rachelmanija: (SCC: Strong)
rachelmanija ([personal profile] rachelmanija) wrote2017-01-23 01:32 pm

The Barkley Marathons and pushing your limits

A while back I reviewed a memoir by Lynne Cox, a record-setting endurance swimmer. The entry contains a fantastic set of comments recommending books and articles and media on the topic of mind-body experiences and pushing one's physical/mental limits.

One of the most interesting was on the Barkley Marathons, an extraordinarily challenging wilderness endurance run which is also extraordinarily weird. The entrance fee used to be a flannel shirt, but now it's a license plate from anyone's car but your own. This wonderful article is the best introduction to it.

It’s no easy feat to get here. There are no published entry requirements or procedures. It helps to know someone. Admissions are decided by Laz’s personal discretion, and his application isn’t exactly standard, with questions like “What is your favorite parasite?” and a required essay with the subject “Why I Should Be Allowed to Run In the Barkley.”

This LJ entry has a fascinating account of the Barkley by a guy who got so exhausted that he literally forgot where he was and what he was doing. Comments have some personal anecdotes of similar experiences, along with one of mine at the end.

This documentary is best watched after reading the article, as it minimizes explanation in favor of experience. It's quirky and rambling and fun, and has several satisfying narrative coups. One is when, about fifteen minutes in, it gets around to explaining some of the Barkley's more eccentric and difficult characteristics, in an understated manner with diagrams. They are so outrageous that I burst out laughing. Another is the origin of the name, which doesn't come up until near the end and neatly sums up the charmingly WTF nature of both the founder and the entire thing. The last is a question that kept not getting asked, and not getting asked, until I finally gave up on it. It's asked at the very end. The answer is perfect.

Right now, due to horrendous health problems, it's very questionable if I will ever again do anything more strenuous than walking a couple city blocks. So I'm glad I pushed my physical/mental limits while I could and wanted to and enjoyed it. Had I known what was coming, I might have done more. Probably not a lot more, because I was already doing everything I really wanted to do. But maybe a little more, just for the memories and to have no regrets rather than very few. But had I known what was coming, it would have depressed the hell out of me, so it wouldn't have been worth it. I'm glad I didn't know.

But even at my physical peak, I probably never could have done the Barkley. I don't think I ever had the level of athletic potential to be accepted - I was always more impressive in terms of spirit than in physicality. Technically speaking, I was not only not a world-class athlete, I wasn't even in the top five in my own dojo. Even if I'd somehow gotten into the Barkley on the basis of sheer mental fortitude, a lot of it involves finding your way around, and my sense of direction is wretched. Finally, I already had a sport. To train for something like the Barkley, I would have had to give up or cut way down on karate to devote myself to running, and I loved karate but I've only ever mildly liked running.

But if I could wave a magic wand and make all those obstacles disappear, I would love to try the Barkley.

It's one of the most hardcore tests I've ever heard of for some odd stuff that I am or was unusually good at. Obviously I don't have physical endurance in terms of stuff like training all day any more, but I used to have a fairly impressive amount for an amateur. It involves sleep deprivation, and I'm good at that. I've worked around the clock quite a lot in my life. I've gone entirely without sleep for at least 72 hours multiple times. My functioning degrades, but less than average based on what other people were doing under the same circumstances.

Most importantly, it's a test of persistence. That is something I still possess. I've met lots of people who are better than me at every other thing I'm good at. I have never met anyone who's better than me at not giving up. I am pretty sure I'm world-class at that one. If there's something I really, really want, and there's no reason to quit beyond that it's hard and giving up would provide quick gratification at the cost of the thing I really, really want, I have never quit.

The Barkley intrigues me for an odd motivation mentioned in the film: people run it because it's something they can fail at. It's a challenge for people who've never failed at certain things, and so don't know what their limits really are. The flip side is that maybe, if they can find a thing they could fail at, they'll be able to know for sure that they are limitless.

Is there anything that could make me think, "This is miserable, I know I'll get something I really, really want if I keep going, I'm physically capable of doing so and no harm will come to me if I do, but I'd rather give up and get some sleep?" And then actually make me give up, rather than have that thought and keep going?

I don't know, because nothing ever has. Not even this entire last year and a half, which as some of you know has been as tough as the Barkley but nowhere near as fun, and which often made me very seriously consider giving up. But I haven't.

So if I could, for all senses of could, I'd run the Barkley. I would probably spend the entire time limit wandering lost around the very first loop, like this guy:

Julian is a “virgin,” one of fifteen newbies who will do their damndest to finish a loop. He has managed to escape the designation of “sacrificial virgin,” officially applied to the virgin each year (usually the least experienced ultra-runner) whom Laz has deemed most likely to fail in a spectacular fashion—to get lost for so long, perhaps, that he manages to beat Dan Baglione’s course record for slowest pace. At the age of seventy-five, in 2006, Baglione managed two miles in thirty-two hours. Something to do with an unscrewed flashlight cap, an unexpected creek.

