I love finding fitness inspiration when I least expect it. Sometimes I check out a book knowing it’s going to be fitness-centered, like this one on ultramarathons, which will make running a mile seem … not so bad. But a couple of other recent picks had me reading late into the night (damn those page turners) and dying to see what happened next. I recently discovered that my library offers digital checkout. Which is super convenient, but the book offerings are somewhat limited. Meaning the choices are pretty much either classics or bestsellers. And I know I’m way, way behind on my reading, but I recently read Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed and Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand. I’m so behind that both have already been turned into movies, but no matter — a good book is a good book no matter when you read it. And both left me inspired.
If you need a couple of books for your summer reading list, I can’t recommend them enough, particularly if you’re looking for stories about how tough the human body is. Wild is the more obviously endurance and fitness-themed one: A woman hikes the Pacific Crest Trail, carrying everything she needs on her back, going mile after mile in the face of aches, pains, exhaustion, thirst, hunger and lost toe nails. Whereas many people wouldn’t even be tempted to hike a week in the wilderness, Cheryl hikes for months, most of it by herself. If you find yourself having a hard time finishing a tough run, need inspiration in the last few miles of a marathon or want to know how far you can push yourself, this is one of those books that will remind you that you can always dig deep into yourself to keep going — and come out stronger on the other side.
Now, a World War II story like Unbroken might not strike you as a book you’re most likely to find workout inspiration in, but you’d be wrong. Because before heading to war, Louis Zamperini — who only died last year — was an Olympic athlete striving for — and achieving — great running feats. He set records for the mile, ran in the 1936 Olympics and ran so fast in the final lap of his race that Hitler insisted on meeting him. Louis survives floating on the ocean after a plane crash for 47 days, with few supplies to assist him and his fellow survivors. His experiences as a POW made my muscles and bones ache in sympathy. At each point when you think his luck can’t possibly get worse it does; Louis’ unflagging spirit and determination are the only thing that I can point to as a reason for his survival against all odds.
The other remarkable thing about Unbroken is its author, Laura Hillenbrand, who also wrote Seabiscuit. Only after I read the book did I find this New York Times article about her, detailing how she suffers from chronic fatigue syndrome and is virtually incapacitated by it and the vertigo it brings. The research that went into Unbroken would be a mind-boggling feat for a healthy person. But knowing that Hillenbrand managed it while fighting a terrible illness? That is pure inspiration, too.
What stories have you read that truly inspired you? Please tell me I’m not the only one who hadn’t read these until recently! —Erin