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Long Distance: A Year of Living Strenuously [Hardcover]

Bill McKibben
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

18 Jun 2001
This text documents Bill McKribbens year as an imposter of sorts in the demanding world of competitive skiing. In his late 30s McKribben decided to test his body. He decided upon cross-country skiing. He took a year out and trained full-time - with the help of a coach/guru - putting in hours and miles typical of an Olympic athlete. McKribben's year culminated in a series of long-distance cross-country races, where his body experienced rhythms and possibilities like never before. Changing his lifestyle and training full-time test not only your body but also your mind and spirit. Whilst training McKribbens father developed an illness that would eventually cause his death. This forced McKribben to futher explore his body and spirit and that of his father's.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Ltd (18 Jun 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684855976
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684855974
  • Product Dimensions: 22.4 x 14.9 x 1.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,740,302 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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Product Description


Jon Krakauer author of "Into Thin Air" Bill McKibben has written a wry, wise, thought-provoking book about what it takes -- and what it means -- to endure for the long haul. It's an extended meditation on athleticism, primarily, but it's also a wonderful paean to winter, and dying with dignity, and -- perhaps above all -- leading the examined life.

About the Author

BILL MCKIBBEN is a former staff writer for THE NEW YORKER whose work has also appeared in OUTSIDE, ROLLING STONE, THE NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS, IIARPER'S, THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY and many other publications.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
At the age of 37 Bill McKibben, a prominent US writer and environmental campaigner, was feeling that his life had become too sedentary and bookish. Although he was a fairly keen recreational cross-country skier, he felt he had never pushed his physical limits, never really tested his body. Out of his unease with that situation came the decision "to spend a year in real training, putting in nearly as many hours as an Olympic endurance athlete spends prepping his body." After that year he would spend a winter ski racing.

The book is the story of that time. It starts with his meeting on 1 January 1998 with Rob Sleamaker, author of the influential book "Serious Training for Endurance Athletes", who agreed to coach him. It concludes with his participation in the Norwegian Birkebeiner race fifteen months later.

In telling the story McKibben covers a lot of ground, mentally as well as physically, and the book serves as a good introduction to cross-country ski racing and to cross-country skiing in general.

He writes about setting goals. Asked by Sleamaker to write down his own goals, he finally came up with this: "I want to gain an intuitive sense of my body and how it works. And at least once I want to give a supreme and complete effort in a race."

He writes about endurance training. Sleamaker prescribed a tough programme of about 600 hours training over the 12 months. To begin with, most was low-intensity, long-duration work, designed to lay down a good aerobic base. McKibben would grow accustomed to long slow distance runs, up to three hours duration by the summer. But from the outset he also worked on strength and speed.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic Motivation 9 Oct 2011
This book is a great motivational tool, as well as being a well-written, thoughtful and at times moving book centring on the author's year long quest to train as an olympian. It will be of help to those either beginning endurance sports, or for those, such as myself, who are contemplating a more serious commitment. There is plenty of practical advice, real-life stories from athletes are also much self analysis in the face of a family trauma. I too am, in the words of the author, at the high water mark of youth (37) and I would recommend this book to anybody over thirty!
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Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  21 reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tear-jerker of a read 14 Jun 2005
By C. Redding - Published on Amazon.com
I guess they say real men don't cry, but this book really tests you. It's written from the first-person perspective about a guy's yearlong effort to get in shape through cross-country skiing, and also to enjoy his relationship with his father during the latter's long bout with terminal cancer.

Because I enjoy all kinds of outdoor activity (I cycle toured around Australia not too long ago!), I was initially attracted to the book by the sports angle. From that perspective, the book was great. Having down-hill skied since the age of 5 I'm not overly versed about the world of cross-country skiing, but the author delves into different kinds of techniques, skis, waxes, and other equipment, as well as the underlying physiology in a detailed way that shed some light on the sport that I never got riding the lifts. Additionally, I definitely enjoyed gaining greater insight into the subculture (Did you know that the major event in the sport is called the "Birkebeiner"?)

