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 prior to anticipated. Per 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 occasions I’ve left an occasion feeling like I obtained probably the most out of myself on race day.

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

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

Sabrina Little living the good life

A wonderful life and an optimized life is probably not 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 at this time. You’ll be able to dwell with precision. You’ll be able to optimize biomarkers and observe sleep. You’ll be able to carry out exact quantities of coaching — no extra and a minimum of you possibly can take in. And you’ll eat (I imply, “gasoline”) exactly. You’ll be able to hit the precise variety of macronutrients you require, adjusted to your coaching. You’ll be able to optimize every little thing.

There are a number of associated developments. There’s 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 an extended life apart from disgrace that your physique displays the truth that it lived.

And there’s biohacking, which refers to a spread of modifications an individual could make to trick the physique to carry out at the next stage. One instance is chilly plunges. One other is hanging upside-down. A 3rd is ingesting “uncooked water” (1). Biohacking is typically a way by which optimization happens.

Optimization instruments could be useful, significantly in a sport gained by more and more smaller margins. If you wish to run a private finest, then being attentive to sleep and vitamin, with larger precision, is helpful. Additionally, changing into wholesome isn’t a trivial concern. We get one physique for all times and will most likely steward it properly.

However it could be value mentioning that — past quick seasons of high-performance focus — there are worries about letting optimization dictate how we dwell our lives. As I see it, there are not less than three issues with ordering our lives on this manner.

1. A Lovely Life and an Optimized Life Are Not the Similar 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 an ideal deal — working.

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

Mockingly, generally when my watch reads “unproductive,” I’m really at my finest as an entire human. It means I’m invested in my group or working lengthy hours on writing tasks, which impedes my capacity to finish my mileage. Different occasions, “unproductive” means I used to be up late with my children, so my physique can’t run quick. I’m not optimized, however my life is well-ordered.

Generally “unoptimized” means I’m being buddy. While 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 might relatively spend my life caring about different folks than maximize my longevity, no matter the price.

I’m saying that maybe folks like Gandhi or Mom Theresa had poor biomarkers as a result of their work was hectic, however they lived exceedingly good lives. A wonderful life and an optimized life will not be the identical factor.

2. Optimization Is a Controlling Stance.

In my first 12 months of graduate faculty, I lived upstairs in an aged lady’s home in New Haven, Connecticut. She was fantastic. 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 lady generally cooked for me — fried meals, candy treats, and heavy meals. These have been non-optimal meals, the place coaching was involved. I might have met these presents with ingratitude, unwilling to compromise a vitamin plan for the sake of coaching. Or, I might have accepted the hospitality of an exquisite host and put coaching vitamin the place it belonged — as having secondary significance to the folks in my life.

That is the second concern with letting maximizing well being outcomes dictate the way in which we dwell our lives. It generally comes at the price of being current with different folks.

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 accordance with McPherson, accepting-appreciating ought to be main and constrain how we attempt (2). If we rely protein items or are transfixed by maximizing restoration, this may impede our capacity to understand the world. It may possibly forestall us from experiencing gratitude for present.

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 (equivalent to persistence) and vices (equivalent to envy) that represent our character influence our efficiency in coaching and races (3).

Perhaps we will biohack our metabolisms or invent little methods to recuperate extra rapidly. However among the finest work we will do to enhance as athletes and as folks is to develop in advantage — persistence, perseverance, integrity, and pleasure.

These will not be 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 glorious occasion of your sort, as a human being (4).

Last Ideas

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

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

I don’t assume this manner of framing well being will go away any time quickly, however I hope we will 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 elements?
  • Do you discover the countless information now we have entry to as runners useful to your general 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 Could 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 Guide I of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics.

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