That is great. It's such a magnificent failure that it loops around into success. He may have only got two miles, but he kept at it for thirty-two hours. I respect the hell out of that.

I think I could match that level of sheer stubbornness.

If that's true, I'd like to know it. I'd like to find out if it is true. And I like to do difficult things because they're difficult as long as they're also in some weird sense fun, and unlike, say, climbing Mount Everest, the Barkley sounds both extraordinarily difficult and fun for certain weird values of fun that include most of it being painful and miserable. (I don't know if there are two groups of people, those who do difficult things because they're difficult and those who don't, but there are definitely two groups of people, those for whom the last clause of that sentence makes sense and those for whom it doesn't.)

So here is what I ask you: if you could (assume that for all senses of could, you at least could have gotten in and had some sort of shot) would you do the Barkley? Why or why not?

If you wouldn't have done that specifically, is there some specific difficult thing - climbing a mountain, doing boot camp, taking the bar exam - that you haven't done or couldn't do in real life, but have imagined doing? What is it? Would you do it if you could? Why?
yhlee: counterpoise trebuchet (trebuchet 1 (credit: <user name="vom_mar)

[personal profile] yhlee 2017-01-23 10:10 pm (UTC)(link)
Being a soldier.

Mainly, I'm curious because, as far as I can tell, EVERY SINGLE SKILL REQUIRED to be a good soldier is something that I actively suck at. I suck at taking orders (I am actively oppositional). I am the least athletic person I know who is not physically disabled. I have mental health conditions that would disqualify me for any kind of useful service; God knows they pretty much disqualify me for anything but being a writer. I'm probably too squeamish. I hate being around other people. I have no sense of direction. I get tunnel vision, real live actual tunnel vision, from sound effects in first person shooter computer games. And that's not even getting into things like military ethics, which is a topic that fascinates me but it's only ever going to be academic. I mean, you name J. Useful Trait for being a soldier, I don't have it.

If everything above (plus all the other stuff I'm not thinking of) got reversed, I would seriously consider trying it. I spent part of my childhood on two military bases. My dad used to be an Army surgeon. The core value of service really appeals to me. But I'll never know.
ellen_fremedon: overlapping pages from Beowulf manuscript, one with a large rubric, on a maroon ground (Default)

[personal profile] ellen_fremedon 2017-01-23 10:28 pm (UTC)(link)
Huh. There's no way I would ever do the Barkley because I find running miserable and only do it if I'm chasing a bus, but if it were an endurance walk with a lot of wayfinding I would find it kind of tempting.

I am very good at persisting with difficult things as long as I'm learning, not even how to do them, but how to learn them. I am stubborn as hell with meta-puzzles. I am much less stubborn with puzzles I know how to approach; I loved grad school right up to the point where my field started to make intuitive sense and then I got very bored very quickly.

If there's no puzzle at all, just a thing I need to practice, and I have already identified the thing and determined that I can't progress without practicing it...yeah, at that point I have virtually no ability to self-motivate unless I really, really like doing the thing. And even then I can't make myself practice the boring bits. So I can knit pretty well, but I don't do anything that requires grafting or blocking because I don't like those parts and won't do them; I'm a good cook, but my knifework is shit; when I'm in practice, I can play the piano and bass clarinet at a pretty high level of difficulty, but my technique is still super sloppy; and so on.

And I've never yet found a physical practice that I enjoy doing enough that I'm willing to, well, practice it. I curled for five years and liked it a lot until the geometry and physics started to make sense, but after that it was just a lot of running around on the ice in front of stones whose trajectories could be left as an exercise to the reader. I do enjoy walking! But I only really enjoy hiking in unfamiliar surroundings--I get bored by the second or third time I've taken a particular route--and it's hard to get to new places to hike without a car :(.
Edited (spelling) 2017-01-23 22:29 (UTC)
yhlee: soulless (orb) (AtS soulless (credit: mango_icons on LJ))

[personal profile] yhlee 2017-01-23 10:47 pm (UTC)(link)
...I feel you. I lose interest in most things once they get too easy. The main reason I decided to become a writer, I realized in retrospect, was because for over ten years my parents told me it was a stupid and pointless thing to be doing, and it was hard to get published. Half the attraction of majoring in math was that I had to work for it.

(Although there needs to be a sweet spot for me--if improvement is too slow, I just give up. I'm so clumsy and physically inept that most physical activities fall into this category for me.)

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dhampyresa: (Default)

[personal profile] dhampyresa 2017-01-23 10:52 pm (UTC)(link)
If I could, I think I would. It sounds like fun -- the miserable kind of fun, granted, but still fun.

I kind of want to swim across the Channel or across the Strait of Gibraltar. Sounds a bit ridiculous, but it's humanly doable. Maybe I'll be able to swim across a breton bay this summer.

