Book Review: The Boys In The Boat

The Boys In The Boat is an account of the US rowing team’s victory at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin; nothing to do with running, but certainly an inspirational story for any athlete, regardless of sports background.

TheBoysintheBoat

One of those “hard-to-put-down” reads, this book effortlessly captures the reader, provoking an instant sense of connection with both the characters and the setting. Much like Laura Hillenbrand did in her books, Seabiscuit and UnbrokenDaniel James Brown also delivers a triumphant story of hope against all odds, only this time the odds are overcome by a team of boys, who once introduced, you can’t help but root for.

Interspersed throughout the story are background snippets of a dark and grim reality going on behind the scenes, in Berlin, Germany. Brown provides just enough details to paint a clear picture of the level of grand deception orchestrated by Hitler, and his close associate Joseph Goebells (Reich Minister of Propaganda in Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945). While the boys (from Washington State) were busy working hard to earn the coveted privilege of representing the United States at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Hitler and Goebbels were also hard at work – attempting to conceal all traces of evidence that might later expose their persecution of the Jews.

At the core of the story, is Joe Rantz, one of the members of the 1936 US Olympic rowing team. His strong resolve and humble demeanor make him a true hero. But as the story evolves, it becomes clear that his teammates are equally heroic, each possessing similarly unique attributes and an extraordinary will to overcome extreme odds.

The story cleverly climaxes, with Brown recounting the dramatic events leading up to the final race and then describing in vivid detail the race itself. It really is a remarkable story, backed by extensive research that makes it well worth the read; I encourage you to check it out and read it for yourself!

A few key points however (without giving the story away), include what I feel are valuable lessons for those of us who strive daily to succeed in both physical training and life pursuits:

1. The boys trained through the harshest of weather conditions, understanding that extreme discomfort was at times necessary if there was to be any hope at all of making it to the Olympics. A missed day of training meant an extra day of training for a competing team.

“They rowed six days a week, rain or shine. It rained, and they rowed. They rowed through cutting wind, bitter sleet, and occasional snow, well into the dark of night every evening.”

2. Some of the boys came from particularly challenging backgrounds, yet they approached life – in general – with optimism and hope. Joe Rantz, for example, had an uncanny knack for finding four-leaf clovers (it’s much easier to find the more common three-leaf clover). He told his girlfriend, 

“The only time you don’t find a four-leaf clover, is when you stop looking for one.” 

That attitude carried over to the training obstacles they faced, and equipped them with the mental tenacity required to endure many months of grueling workouts.

3. George Pocock, designer and builder of racing shells, played a pivotal role in leading the team to victory. He taught the boys many things, but paramount to their success was his insistence that once they entered their racing shell, they were to leave everything else behind. These boys were taught how to be fully in the moment during races; able to keep their minds one hundred percent focused on the task at hand.

“…..from the time an oarsman steps into a racing shell until the moment that the boat crosses the finish line, he must keep his mind focused on what is happening inside the boat. His whole world must shrink down to the small space within the gunwales.” 

4. The boys followed strict rules imposed upon them by their coach, Al Ulbrickson. They were tempted at times to break those rules, and on a few occasions they did, but for the most part they respected the necessary disciplines required of them.

“You will eat no fried meats, “ he began abruptly. “You will eat no pastries, but you will eat plenty of vegetables. You will eat good, substantial, wholesome food…..You will go to bed at 10 o’clock and arise punctually at seven o’clock. You will not smoke or drink or chew. And you will follow this regimen all year round, for as long as you row for me. A man cannot abuse his body for six months and then expect to row the other six months. He must be a total abstainer all year.” 

5. Finally, in the days leading up to the biggest race of their careers, the boys were understandably nervous and on some level, all dealing with fear and self-doubt. They each had their own coping strategies however, and intentionally implemented these in an effort to align their mental strength with that of their physical strength. 

The take-away lessons:

  • Train consistently, and train when you don’t feel like training (getting outside your comfort zone regularly is necessary for growth).
  • Replace negative thoughts with positive thoughts, and train yourself to respond to adversity in ways that help you to favorably interpret situations.
  • When the starter gun goes, it’s time to narrow your focus! Get your eyes, thoughts, and expectations off your competitors, and focus instead on executing your “ideal” performance (one that you know is supported by weeks and months of carefully planned and progressive training).
  • Optimal performance requires optimal nutrition, sleep, and lifestyle habits – not just some of the time, but all of the time.
  • Tapering is a necessary part of pre-race preparation – and while the body is purposely rested – the mind on the other hand should be vigorously exercised and fed with generous doses of positive self-talk and affirmations.

You Might Be More Susceptible To OverTraining Than You Think

Most runners are familiar with the term overtraining, but few probably realize that they may be more susceptible to it than they think.

Because overtraining refers to a decline in performance due to excessive stress on certain parts of the musculoskeletal system, we tend to associate it more with competitive runners who endure higher volumes and intensities of training. But Dr. Inigo San Millan, PhD., says that blood biomarkers showing up in recreational runners are increasingly revealing signs of overtraining.

ee391294cef162fc_tired.preview-e1363274752988

Dr. Millan believes that the reason these biomarkers are being seen more and more in recreational runners, is because – unlike professional runners – recreational runners don’t have an entourage of training and recovery specialists facilitating everything they do on a day-to-day basis.

