Friday, October 18, 2019

Spartan Up! A Take No-Prisoners Guide to Overcoming Obstacles and Achieving Peak Performance in Life (2014) by Joe De Sena, Book Review

Spartan Up! A Take No-Prisoners Guide to Overcoming Obstacles and Achieving Peak Performance in Life (2014) by Joe De Sena with Jeff O' Connell

"Healthy foods, healthy attitude, healthy relationships, healthy mind, and healthy body together define a complete Spartan lifestyle – the Spartan code in action," writes Joe De Sena, a co-founder of the Spartan Race. I'm pumped up when I read this book. I started to be aware of the food that I eat (avoid carbonated drinks and fast foods at all costs, except for pork burgers with lots of mayonnaise). I either hike to the hills/mountains or hit the gym or just walk for miles daily because I said to myself, "That's what a Spartan does." Life is a movement. A body in motion tends to stay in motion. My dream body is not bulky, but muscularly-lean. As Joe says, "Spartans need muscular endurance more than they need huge muscles." I believe in the spirit-mind-body connection. Spiritual fitness is essential. Fit mind without a fit body, die early. Fit body without a fit mind, stupid. Fit mind in a fit body is living a fuller life. Spartan up!

Not everyone can do what Joe De Sena does. He is a legend in endurance and adventure racing circles. In only 1 week he completed the 135-mile Badwater ultramarathon, raced the 140.6 miles of the Lake Placid Ironman, and finished a 100-mile trail run in Vermont! I'll be dead. It fits because his mantra is: "Give me the hardest thing you got." You and I don't have to do what he does. Joe (read about why he did it in the book) might be a bit of extreme, but what he tries to shows and write in this book is that IT IS POSSIBLE. "We are all destined for the grave," Joe writes as a matter-of-fact, "but what a tragedy to arrive there without any scars, without any mark to show that we tried to do something amazing." I translate that as – push yourself to the limit or at least make much of your life. Two more chapters before I finished reading this book, I watched the movie 300 (2006) again for the fourth time. Dilios says about the King of Spartan, Leonidas, "For he did not wish tribute, nor song, nor monuments, nor poems of war and valor. His wish was simple, ‘Remember us. Remember why we died.'" Do something amazing. Spartan up!

There are 5 Key Lessons that I learned from this book:

#1 Toughen Your Will (or Push Yourself Out of Comfort Zone). Where there's a will, there's a way. A cliché but true. Old runner proverb puts it this way: "You run the first half with your legs, the second half with your mind." When you wish to watch Netflix or YouTube all day long, it takes a tough will to go out of the room and exercise instead. When you desire to eat fast food because, well, it's fast to prepare, it takes a tough will to choose a healthier meal. When laziness strikes you hard and the bed or chair is warm and comfortable, it requires a tough will to get up and put on your running shoes. "It sounds hard," writes Joe in the chapter Confronting the Greatest Obstacle: Your Will, "but I think everybody needs to suffer a little." Toughen your will and you'll build "obstacle immunity."

#2 Change Your Mindset (or Change Your Frame of Reference). "The hardest part of all of us is convincing our minds what our bodies are capable of." I witness this a lot: many trains the body but forget to train the mind. To win every battle, one must first win on the battlefield of the mind. This means mastering your emotions, decide what's important beforehand (Joe have this "the upside" priorities, read it), and focus by resisting distractions and temptations, especially avoiding the short-term satisfaction temptations (the cookies or marshmallows test). Setting your mind to, "It is possible, I can do it!" and do it is what separates the Spartans and the ordinaries.

#3 Exercise Regularly (or Be Physically Active). "Exercise is the best defense you have against anxiety, stress, depression and a whole host of other diseases." I might not agree that every disease is related to the lack of exercise, but as Joe says, "When it comes to exercise, the rich grow richer." Yes! Exercise is as much a mindset as it is a motion. Often, when I went to the gym that is in the 3rd-floor building, most people rather use lift than stairs. I thought, "Are you coming here to exercise?" It is good to keep in mind that to exercise is to be physically active. It means taking every opportunity to move your muscles. Also, do as much outdoor exercise as possible. Hiking, walking, running, swimming, etc. You'll breathe fresh air and a lot more challenging than predicable gym equipment.

#4 Eat Healthy (or Change Your Diet). Honest to say, most healthy food is expensive. I eat oat a lot but rice is much cheaper. Fresh fruits can be costly too. I don't drink nutritional dairy products such as milk and protein shake because I have lactose intolerant. And one other factor: it's expensive. But there are less expensive ways to eat healthily such as drink enough water, avoid fast foods, be intentional with sugary items intake ("You want to get a runner's high, not a sugar high"), choose vegetables and don't do emotional eating! I like Joe's advice: "Eating clean today is for tomorrow. Clean food helps you recover from hard work and high stress alike… lead the charge in crushing obesity."

#5 Welcome Pain (and even Failure). This requires grit. Grit refers to "an indefatigable will to overcome obstacles… Grit emerges out of the force of will that manifests action. Grit is execution. Grit gets shit done." Most people – including me – when encountered with pain, we tend to quit. The pain of not reaching goals, that's why we don't set goals anymore. The pain of a tired body, that's why watching TV on the couch is more desirable. The pain of criticism, naysayers, and lavish-caring can stop us before we even try. But if you embrace the lifestyle of Spartan (which I'm convinced that I should. Thanks Joe!), you don't see the pain the same way again. It will not be a stopper but a pusher. Joe encourages us: "Being a Spartan is about giving your best effort, proving your doubters wrong, and getting it done when other people are sitting at home watching TV."

As I'm writing this, 18th October 2019, Spartan Race will be held tomorrow, 19th – 20th October 2019, at Semenggok, Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia. Kuching is my birthplace. One of the ‘marketing' strategy that Joe De Sena does in this book is to encourage the reader to sign up for the Spartan Race all over the world. At first, I'm a bit irritated by the ‘marketing' bombarded messages throughout the book. But after I finished reading it, it all makes sense for two reasons: 1) The Spartan Race is one of the ways for me to test my commitment to the Spartan lifestyle. It's easy to make a decision, but it's another way to commit to it… Do I have what it takes? and 2) Be honest, if I sign up for the Race, it good for Joe's business. I'm not going to sign up, though. Not yet. I know about the Race only recently. I will sign up for next year! Meanwhile, I will train myself hard, Spartan up!



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