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commoncomitatus: (✺ chiana: slow with the soul)

[personal profile] commoncomitatus 2017-01-23 10:52 pm (UTC)(link)
I'd never heard of the Barkley before this post, but it sounds incredible.

And, well, I'd love to say that in theory I would totally do it, but I'm self-aware enough to know that my lack of self-esteem and/or generic cowardice would probably preclude me even if I knew I had what it took to physically pull it off. It sounds like the sort of thing I would love to push myself and test my limits with, but ultimately, I think it would just end up being a case of "the heart is willing but the mind is weak".

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recessional: bare-footed person in jeans walks on log (Default)

[personal profile] recessional 2017-01-23 11:18 pm (UTC)(link)
I actually spent a significant amount of time training myself to stop doing a thing if it's actually miserable, and there's not going to be consequences for dropping it.

There's enough stuff in my life that is constantly miserable, that will probably never stop being miserable, and that I will keep having to fight and struggle through very potentially as long as I live. I was also hardcore indoctrinated with the Gifted Kid "you should be able to do anything, if you CAN'T do it you're just not TRYING hard enough, if you stop trying you're GIVING UP, and GIVING UP means you're LAZY and UNDISCIPLINED". Combining that with my major depression nearly killed me, literally, more than once.

So I've actually made it a hardcore thing for myself: if I'm not enjoying it, if I'm miserable, and if what I'm going to get out of it is not worth this misery, I need to quit. That even if something at the end is something I really want, I am allowed to go "but do I want it that much?" And I'm allowed to say no, and go home and read a book instead.

Now like I've got qualifiers in there, which include "actually miserable." Because there's stuff that's kind of . . .technically miserable? Which are at the same time actually massively rewarding at the same time as it's miserable, and that's not going to make me quit. Writing, for example, falls under this category for me: the experience of writing is, for many reasons, more or less for me like the equivalent of some kind of horrible marathon, but at the same time as it's horrible, it's IMPORTANT or it's rewarding me in some other way that's incredibly important, and those I'll keep going until I'm dead.

And there's stuff I fucking hate that will AFTER IT'S OVER give me something that is in fact that rewarding so that the misery is worth it, and the answer to that question of "is this worth it" turns out to be "yes". (See also: school.)

But if it's actually miserable, the question of "is this worth it" is allowed to be "no". Which is actually still very hard for me.

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isis: me in an awesome trail race!  (running)

[personal profile] isis 2017-01-23 11:35 pm (UTC)(link)
I have run nine marathons (including Boston) and one 50K (31 miles) trail ultramarathon, and run the Imogene Pass Run (17 miles on a jeep road over a 13,120' pass, gaining over 5k and then losing over 4k feet; that's me doing it in my icon) five times.

The thing about your definition is that - I like doing difficult things that are fun, but I hate being miserable. And I know a lot of people assume that because I'm a marathoner (and a relatively fast marathoner considering my age and gender) I must love pain and misery, but no! I don't consider long-distance running de facto painful or miserable! I mean, toward the end of a marathon or ultra, I really really really want to be finished, any time now, please, where is the end, but I am not miserable, I don't want to quit, I just want to get to the damned finish line.

Misery for me is sleep deprivation. Running (or trying to run, or walking) through mud. Dense bushwacking. And so although I'd like to run a few more 50Ks and a 50M or 100K, I am discriminating in the ones I consider (major stream crossings? forget it), and I have no interest in 100-milers, and I have absolutely no interest in attempting the Barkley.

But I do attempt difficult things that don't seem like they will be miserable all the time. Last summer I rode my mountain bike 210 miles over 7 days through two mountain ranges, and it was super hard and the last hour of each day was approaching my limit, but I did it. (One day WAS misery. It rained all day and the red clay trail surface turned to mud and I had to push and carry my bike for three miles (which took three hours) while slipping and sliding, and it was horrific. I hated it. I only kept going because no other option.)

So basically, there is no specific difficult thing that I might want to do that I haven't done or wouldn't do if the opportunity arose - but there are specific difficult things I am NOPE NOPE NOPE about, and the Barkley is one of them.

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sholio: sun on winter trees (Default)

[personal profile] sholio 2017-01-23 11:44 pm (UTC)(link)
Ha, wow. :D The Barkley sounds amazing in every sense. I was going to say I would never do it, but then I started reading the article and wondering if any Alaskans have ever tried it (Alaska being what it is, you really can't throw a rock in any direction without hitting a completely cray-cray ultramarathon up here, like the Iditarod Trail Invitational, which is a thousand-mile foot race through the Alaskan wilderness in winter) and wondering how hard it would actually be -- answer: probably WAY TOO HARD FOR ME, but I'm morbidly curious.