The following points highlight how and why a recreational runner might find him/herself in an overtrained state:

  • Runners, in general, tend to be A-Type personalities; they are by nature hard workers and goal-achievers. While it’s clear that recreational runners don’t train at the same level and intensities as professional runners, many – especially A-types – still train with as much purpose and determination; the problem is that they are often just as zealous in other areas of their lives, and therefore, unintentionally negligent when it comes to ensuring optimal recovery conditions.
  • A “zealous” and busy recreational runner for example, might have a lifestyle outside of training that keeps her (or him) from getting adequate sleep. When she wakes up consistently feeling tired, she might be inclined to tell herself that fatigue is a normal part of training and should simply be tolerated; she’ll therefore continue to stick to her training plan and make no modifications. A professional runner on the other hand (or her coach, at least), is more likely to recognize early signs of overtraining and accordingly reduce the training workload and/or intensity.
  • Diet might also play a role in the occurrence of overtraining symptoms. The average recreational runner might know a lot about training, but a little about nutrition. A professional runner makes it her job to know how to properly fuel both during and outside of training. Interestingly, a too-low carbohydrate intake appears to be a common factor among recreational runners who suffer from overtraining.
  • Recreational runners are more likely than professional runners to try and “make up” for missed runs by overcompensating with extra intensity and/or miles. Additionally, recreational runners often run too fast, believing that the harder they run, the faster they’ll run. Professional runners understand however, that slow, easy runs are an important part of training as they help to heal minor damage from previous runs by pushing oxygen-rich blood through the legs.

With all of the above in mind, take care when training for your next event, especially if you’re someone who holds yourself to high standards in everything you do.

Here’s a few quick tips:

  1. Try to get at least 7 hours of sleep a night.
  2. Consult with a nutritionist if you’re not sure that your diet is supporting your training efforts.
  3. Remember to slow down and take it easy on recovery days, and make sure that you actually rest on days that you should be resting.
  4. Minimize your stress levels, to the best of your ability.
  5. Schedule regular massage visits once you begin to approach a peak in your training workload, and use your foam roller if you have one.

Happy and safe running!

Not Sure Which Running Shoes To Choose?

Getting a gait analysis done can be quite insightful, and certainly beneficial if you have no idea of what kind of shoes will give you the most comfort while running.

Running – as we all know – is a high-impact sport. With every foot strike forcing an impact of up to 3 x a person’s body weight, there is a greater risk of damage to joints, tendons, and ligaments. If, in addition to the impact, one or both feet pronate (rotate) inward or outward, the extra pressure can lead to progressive misalignment of the body and eventually to more serious problems. Poorly fitted shoes may aggravate the problem/s even further.

It’s been years since I last had a gait analysis done myself, so I was a bit surprised when the Physical Therapist I’ve been seeing suggested I go and do one. She thought that in addition to the actual therapy side of things, that I’d benefit from running in shoes that might help to stabilize my feet and ankles.

Now before I go any further, let me state that this post isn’t an attempt to convince you that the type of shoe you run in will improve your odds of staying injury-free. There are plenty of arguments that you can search online yourself that will help you form your own opinion about that. What I will say however, is that regardless of the science either for or against, if you believe that the shoes recommended for you are the most supportive, and if they feel the most comfortable, then they are probably the best shoes for you.

Since it’s been months now that I have been able to run consistently without pain, I heeded the advice of my PT and went and saw Niel Boshoff at ShoeScience in Mt Eden. I sent a couple of people to him last year and was super impressed by his knowledge and expertise!

The first thing Niel did was put my feet in the type of running socks I would typically wear, and with socks on my feet he then measured each foot. I already knew from previous PT and chiro visits, that I have one foot and leg slightly longer than the other, which by the way is not uncommon.

Once my feet had been measured, Niel had me jog up and down an in-store running mat that was electronically connected to a recording device. When the video was replayed, we were able to view it in slow motion and get a close look at how each foot struck the ground. It was clear to see that there was some inward pronation going on with my right foot.

Based on the video analysis, Niel then chose a few pairs of shoes for me to try on (keep in mind that other factors, such as foot and arch type, length and width of the shoe, frequency and distances of weekly runs, and type of running surface), are also considered. I tried each of the different shoe brands selected, and settled on a pair of Saucony “stability” shoes, a huge change for me given that I have always opted for lighter-weight performance shoes.

Before I left the store, Niel had me run in the new shoes on a treadmill. While running at a comfortable pace, Niel observed my gait from various angles and once again took a video recording. It’s not obvious when you watch the video below, but when carefully viewed in slower motion, we could see that my right knee collapsed inwards with every right foot strike.

With all of the information gathered from both video recordings and questions asked, we agreed that of the three types of shoes that Niel had shown me, the Sauconys were most likely the best choice. They were the heaviest of the three (though not as heavy as some other stability shoes), but surprisingly the most comfortable.

It’s now been a few weeks since I visited Niel at ShoeScience, and I am still seeing my Physio Therapist, but one change that has come about since I started running in my new Sauconys is that I now run with a renewed sense of confidence. My shoes make me feel as if I’m gliding effortlessly, and that feeling alone has helped to rewire my thought patterns towards ones that are focused more on healing rather than fear of further injury.

[Go and see Niel at Shoe Science in Mt Eden if you would like an in-depth gait analysis, coupled with amazing customer service! Niel will even let you take the shoes home and return them if, after a few runs, you decide they don’t provide the comfort you expected].