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When Optimizing Ourselves for Athletics Conflicts With Residing a Good Life – iRunFar

One of the best ultramarathon of my life was unplanned. I used to be coming off one other race, so I cleared my schedule for restoration. However my physique felt nice earlier than anticipated. Every week earlier than the race, I signed up and scheduled my journey. I didn’t have sufficient time to find my typical gels, so I improvised my fueling plan. I didn’t have sufficient time to fret both.

That day, I discovered myself working for hours within the elusive circulate state, grateful to be there. It was one of many few instances I’ve left an occasion feeling like I bought essentially the most out of myself on race day.

This was humorous to me as a result of the race was unscheduled. Nothing — coaching, diet, or sleep — was optimized for the occasion. Perhaps this speaks to my lack of ability to periodize coaching adequately. I’m so dangerous at peaking my coaching that I ran my greatest race with out foresight.

However I typically ponder whether paying outsized consideration to optimizing our our bodies misses the mark. For instance, I can’t monitor pleasure on a health tracker, however pleasure performs a substantial position in my racing.

Sabrina Little living the good life

A ravishing life and an optimized life might not be the identical factor. All images courtesy of Sabrina Little.

What Is Optimization?

By optimization, I imply a heightened deal with maximizing bodily outcomes, which broadly characterizes discussions of well being within the sports activities and health industries immediately. You possibly can stay with precision. You possibly can optimize biomarkers and monitor sleep. You possibly can carry out exact quantities of coaching — no extra and at least you may take up. And you may eat (I imply, “gasoline”) exactly. You possibly can hit the precise variety of macronutrients you require, adjusted to your coaching. You possibly can optimize every part.

There are a number of associated developments. There may be the anti-aging craze which sees rising previous as inherently problematic. For instance, we must always wipe away all indicators from our pores and skin that point out we ever smiled; eradicating smile strains with collagen is crucial. Additionally, nothing is gained from a protracted life aside from disgrace that your physique displays the truth that it lived.

And there may be biohacking, which refers to a variety of adjustments an individual could make to trick the physique to carry out at the next degree. One instance is chilly plunges. One other is hanging upside-down. A 3rd is consuming “uncooked water” (1). Biohacking is typically a way by which optimization happens.

Optimization instruments may be useful, notably in a sport received by more and more smaller margins. If you wish to run a private greatest, then listening to sleep and diet, with higher precision, is helpful. Additionally, changing into wholesome shouldn’t be a trivial concern. We get one physique for all times and may most likely steward it nicely.

However it might be value mentioning that — past quick seasons of high-performance focus — there are worries about letting optimization dictate how we stay our lives. As I see it, there are at the least three issues with ordering our lives on this means.

1. A Lovely Life and an Optimized Life Are Not the Identical Factor.

Like most runners, I put on a GPS watch. And, like most runners, I’m thrilled when the sunshine on my watch switches from “sustaining” to “productive.” It’s satisfying to make progress in an space of life about which I care a terrific deal — working.

However “productive” on the GPS watch solely issues my physique. It isn’t a measure of whether or not I’m productive in ways in which prolong past the game, and it doesn’t inform me whether or not I’m residing life.

Sarcastically, typically when my watch reads “unproductive,” I’m truly at my greatest as a complete human. It means I’m invested in my group or working lengthy hours on writing initiatives, which impedes my capability to finish my mileage. Different instances, “unproductive” means I used to be up late with my youngsters, so my physique can’t run quick. I’m not optimized, however my life is well-ordered.

Typically “unoptimized” means I’m being buddy. Once you care about your mates, you bear their burdens. So, your cortisol goes up. Excessive cortisol is a contraindication of well being and longevity, the place optimization is worried. However I’d quite spend my life caring about different individuals than maximize my longevity, no matter the associated fee.

I’m saying that maybe individuals like Gandhi or Mom Theresa had poor biomarkers as a result of their work was tense, however they lived exceedingly good lives. A ravishing life and an optimized life are usually not the identical factor.

2. Optimization Is a Controlling Stance.

In my first yr of graduate faculty, I lived upstairs in an aged girl’s home in New Haven, Connecticut. She was great. In these days, I used to be extra exact about my coaching, significantly extra exact than I’m now.

As an indication of affection, this girl typically cooked for me — fried meals, candy treats, and heavy meals. These had been non-optimal meals, the place coaching was involved. I may have met these items with ingratitude, unwilling to compromise a diet plan for the sake of coaching. Or, I may have accepted the hospitality of a beautiful host and put coaching diet the place it belonged — as having secondary significance to the individuals in my life.

That is the second concern with letting maximizing well being outcomes dictate the best way we stay our lives. It typically comes at the price of being current with different individuals.

Thinker David McPherson makes use of the excellence of assembly the world with a choosing-controlling stance, versus an accepting-appreciating stance. The primary approaches life with an agenda — to beat or enhance it. The second approaches life with gratitude and appreciation.

There’s a place for each stances in a full life, however, in line with McPherson, accepting-appreciating ought to be main and constrain how we attempt (2). If we depend protein items or are transfixed by maximizing restoration, this may impede our capability to understand the world. It could stop us from experiencing gratitude for reward.

Sabrina Little with her toddler

Sabrina Little with an unoptimized however well-ordered life.

3. You Can Biohack, however You Can’t Advantage-Hack.

Character issues. It issues in our friendships and our households. It issues within the work that we do. It additionally issues in sports activities. The virtues (resembling persistence) and vices (resembling envy) that represent our character impression our efficiency in coaching and races (3).

Perhaps we are able to biohack our metabolisms or invent little tips to recuperate extra rapidly. However a number of the greatest work we are able to do to enhance as athletes and as individuals is to develop in advantage — persistence, perseverance, integrity, and pleasure.

These are usually not fast fixes. Rising in character takes time and intentional effort, however it’s value it to assist us flourish individually and in our communities. If you’re enthusiastic about optimizing your physique, wait till you hear about changing into a extra wonderful occasion of your sort, as a human being (4).

Closing Ideas

Recently, discussions about biohacking and optimization have made me uneasy. Maybe it’s because, if my life is optimized for something proper now, it’s for toddlers.

Or possibly it’s because “optimization” is a teleological idea; it implies some finish, or purpose. It’s usually unclear to me when individuals communicate of optimizing whether or not they have a transparent imaginative and prescient of life in thoughts. We will tinker and biohack, however what are we optimizing for?

I don’t assume this fashion of framing well being will go away any time quickly, however I hope we are able to take into consideration our lives in grander phrases than the slender imaginative and prescient that optimization provides.

Name for Feedback

  • Have you ever ever discovered your self optimizing your life for working and lacking out on different essential facets?
  • Do you discover the countless knowledge we’ve got entry to as runners helpful to your total happiness, or detrimental?


  1. J. Hamblin. 13 March 2019. 7 Biohacks to Grasp earlier than Worrying about Different Biohacks. The Atlantic. Net <https://www.theatlantic.com/well being/archive/2019/03/top-biohacks/584584/> Accessed 4 Might 2024.
  2. David McPherson. (2021). The Virtues of Limits. Oxford College Press, pp. 5, 17, 21-22.
  3. See S. Little. (2024). The Examined Run. Oxford College Press.
  4. See E book I of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics.

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