It's really not that I am in any way an athletic person, but the casual level of closeness to actually doing that kind of thing here is -- closer, I think, than most places. Most people have not only at least tried something along those lines (not nearly at that level of difficulty, more like bushwacking through unexplored wilderness, whitewater rafting 500 miles from anywhere, running a marathon; that kind of thing is just "baseline normal, everyone probably tries this once"), and most people have their own "that time I almost died in the wilderness" story -- chased by moose, lost in a blizzard, almost drowned, etc. Most people do actually know at least one person who HAS actually died in the wilderness. (I do -- among other people, my dentist back in the '90s was killed in an avalanche while snowmobiling in the mountains, and a neighbor when I was a kid was an amateur bush pilot who flew too low and got tangled up in trees.)

My actual ability to push my physical limits when I was a teenager was high, but it was just necessary, not something I went out of my way to do. I grew up as a (partly) disabled kid in the middle of nowhere, in a cabin that was only accessible via landing a float plane on a creek and then walking up a 4-mile trail. So there really wasn't much of a choice about it. I once fell down a hill and broke my leg and walked back to the cabin on a broken leg because what ELSE are you gonna do, just lie there? During the year or so that I was recovering from that (the tl;dr is that I have a fragile bone disorder, so I used to break things a lot and they heal slowly) my grandfather died and I talked my mom into leaving me out there to watch the cabin by myself while she supported her mom through the funeral preparations, having figured out ways that I could, while on crutches, do daily chores which included carrying 5-gallon buckets of water to the house up a hill. I did it by picking up the buckets, moving them a step forward, moving me a step forward, repeat until house is achieved.

The woods I grew up in were just miserable for hiking through -- all the things [personal profile] isis was describing above as miserable things, WE HAD SO MUCH OF. Creek crossings, dense tangles of brush, no trails, extreme vertical climbs, slogging through swamps. Not to mention chokingly dense mosquitoes (plus, in my case, being on crutches a fair amount of the time). We did it, though, because those were our woods for hiking in, and we were damn well going to hike in them. XD

I think as I've gotten older I've become a lot less willing to do hard things just for the sake of doing hard things. But I actually DO feel like it's psychologically healthy, for me anyway, to keep pushing myself occasionally and not let myself fall into the trap of only doing things that are easy. I was cluebatted with that when I had to drive in Britain this summer. I honestly have to say, that stupid easy thing, driving in a country with reversed traffic flow, is literally one of the hardest things I've ever had to make myself do, in terms of emotional fortitude. I still can't believe how hard that was. I'm not great with spatial-relationship stuff anyway, and having to reverse everything in my head -- all the driving-related tasks, including not only which way you do everything on the street, but also which hand you shift with and where the mirrors are -- at high speeds while frequently having near brushes with death, and being increasingly terrified of it the more times I almost got sideswiped by a car or went the wrong way around a roundabout, and all of this while trying to explore new places and visit and be social and basically act normal, just blitzed my brain. It was one of the most fucking exhausting things I've ever done in my life, and this includes things like a near-vertical off-trail hike in the mountains in which I lost nearly 5% of my body weight in 24 hours from water loss. I would lie in bed at night for hours absolutely paralyzed with terror of having to do it again the next day. I rarely reached any destination without getting out of the car and collapsing in tears from accumulated stress that I'd been pushing down while I was focused on driving. But I did it! I'm not going to say I did it well, but by the end I was actually managing to navigate reasonably well, I did not fail to drive to a single place I was planning on going because of being terrified of it, and I took that damn rental car back 2 weeks later without a single scratch on it.

And ... it felt good, afterwards. It made me realize that, left to my own devices, I do let myself slide on willpower stuff a lot of the time. I like the way that I feel when I manage to do something that's really hard. It makes me feel more capable of doing other things that are hard, and I guess that's why people do things like the Barkley in the first place.

... that said, I think [personal profile] recessional makes a really good point about not doing things that are miserable that you don't get any benefit out of. Which honestly is why I haven't done a lot of things I used to want to do in my life, because I grew up and realized that the benefit I'd get from having done them would be much less than the amount of misery I'd suffer through in order to accomplish them, and so, nope. It's definitely good to be able to draw that line. Honestly I think part of growing up -- or, I should say, a very useful skill to acquire in becoming a well-adjusted adult -- is learning the difference between doing an unpleasant thing because you want to do it and the result is worth it, and doing it because someone else wants you to do it or because you feel you should.

(Wow, self: long comment much??)
Edited 2017-01-23 23:46 (UTC)

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mildred_of_midgard: (Default)

[personal profile] mildred_of_midgard 2017-01-23 11:46 pm (UTC)(link)
Physical challenges are not for me, alas. I think maybe I am drawn to characters who have great physical stamina, athletic/combat skills, etc. just because it's so the opposite of me. (Characters being very different from me keeps me from going "This is boring, I already have that covered" or, worse, "You're doing it wrong/I could do it better.")

As for hard things I would consider doing if all the obstacles were wiped away, you mentioned the bar exam, so I'm sure you'll be shocked to learn that I have daydreamed about taking the MCAT since high school. ;)

I think studying for it would be interesting in the absence of other concrete uses to put this information to, and I'm curious to see how I would fare.

