What Are Your Limits?

“In the end, being badass isn’t about beating others — it’s about testing yourself, and in the process, finding yourself.” – Leo Babauta

I’ve been working out regularly since I was 17.  It is essential to me.  I protect my workout time because I start to feel pent up and squirrely if I don’t exercise.  It does as much for my mental attitude as it does for my body.  My husband gladly watches the kids on weekends so I can get to the gym.  I would say it’s for altruistic reasons, but really it’s just because I’m easier to live with when I’m able to workout.

I’m drawn to intense exercise.  Firmly into middle age, I like pushing myself to see what I can still do physically, plus I’m competitive like a third grader. My weekend exercise routine looks like this:  Saturdays, I hit the gym for a class called Fast Twitch – a 75-minute super set of short bursts of weights and cardio, followed by 15 minutes of abs.  Sunday mornings is 90 minutes of power yoga in a heated room, which is intense in an entirely different way than Fast Twitch is.  My being able to get through those workouts “successfully” varies for reasons I don’t always understand.

Saturday, for example, following an indulgent night out with Steve and too little sleep, I reluctantly dragged myself to the gym, but once I got started was able to push myself much harder than I expected through the workout.  (Maybe it had something to do with being browbeat by the former MMA fighter, drill-sargent-like trainer who led the class, and the rage music blaring in the background.)  It hurt so good, and I felt fantastic afterward.

Sunday, I got through yoga, but sweat literally poured off of my head in small rivulets as I moved through the poses.  I pushed myself and breathed and tried to relax, but I hit my limits much sooner than I would have liked.  And this got me thinking about a very cool podcast episode I heard a couple of years ago on Radiolab called Limits .  It features stories about extreme-endurance athletes and highlights research that examines how the brain acts as a governor over our physical exertions and tells us either to stop to preserve fuel or to dig deeper and keep going because there’s still something in reserve.  Here’s a short video clip of Julie Moss’ body breaking down as she was leading the women in the 1982 Ironman race in Hawaii.  Julie Moss’ finish is an iconic moment in Ironman history. Here it’s been edited to sync with the Radiolab audio.

If you don’t know about Radiolab, let me introduce you to one of my favorite podcasts.  It’s a science geek’s wet dream.  Radiolab describes itself as “a show about curiosity. Where sound illuminates ideas, and the boundaries blur between science, philosophy, and human experience.” My favorite episode is Patient Zero which starts with Typhoid Mary and then examines the origin of the AIDS virus (it’s amazing what epidemiologists and geneticists have been able to pinpoint). Speed is quite incredible as well.  If you listen to only part of the Speed episode, make it the section called Master of the Universe.  You will be astonished, I promise you.  The Bad Show, about the dark side of human nature, shouldn’t be missed.  In the vein of “you learn something new everyday” let me say welcome, my friends, to hours of feeding your brain in the most entertaining way.

About Chris DeVinney

Me in a nutshell: mom, writer, former lobbyist, wife, volunteer, lover of music and art, massive fan of traveling, and something of a smart ass. A typical INTJ, I quietly observe anyone and anything that comes into my orbit, squirreling away material for future essays. These days I spend my time writing about whatever interests me (both professionally and personally) and trying to strike the balance between taking care of kids/family/house/pets and me. Occasionally I nail it, hang on to it briefly, and then scramble back toward the center when the tipping starts again. I know, it’s a common story.
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