer, which I am greatly enjoying, but I had to share a few excerpts.

Memoirs by athletes who are famous in non-famous sports are often very interesting: they're not about being famous and meeting other famous people and (often) getting addicted to drugs/fame/sex, they're about what it actually feels like to do their sport. (Also, they're way more likely to be written by the athlete rather than a ghost writer.)

The best ones are usually by people whose sports involve a lot of endurance and are at least somewhat solo (rather than team sports; you're competing as much against yourself as against others.) I am very interested in physicality, people's relationships to their bodies, the mind-body connection, and pushing the limits of the mind and body, so I like that sort of thing. Especially when interesting locales are involved. People who get seriously into things like rock climbing, long-distance swimming, mountaineering, etc, tend to have mindsets that would not be out of place in a Zen temple.

Cox discovered an aptitude for cold-water, long-distance swimming as a child; she was rather hilariously inept at all other sports, and had a three-year battle with a PE teacher who hated her and kept refusing to excuse her from volleyball to do stuff like train to set the world record swimming the English Channel at age fourteen. Cox was completely self-motivated; her family supported but did not push her.

At this point she is looking for new frontiers. This is all swimming in oceans, not pools. While stymied in her hope of swimming from Alaska to the Soviet Union by 1) everyone telling her that the water is so cold that she would die in ten minutes, 2) her only landing point being a Soviet SPY BASE which they understandably did not want to let an American on to, she joins a study on cold water swimming led by Dr. William McCafferty and Dr. Barbara Drinkwater (seriously), partly to pass the time and partly in the hope that she'll learn something that will enable her to swim in water that normally kills people.

Dr. Drinkwater explains that men have less body fat, and so tend to sink. Women have more, and so tend to float. But… "You're different. You have neutral buoyancy. That means your body density is exactly the same as seawater. Your proportion of fat to muscle is perfectly balanced so you don't float or sink in the water; you're at one with the water. We've never seen anything like this before."

Cox is fascinated by this finding, which meshes with both her abilities and her sense that she is, in fact, one with sea water. But they want to see how she reacts in a natural environment, not in a lab, so Dr. McCafferty and his wife walk their dog on the beach while she does her daily workout in the ocean.

Before and after these workouts, I'd hide behind a bush and take my core temperature using a rectal thermometer, the only way to get an accurate reading after an immersion in cold water. I always made a point of telling Dr. McCafferty my temperature just as joggers were passing; they'd give him quizzical looks, since it appeared to them that he was talking to the bushes.

Swimming to Antarctica: Tales of a Long-Distance Swimmer
rydra_wong: Text: "Your body is a battleground" over photo of 19th-C strongwoman. (body -- battleground)

From: [personal profile] rydra_wong


*squeaks*

This is on my to-be-read pile, so I'm very glad you're enjoying it.

I am very interested in physicality, people's relationships to their bodies, the mind-body connection, and pushing the limits of the mind and body, so I like that sort of thing. Especially when interesting locales are involved. People who get seriously into things like rock climbing, long-distance swimming, mountaineering, etc, tend to have mindsets that would not be out of place in a Zen temple.

OH HI DO YOU WANT ALL THE BOOK RECS I HAVE RECS PLEASE LET ME GIVE YOU THEM. HI. PLEASE.

(Seriously, this is one of the topics dearest to my obsessive heart, for reasons that may be obvious, and I have been accumulating reading material on it for a while.)
rydra_wong: Text: "Your body is a battleground" over photo of 19th-C strongwoman. (body -- battleground)

From: [personal profile] rydra_wong


I have no objections to the misreading if it means I get recs too! And yes, this is exactly the sort of stuff I mean.

In Eiger Dreams, the piece about John Gill -- that's bouldering, my first love as a climber (I now do trad climbing as well, but it's the movement and mind games that most appeal to me).

Lynn Hill's book is kind of very "as told to" in style and doesn't dig deep, but she's so important as a climber.

I'll have to check out the Salzman. Love Sacks, love the Sanford. If you have more recs like Sanford's book I'd love to see them.