Obstacles: you have to get special permission to take it if you're not applying to medical school, you can only apply to medical school if you're planning on being a medical practitioner, I don't want to be a medical practitioner. I mean, one could lie! Or I could rack my brains to come up with a good enough reason to get special permission. But the payoff of knowing the answer to "could I pass the MCAT?" doesn't seem worth the effort.

Now, on why I don't want to be a medical practitioner, the proximate causes are: I don't want to do lab work, and I don't want to deal with patients.

The ultimate cause is: I recently had an insight that my entire personality, life history, interests, and skills follow from the fact that my brain is internally focused to a degree that is extremely unusual, and I keep my physical and social interactions with the world to the minimum necessary to keep my brain a happy place. Labs and patients are too physical and social respectively for me.

This is why CrowdMed is so great. Once I'm done writing this fic, I am going back to science in a serious way after a very long detour, and patient cases are great for providing focused puzzles to solve as opposed to a goal of "master this field," which always causes me to get lost and confused. I either need a teacher to guide me, or I need specific problems to tackle.

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likeadeuce: (Default)

[personal profile] likeadeuce 2017-01-24 12:27 am (UTC)(link)
I am an advocate of the joy and wonder of quitting, with the happy bonus that whenever I manage to finish anything I feel pretty good about it.

I've taken the bar exam. It's not that excited.

I do feel this way about a Ph.D. , probably in history or some literary field that involves analyzing historical texts. Most people I know who have gotten a PhD were actively miserable much of the time, and only a few have gotten viable career paths out of it, but I do love the idea of taking the time to dive in and just become an expert in one thing.

I have also briefly wondered about medical school/ all the stuff you hear about residency, solely because it's hard, but I realized pretty quickly that even if I could get through it, I wouldn't want to practice medicine on any level, I'm too squeamish about bodily functions + I would get stressed out by the responsibility.

When I read Wild I briefly thought about doing a lengthy hike which is ridiculous because I'm not in shape for it and do not particularly enjoy even SHORT hikes, much less the discipline required for the kind of hiking she did. I think part of what's appealing is NOT having the option to quit.
skygiants: Nellie Bly walking a tightrope among the stars (bravely trotted)

[personal profile] skygiants 2017-01-24 12:32 am (UTC)(link)
I am an incredibly physically lazy person who is generally pretty allergic to strenuous exercise -- the sensation of 'LUNGS TOO SMALL, MUST WAIT FIVE MINUTES TO BREATHE PROPERLY AGAIN' is one I deeply detest -- so the idea of the sort of marathon that involves work holds negative appeal for me. However, I do sometimes wonder how I would do at the kind of marathon that involves not-doing rather than doing -- hunger strikes, staying awake for exceptionally long periods of time, that kind of thing. Endurance of just enduring. I've had a number of long red-eye flights over the past couple years and scheduled myself to Do Stuff without break on the other end, and I tell myself it's so I can more easily reset, but probably it is just as much to prove to myself that I can.

Possibly relatedly, when I was a kid I used to practice jumping off of increasingly high things (trees, the top of jungle gyms, etc.) which I like to think is part of the reason I have never broken a bone; I got very, very good at falling.
cyphomandra: boats in Auckland Harbour. Blue, blocky, cheerful (boats)

[personal profile] cyphomandra 2017-01-24 12:37 am (UTC)(link)
I actually have a Barkley race report open in one of my other tabs... here
I like running and have done three half marathons and a few three hour rogaines (not the 24 hour versions), and I spent my teenage years orienteering (well, or reading). I'd like to get back into running but not at that level of anticipated misery!
rydra_wong: Text: "Your body is a battleground" over photo of 19th-C strongwoman. (body -- battleground)

[personal profile] rydra_wong 2017-01-25 08:43 am (UTC)(link)
Thanks for the race report link -- that's fascinating (and horrifying and kind of awesome, like most Barkley-related things).
lilacsigil: 12 Apostles rocks, text "Rock On" (12 Apostles)

[personal profile] lilacsigil 2017-01-24 03:00 am (UTC)(link)
When I was 15, I went on the Hike of Doom. Everyone in my year level had to do a three-day hike, but the teacher in charge was vastly over-optimistic about not just the students' skills and tenacity, but that of the unqualified and inexperienced parents and teachers accompanying them. And then the weekend itself had ferociously bad weather with high winds and heavy rain for the first two days - all the other schools cancelled their camps in the area, let alone hikes.

Two of the five groups had to be rescued, one group had to carry out their teacher, the other two groups (including mine) made it at the cost of injuries and leeches and dangerous river fording which we really shouldn't have done. In our group, there were two big sturdy girls, and we ended up dragging the four lightweight girls and adult (my mother) across cliff-faces and exposed hills, carrying them piggyback across a flooding creek, and then had to carry out 25kg packs because the other girls and my mother couldn't manage both the vile weather, the 17km daily hikes and the 15kg max weight of their packs. It was an absolute disaster except that we were the only group that didn't get lost, I'm still astonished nobody died, and I have no intention of pushing myself like that ever again if I don't have to. I am no longer very fit, but I am pretty strong and have endurance, and a great sense of direction, but I don't want to have to use it.

