Book Review: The Pursuit of Endurance by Jennifer Pharr Davis

Jennifer Pharr Davis‘ latest book The Pursuit of Endurance: Harnessing the Record-Breaking Power of Strength and Resilience is an inside look into the world of the FKT (fastest known time) and the athletes who accomplish these incredible feats of endurance.  What personal challenges did they overcome in the effort to be the fastest and the best? Is endurance merely an athletic trait, or does it apply to humanity as a whole? Are women able to compete with the men in such endeavors?

This is the first time some of the personal stories of FKT athletes are told, and the very special thing about this book is that they are told through the heart of someone who has been there herself.  The hiking community is small, and for many years I’ve heard names like Scott Williamson, Heather Anderson, Scott Jurek, Jennifer Pharr Davis, Liz Thomas.  It makes sense that they all know each other. because their experiences create a bond only they can understand.  Jen writes about these friends after visiting them, sitting down with them, and hearing their personal accounts over dinner, while walking on trails, and even summiting peaks together.  Her own humility in wanting to learn opened doors for her to tell about events that might never have been brought to light if not for her own search as an endurance athlete.

Some of the names in this book are familiar from reading Jen’s previous books about her own journey on the AT, but this time you really feel like you get to know Warren Doyle and David Horton in a more personal way.  So many of the hikers who have managed to set FKTs on America’s long trails are men, and I found myself wishing more women could accomplish this too.  But then I had to stop and remind myself that a strong, powerful woman who set an FKT wrote this book.  By the time I got to the chapter about Heather Anderson, I was ready to stand up and cheer.  The really beautiful thing about all these stories, and about Jen being the one to write them, is that she is boldly saying that women do not need to be bound by gender when it comes to accomplishing physical pursuits that are typically dominated by men.  “Once I set the FKT, I was a stronger, more outspoken feminist.  I was finally at the point where I believed that my ability was of equal value, and it took feeling like an equal for me to realize that I wasn’t always being treated like one.  I had to walk more than ten thousand miles and set a record to dispel the gender bias I had accepted – the one that society, media, and the marketplace present, overtly and subconsciously, on a daily basis.”  In the end, endurance isn’t a gender issue.

It felt like the writing of this book was a search to find the thing that makes endurance athletes unique.  In the life of each person profiled there is some hardship they have to overcome, an inner drive that keeps them asking more and more of themselves.  There are character traits that are similar, dedication and grit.  But in the end, endurance is part of our humanity, the constant quest for inner strength.  Maybe you won’t be the one to set an FKT on a national trail, but perhaps there will be a personal mountain you will conquer.

As a hiker reading this book, I got the jolt of inspiration that I needed.  I want to wake up earlier, hit the trail harder, push myself to achieve more.  Working a desk job and being a cog in corporate life does so much to strip the soul of meaning.  While some in this book were able to leave careers and pursue a different life, many of us feel the weight of responsibility and are unable to leave at a moment’s notice.  And that’s ok too because we’re all on our own path.  But, we can still be inspired to live fuller, more passionate lives outside of the daily grind.

“Hiking is not escapism; it’s realism.  The people who choose to spend time outdoors are not running away from anything; we are returning to where we belong.”

 

Suggested Reading:

Becoming Odyssa: Adventures on the Appalachian Trail by Jennifer Pharr Davis

Called Again: A Story of Love and Triumph by Jennifer Pharr Davis

46 Days: Keeping Up With Jennifer Pharr Davis on the Appalachian Trail by Brew Davis

 

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