What I didn't expect at first was such an emotionally gripping book about family relations during serious illnesses. The author describes the gradual decline of his father's health, and the toll that takes on the whole family. There are some really nice passages where you recognize the moments that all of us enjoy with our families, but the not-so-fun moments are part of the reality portrayed, too. By the end, I was glad for having read this book, because it was a lot more than just a journal of a year spent skiing.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A powerful book that goes beyond endurance training 2 Jan 2001
By Charles Eddleston - Published on Amazon.com
As a skiing enthusiast, I found that Bill McKibben's Long Distance revealed the world of physical and mental training that i never fully grasped existed. Even with all his training it was amazing to see that so much rested squarely on genetics, to see that after his many hours of training he could only become so much. The mental aspect was a plus to the book, as a past ski racer it was nice to see someone put into words how it feels out on the course:
"Except that the minute a race is done, you start trying to make it all add up, turn the thousand things that happen even in a three hour ski race in to some kind of coherent storay with a morale at the end: 'I couldn't focus,' or 'I bonked,' or 'Everything came together.'" -Bill McKibben.
To sum it all up, Mr. McKibben has written up an endurance trainer's dream and how he copes with the mental and physical pressures are fascinating to read. I would recommend this book to anyone that is remotely interested in cross-country skiing or how the elite athletes train.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Journel of Strenght and Sorrow 6 Mar 2002
By Stephen F. Abney - Published on Amazon.com
This slim volume actually deals with 2 subjects: 1)endurance conditioning with its emotional, psychological and physical components 2) the demise of the author's father. The training portion with all its equipment and conditioning minutia is better suited to a magazine article. The reader gains an insight into the heroic efforts that world class endurance athletes must generate to be competitive. On one hand their fortitude and courage demand our admiration, on the other hand one may suspect a certain compusive obsessiveness that borders on the fanatical. Let the reader judge.
The more compelling portion of the book describes the months in which the author's much loved father engages the process of physical degeneration leading to death. This becomes a profound meditation on mortality and the spititual imnplications of life's last opportunity for self education. Moving and thoughtful, it is the soul of the book.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars More than just on ode to skiing 25 Dec 2001
By M. H. Bayliss - Published on Amazon.com
In turns, this account of his incredibly strenuous year is funny, heartbreaking, introspective and irreverent. I'm surprised how modest the author is about his ability to even perform some of the workouts -- a 3 hour and 55 minute run or ski! I'm an exercise fanatic myself, but I don't see any 4 hour workouts on my horizon. The chapters on the origin and development of cross country skiing are fascinating -- I used to hear about Koch and Caldwell when I taught at the Putney school. Our Olympic program hasn't really done much to produce skiiers since that time. You'll also gain a tremendous respect for the Norwegians, Swedes and Finns whose reverence for this grueling sport makes them the finest in the world. This book went well beyond just sports -- although his father's illness was introduced abruptly, it does serve as an anchor for much of hte second half of the book. His dignity to the end made it inspiring rather than depressing. My only small criticism is that since the book is so personal I would have liked to hear more from his wife and daughter's reactions to his training. He alludes to them, but it sounds like they lived on another planet for that year which I'm sure was not the case! Very rewarding and inspiring read, well written.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Superb Book that is both Thought-Provoking and Touching 3 Dec 2000
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
McKibben is one of those rare authors whose ideas touch both the heart and mind. There are really 2 subjects that McKibben writes about here--his experiment to train with the same intensity as an Olympic athlete, and the death of his father. Throughout this incredible book, McKibben questions his life, his motivation for conducting this fitness experiment, and his relationship with his father. There plenty of times when McKibben could have allowed this book to become a preachy, self-indulgent sermon on the emotional pain of watching his father die. Instead, McKibben keeps his story personal and in so doing, the lessons he learns become more meaningful. Just a warning though--this is a big time tear-jerker at places.
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