The teacher in charge thought it was all great experience, and despite parents pushing for him to be fired, the only change made was that the adults involved had to be experienced in the wilderness. He was left in charge for another three years until he got fired for having sex with 18-year-old female students.
recessional: a white mug with the words "Fucking tea." (personal; don't even)

[personal profile] recessional 2017-01-24 04:24 am (UTC)(link)
The teacher in charge thought it was all great experience, and despite parents pushing for him to be fired, the only change made was that the adults involved had to be experienced in the wilderness. He was left in charge for another three years until he got fired for having sex with 18-year-old female students.

I would like to comment on this via interpretive dance, but then all my stuff would get broken Jesus H Frog Almighty. o.o

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[personal profile] kate_nepveu 2017-01-24 03:00 am (UTC)(link)
I have a lot of weird complicated feelings about having given birth with epidurals (before the C-sections became necessary, that is). I have no intention of doing that again, but I do think about it.
loligo: Scully with blue glasses (Default)

[personal profile] loligo 2017-01-24 03:02 am (UTC)(link)
Andy and I walked across England for our honeymoon -- or technically, he walked across England and I skipped 20 miles in the middle. So that tells you right there I'm a quitter.

I was doing fine for the first 5 or so days of the trek, ranging 8-15 miles per day. But then we had a 21-mile day, and my feet just gave out. I had to make it to our next B & B, so I kept putting one foot in front of the other, trying to mentally distance myself from the pain. When we got there, I sat on the floor of the shower and sobbed.

I was able to walk the next morning, so I walked, though I started developing shin splints that took months to heal after the hike. I walked every day as long as our mileage was under 20, but when it came to a 23-mile day, I asked our luggage service if I could ride with them. I met Andy at a pub near the end of that day's mark, so we figure I missed about 20 miles. And I am totally okay with that decision. I never think "Oh, if only I could TRUTHFULLY say I've walked across England!"

I am easily overwhelmed by things. When they were handing out gumption, you probably got my share.

But I've realized in recent years that the real core of the problem is that when I'm overwhelmed by something, be it a physical sensation, or an emotion like anxiety, I lose my inner balance to such a great extent that I feel like I don't exist anymore. I lose my sense of self, and become nothing but the horrible sensation. It's like the dark side of "the flow" that people are always talking about.

I do experience the positive version of the flow sensation, and I really enjoy it, but for me, positive flow always involves eagerly taking in and tasting and cataloging sensations at a pace that is comfortable for me. When the sensations or emotions come faster than I can process them, I just have to shut down.

I have a lot of feelings of inadequacy about being this way, so I tend not to contemplate questions like "what awesomely challenging thing would I do if I could?" Because I can't.

I mean, I guess I have done some things that some people might find challenging. I got my PhD by age 26. But my ability to persist and achieve in intellectual/artistic pursuits was trashed once the kids arrived, so I don't foresee any grand challenges in my future.
nenya_kanadka: toy kangaroo joey: "You will roo the day u messed with me" (@ Roo the day)

[personal profile] nenya_kanadka 2017-01-25 03:10 am (UTC)(link)
when I'm overwhelmed by something, be it a physical sensation, or an emotion like anxiety, I lose my inner balance to such a great extent that I feel like I don't exist anymore. I lose my sense of self, and become nothing but the horrible sensation

Yeah, I get, like, existential panic. WHAT IF THIS NEVER ENDS? What if this misery is what ALL OF LIFE was really all about all along, and I've just been cheating somehow by not experiencing it 24/7, and now it's time to pay the piper??

Quite unpleasant.

I consider it a victory that you made it across England AND that you noped out for the part you had to. That was wisdom right there.

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[personal profile] nextian 2017-01-24 06:48 am (UTC)(link)
(i went to law school and took the bar exam and the barkley is a very very very very very very very good metaphor for those three years and then three days of my life, lmfao)

I've always really wanted to hike the PCT. There's really no conceivable universe where I have the free time and disposable income to do it while I'm still young and healthy enough to want to, but that's the dream I'm privately convinced I Could do, and wish I Had done, to be honest.

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oursin: Sleeping hedgehog (sleepy hedgehog)

[personal profile] oursin 2017-01-24 10:21 am (UTC)(link)
This was recently in The Guardian: I immediately thought of it when reading this post. Ultra-running is one of the fastest growing sports, usually taking place in remote, scenic landscapes. Not a running track in London. Will competitors reach nirvana?