Memoirs of certain mental illnesses often also deal a lot with body issues. So do combat veteran memoirs. There is a remarkable amount of correspondence between all those genres, though they seem disparate on the surface.

Indeed.

Will compile recs for you, and it will give me much-needed distraction during the day.

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From: [personal profile] kore - Date: 2016-06-26 04:22 pm (UTC) - Expand
rydra_wong: Text: "Your body is a battleground" over photo of 19th-C strongwoman. (body -- battleground)

From: [personal profile] rydra_wong


Compiling happily!

In the meantime, here's one I wrote up already: Bench Press, by Sven Lindqvist

And it occurs to me that you might love The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young -- it's an indie documentary about the obscure yet infamous Barkley Marathons, an event that breaks ultra-runners and focuses very much on people's complex motivations and the experience of extreme endurance in a race which is pretty much designed to be as mentally hard as possible. Would very much speak to your interests.

The film-makers were inspired by reading The Immortal Horizon, by Leslie Jamison, a longform piece about the Barkley.

Also you might be interested by this article: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/jun/22/robert-young-marathon-record-attempt-cheating-rumors (it's partly about the probable fraud, partly about the weird sympathetic dynamic that builds up between Young and the people trying to monitor/de-bunk him) (and yes, Gary Cantrell is the same Gary "Lazarus Lake" Cantrell who runs the Barkley)

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sholio: sun on winter trees (Default)

From: [personal profile] sholio


haha. Okay, you definitely need to come back and post part 2 of this when you're done.

It never stops being fascinating to me how our modern ideas of what people are physically capable of are so heavily influenced by being a very sedentary and mostly indoor-dwelling culture, and it actually appears that humans can train themselves up to feats that seem superhuman according to what we think is true of human capability. Not just people who spend all day every day building up to amazing feats of strength or endurance, but even ordinary people who don't really train, per se, but just seem to have a slightly different physiology, or different attitude towards it, or something. There was a dude at the university here for awhile who was locally known as "barefoot guy" because he went barefoot in all weather, and "all weather" means -50 in the winter here. So he'd just walk around leaving bare footprints in the snow in severely subzero weather, and apparently was perfectly comfortable. Obviously most people couldn't do that if they just randomly walked outside in the winter after wearing boots all the time. But I once spent a year or two going barefoot in the non-winter months, including hiking off-trail in the woods with bare feet (I didn't think it would actually WORK; I was really surprised to find out that, as long as I was careful where I put my feet, it was actually fairly comfortable) and I was really fascinated at how, no longer than I did it, the bloodflow to my feet noticeably changed to compensate for walking around barefoot in cool weather. I started to feel like I was wearing mittens indoors when I'd put socks on. Not being a physical person AT ALL, I was completely fascinated by this. (I never went ahead and pursued it to walking in the snow, however. Though I WAS curious.)
londonkds: (Default)

From: [personal profile] londonkds


[personal profile] james_davis_nicoll (I believe this was in a public post, sorry to him if it wasn't), who describes himself as being of the last generation of children in affluent Western societies who frequently went barefoot outdoors, once posted a story about how he and some friends were playing on a demolition site when he was a boy. When he got home his mother screamed at the sight of the soles of his feet - he had countless tiny shards of glass sticking into them and hadn't felt a thing because the skin had become so tough and hardened.
sholio: sun on winter trees (Default)

From: [personal profile] sholio


There was a bit that stuck in my head from an autobiography I read awhile back of a woman whose family homesteaded in rural western Canada when she was a child -- she talked about how they traveled to their new home in the fall and the kids walked beside the wagons, so when she'd start walking in the morning everything was frozen and it was uncomfortable on her bare feet, but it got better once she warmed up.

SHE WALKED ACROSS THE BRITISH COLUMBIA WILDERNESS BAREFOOT. D: And she was like ... eight.

But of course many people went barefoot in those days, especially kids. And many people in many parts of the world still do. We've just gotten used to thinking of shoes as something that everyone has to have all the time.