Not Quite My Sort Of Thing, Duckie, is my general response as I stagger towards my fainting couch, but hey, diff'rent strokes for diff'rent folks. I would say that I had fairly optimum conditions for doing a PhD part-time while in a full-time job, but it's still a challenge and I wouldn't go around saying everyone could or should do it.
rydra_wong: Text: "Your body is a battleground" over photo of 19th-C strongwoman. (body -- battleground)

[personal profile] rydra_wong 2017-01-24 10:59 am (UTC)(link)
Proper reply to follow (at some point, brain permitting); this is just to say that I'm so delighted to see you writing this up and that you enjoyed it.

And yes, the Barkley is pretty much the only running-involving thing that's made me feel a flicker of personal interest. Subject to magic-wand-waving (which for me would obviously include being in an alternate reality where I am not a climber above everything else), I'd totally want to try Barkley.
rydra_wong: A dancer (Anie Hanauer) crouches in a performance by Candoco. She has a prosthetic arm. (body -- annie)

[personal profile] rydra_wong 2017-01-24 11:53 am (UTC)(link)
P.S. Okay to signal-boost in [community profile] bodies_in_motion? I think it would be highly relevant to people's interests.

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rmc28: Rachel smiling against background of trees, with newly-cut short hair (Default)

[personal profile] rmc28 2017-01-24 01:44 pm (UTC)(link)
I wouldn't do the Barkley because I'm not interested in doing stuff just because it's hard. I like long-distance running and I like navigating and moving actively outdoors, but the Barkley seems to be about finding the most miserable way possible to do those things, and I'm not interested in that.

See also, I write and maintain code for my day job, as does my spouse. Spouse has won the International Obfuscated C Contest; I regard the entire existence of the contest with vague bafflement, because I already spend enough of my time fixing bad and obscure code, why would I find it fun to make more?

I've power-walked a marathon and run a half-marathon and in both cases it was hard and I definitely did NOT like the last quarter or so of each, but I also liked how it felt to be able to do that kind of effort. "Being able to run a half-marathon again" is one of my driving goals for my recovering-from-cancer fitness plan.

vass: A running shoe with a foot in it (Walking)

[personal profile] vass 2017-01-24 05:02 pm (UTC)(link)
So many things. SO MANY. My ego is all about the big ridiculous challenges.

(I actually did try to join the army reserves when I was 19 or so. Stupid, stupid idea. I was a pacifist, and I didn't know anyone at all who'd ever served. I asked them if they'd take me as a medic, and if so, if I'd be allowed not to carry a weapon. So I would be there patching people up, not hurting them. The recruiter said no, and got it through my head that if a medic did not defend themself, someone else would need to be deployed to defend them. I took the point and decided not to enlist. Kept getting recruiting letters from them a full year after that.)

I still want to run or walk a marathon, and I'm very dubious that I could do it without permanently injuring myself, which is why I haven't yet committed to the training regimen. (I'm very heavy and moderately hypermobile and have hip issues. So chances of damaging my joints are good.)

What I've sometimes had trouble making people understand when I occasionally talk about this is that it's not the marathon itself that makes me go all dreamy-eyed. Running 42.195km is cool and all, but that's not the awesome part for me.

The race day is the culmination of twenty-four weeks of training after at least a year of slow and steady base-building, and THAT'S the awesome part. It's that long-range planning, successfully followed through that I find exciting. The scope of it.

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liv: A woman with a long plait drinks a cup of tea (teapot)

[personal profile] liv 2017-01-24 05:53 pm (UTC)(link)
I have completed a PhD, and that's probably the most difficult, endurance requiring thing I'll ever do. I wouldn't have done it just to prove I could do something difficult, though, I actually wanted to be a career academic and found the research interesting in its own right.

I'm pretty uninterested in feats of physical endurance. I hate pain, which sounds obvious, everybody hates pain, that's why we call it pain, but I find any kind of pain or discomfort really distressing. I've had nurses laugh at me for being a wimp, and I'm finding it hard to establish a baseline routine of regular, just keeping healthy exercise because I don't deal well with minor physically bad feelings.

The only completely ridiculous thing I've considered doing along those lines is a leg of a tall ships race. Partly because that's a situation where you just have to keep going no matter if how much you want to bail, because you're stuck there on a ship in the middle of the ocean. I like the idea of mastering the mechanical side of sailing, and the idea of being part of a team who would go through the misery and terror together.

If everything about my life were different and I had a magic wand, I have sometimes contemplated fostering severely disabled or severely traumatized children. I don't even have or want kids of my own, even imagining them to be "normal" levels of healthy and easy to look after. But doing something for a defined period of time that would be unimaginably hard but would actually make a real, tangible difference to another person's life, that does kind of appeal to me. (I watched a documentary when I was a kid about a couple who fostered dying children who had been abandoned by, or forcibly removed from, their parents, and I have since had this small thought way in the back of my mind.)
recessional: bare-footed person in jeans walks on log (Default)

[personal profile] recessional 2017-01-25 05:10 am (UTC)(link)
I'm finding it hard to establish a baseline routine of regular, just keeping healthy exercise because I don't deal well with minor physically bad feelings.

I would like to offer you the fist-bump of solidarity here. For me it's that for some reason the sensations associated with sweat and a certain kind of fatigue are somehow actually worse than pain (my relationship with pain is weird), but it has a similar detrimental effect.
sophia_sol: drawing of Combeferre, smiling and holding up a finger like he's about to explain something (Default)

[personal profile] sophia_sol 2017-01-27 09:02 pm (UTC)(link)
This is fascinating and horrifying to me and I would never want to do the Barkley because it sounds utterly miserable. AND YET at the same time I understand the appeal?

It's a combination of enough things that I know I do not deal well with (the worst is being massively sleep deprived, which is a huge no - but also having to get unlost after getting lost, and the feeling of maybe not making any actual appreciable progress towards a goal, and not being able to take a dang break) with things I know I do: interesting physical and mental challenges and being able to prove to myself that I can succeed at them.

I am also just not nearly hardcore enough in my physical abilities right now to be able to do it.

I have imagined hiking the pacific coastal trail though. I would never actually do it for a couple of reasons (the parts of long-distance hiking that appeal to me the least: not being able to escape the mosquitoes, and having to carry all your supplies/gear for the trip on your back) but if I could exist in a world where those weren't factors, I would totally be a hiker. And the pacific coast trail in particular because a hiking trail that involves ladders and bridges and magnificent rainforest scenery! Aww yeah!

Instead I go back-country canoe tripping, where the mosquitoes are far away on land and the canoe carries your stuff for you (except when you do a portage). Sometimes the way I feel at the end of a portage makes me think that I could be a hiker after all - I love how satisfying it is to carry a canoe by myself over a long portage, because of how hard-but-doable it is (your phrase "certain weird values of fun that include most of it being painful and miserable" applies, especially when the canoe is aluminum). But swarms of biting insects are really a dealbreaker. Plus I am not actually into the excessive degree of minimalism required to pack reasonably for a multi-day backpacking trip.

[identity profile] asakiyume.livejournal.com 2017-01-23 10:37 pm (UTC)(link)
I've met lots of people who are better than me at every other thing I'm good at. I have never met anyone who's better than me at not giving up.

I LOVE that. I, on the other hand, am a champion giver-upper. But on many occasions I circle back and try again. Still, I just love and admire to pieces that doggedness and determination.

I'm going to send a link to this entry to [livejournal.com profile] wakanomori. It sounds like something he'd be very intrigued by.

[identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com 2017-01-24 12:25 am (UTC)(link)
Actually, I think "circle back and try again" is probably more important than "keep going." At least, it's the single most important quality in trauma recovery.

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[identity profile] swan-tower.livejournal.com 2017-01-23 11:43 pm (UTC)(link)
Hell to the no I would not do it; I loathe running and the Barkley sounds to me like a circle of hell Dante forgot to mention. <g>

Other kinds of difficult things . . . nothing leaps to mind, honestly, except maybe writing a really long series (i.e. more than a trilogy, telling one continuous rather than episodic story).

[identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com 2017-01-24 12:24 am (UTC)(link)
No idle dreams of spending a year in Okinawa doing nothing but karate, taught by a master?

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[identity profile] sartorias.livejournal.com 2017-01-24 01:57 am (UTC)(link)
I never would, but I'd appreciate people's stories. There is too much of the kind of physical discomfort I loathe, and I've been in enough physically challenging scenarios of many kinds, even when I was in hardcore physical condition, to want any more of them.

[identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com 2017-01-24 05:36 pm (UTC)(link)
Fencing in the Olympics? (Assume funding, no arthritis, peak of your skills, etc.)

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[identity profile] rushthatspeaks.livejournal.com 2017-01-24 02:30 am (UTC)(link)
I was just thinking the other day about how if I were a person who runs at all I would want to do the Barkley, and how if they will accept ambling it might be something I'd want to try anyway. But it's true I would do better at this sort of challenge if it weren't heavily based on physical fitness. If I were British, I would have spent the last several years trying to be on The Great British Bakeoff, which is in some ways a similar idea.

Also, I've never wanted to climb Mount Everest, but I would like to get close enough to see it. And then pointedly not climb it, because the people who do are often so terrible. But, you know, close enough that I could. If I wanted to. Which I don't. (Does that make any sense?)

[identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com 2017-01-24 02:55 am (UTC)(link)
Once you start, there's no one to watch how fast you're actually going. ;)

I have now read enough about Mount Everest to not want to be associated with the entire endeavor of climbing it, apart from that it involves many things I really hate (extreme cold, terrifying heights, high altitudes, ethical sketchiness, poo, and trash fouling a beautiful environment.) But yeah, I totally get what you mean. There's a lot of things I couldn't/would want to do, but I'd like to get close enough to feel like I could.

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