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From: [personal profile] recessional - Date: 2016-06-25 12:43 am (UTC) - Expand
lilacsigil: 12 Apostles rocks, text "Rock On" (12 Apostles)

From: [personal profile] lilacsigil


Yeah, I'm 41 and I frequently and unremarkably went barefoot outdoors as a child. I could walk on searing hot sand with no problems...as long as it wasn't so soft that I sank in and the hot sand touched the tops of my feet! These days walking a few steps on rough concrete hurts!
rydra_wong: Text: "Your body is a battleground" over photo of 19th-C strongwoman. (body -- battleground)

From: [personal profile] rydra_wong


I'm only a little stronger and faster than average, but everyone who's ever done any kind of physical sport with me has noticed that I'm still standing when people who are in every other way better than me are keeling over. I feel like keeling over. But I just don't consider it an option, so I don't. That's the exact mental attitude you need for sports like ultra marathons and so forth.

It occurs to me that you might be interested by some of Matt Fitzgerald's books on running -- maybe Run: The Mind-Body Method of Running By Feel and How Bad Do You Want It?. They're kind of "how-to", but I've read them with interest even as someone who refuses to run on general principle.

Generally a combination of good stories about runners with pop-sci explanations of the research (especially in the latter) on the "central governor" theory of fatigue: that it's not outright failure in the muscles that makes someone exhausted to the point of stopping in an endurance exercise, it's a response in the brain to nearing the perceived limits of safe exertion -- which doesn't mean it's "all in the mind", but does mean that it may potentially be manipulable to some degree, by altering the perception of effort or the mental relationship to perceived effort. So, very focused on the psychology of endurance sports, but not in the usual "just think positive!!! visualize yourself winning!!!" way.

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From: [personal profile] rydra_wong - Date: 2016-06-27 07:57 pm (UTC) - Expand
kass: white cat; "kass" (Default)

From: [personal profile] kass


Wow. This makes me want to read this book.
mildred_of_midgard: (Default)

From: [personal profile] mildred_of_midgard


I just finished this book in one go today because I couldn't put it down! It was amazing. I'm so glad you reviewed it.
mildred_of_midgard: (Default)

From: [personal profile] mildred_of_midgard


It's that good! It resembles Code Name Verity, some of Jo Walton's work (e.g. My Real Children, The Just City), and The Agony and the Ecstasy in portraying the sheer joy of finding your passion, pursuing it, and meeting people along the way who support you in it. I relate so hard to this outlook on life.
rydra_wong: Text: "Your body is a battleground" over photo of 19th-C strongwoman. (body -- battleground)

From: [personal profile] rydra_wong


Also I forgot that I actually made a Lynne Cox icon ages ago:

http://rydra-wong.dreamwidth.org/291299.html

From: [identity profile] resonant.livejournal.com


I wonder how hard it would be to put a battery-powered datalogger and digital thermometer in a suppository? More convenient, and you'd be able to record your temperature fluctuations while swimming.

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com


Probably you could now, but this was happening around 1979.

From: [identity profile] coyotegoth.livejournal.com


This is utterly fascinating. I read Dean Karnazes' Ultramarathon Man (about doing things like a 24-hour, 100-mile run through the Colorado mountains) recently; looks like this is my next excursion into the genre.

From: [identity profile] negothick.livejournal.com


I know all about that thing of "Women have more [fat], and so tend to float." I float beautifully. The only athletic event I ever won at camp was a floating contest. I floated for so long without moving legs or arms that the judges sent someone over to see if I was still alive.
ivy: (grey hand-drawn crow)

From: [personal profile] ivy


I had taken this for a given, but it surprised me that it's a thing that can change over the course of a person's life. I floated for about 80% of my life, and recently discovered that I don't any more. I was staring at the pool and thinking "Lungs! Breasts!" But apparently not enough! Swimming is a LOT harder when you don't naturally float; it used to be easy and now it's kinda scary. Knowing that you can't just stop whenever you want to, you have to get to something that you can hold on to... aaaaah.
.

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