Something that I do a lot of, but don’t talk enough about, is reading about endurance athletes. I spend a good amount of my reading energy (and my money) on absorbing as much written information I can from the memoirs, biographies, instruction manuals, and general musings of professional athletes. I find it incredibly motivating and ridiculously intriguing—especially those athletes that started out just like any of us: with a desk job and a keen interest in living their life to the fullest.
There are a lot of books I’ve read—primarily about running, but most recently I decided to check out the world of Ironman, via world champion Chrissie Wellington’s memoir, A Life Without Limits. Chrissie was a bright, athletic, and driven girl who didn’t even consider being a professional athlete until her mid-20s. A year later, she was being crowned Queen of Kona at the Ironman World Championships—a feat she admits she would never have imagined possible.
If you’re curious, here’s my review of her book—both in the two-sentence variety and the extended version. Please note that informality is my speciality, and I tend to find enjoyment out of most everything I read. You can read more “professional” reviews on Amazon, or just use your friendly neighborhood Google.
A Life Without Limits is a powerful exhibition on the capabilities of both the human body and the human spirit. For someone so decorated with accomplishment and praise, Chrissie is relatable, hilarious, humble, and genuinely inspiring in her exploration of the limitless potential that comes with hard work and determination.
This book is very much about Chrissie’s journey toward becoming a professional triathlete—not just her accomplishments themselves. She certainly spends a good amount of time detailing her training, racing, and career, however it’s not without a good description of her life pre-Ironman.
Not to downplay her early years, but in many ways, Chrissie was really just an average girl for the first part of her life. She went to school, felt like an outsider, struggled to find her passion, and went through a lot of the same trials we all go through. She spends a good amount of time talking about her experiences with bulimia and eating issues, and I thought it was refreshing to read about how even for the world’s greatest athletes—body image can still very much be an issue. It seemed that her issues started to go away once she found herself as a triathlete, but it just goes to show that none of us are immune to it—and I thought it was an important point for her to highlight.
Some of the early chapters detail Chrissie worldy adventures. She spent her first years post-grad as quite the world traveler and humanitarian. She spent a while working for the UK government—which fed her desire to aid in global development and to help others. She also spent time in Nepal, New Zealand, and South Africa.
I thought the additions of these details were important in showing Chrissie’s evolution as a person, and it also gave her a much more well-rounded presentation. I think it’s a little too easy to write off professional athletes as a little self-centered, as they focus so much of their energy on their own personal successes. Chrissie is quite the opposite, and I enjoyed reading about this whole other humanitarian side of her.
However, the reason I picked up the book was to read about swimming, biking, and running. Which there is plenty of. In fact, admittedly I found myself wishing there were a little less about her pre-Ironman life.
Chrissie’s transformation from a sporty, “average” chick into a world-class athlete seems to happen a bit overnight. She goes from performing well in a few pick-up triathlons, to turning pro and living at training camp fairly quickly. I loved the depictions she gives of her first coach, Brett, who made seemingly the biggest impression on her out of anyone else coaching wise.
You get a really good sense of not just the physical training she went through (a LOT) but also the mental training. Chrissie struggled with a lot of self-doubt in the beginning, and once again I really liked reading about this much more human side of someone who is seemingly so superhuman.
My favorite parts of this book were each of her Ironman race descriptions, particularly her world championship wins (Kona) and her unofficial world record ironman at Roth in Germany. I think the most intriguing part of this mother-of-all-races for us mortals are the specifics of each discipline. I always wonder, “What is it really like to swim with hundreds of other people around you?” and, “What is running a marathon after 112 miles of biking really like?”
Chrissie does a great job at addressing these types of inquiries. Her accounts of each race are remarkably detailed, and it’s clear that she’s been able to take lessons from each of them. She performs multiple times with lingering injuries or illness, and it’s incredible to read about how she not only triumphs over her competitors—but also over her own personal predicaments.
Chrissie’s athleticism is undeniable, which I found was most obvious in just how easy she makes an Ironman sound. Sure, she describes the tough parts and how much of a mental game it is, but with each win and each new PR, it becomes obvious that some—like Chrissie—are built for the sport.
She trains incredibly hard, some would argue too hard (how about biking the same day you break your arm?), but my impression is that Chrissie has a lot of natural talent to back her up. There are people who can do an Ironman, an incredible accomplishment in and of itself, and then there are people that win these monster races. Chrissie’s expedited road to the top shows that when untapped potential meets a concentrated discipline, incredible things can happen.
However, while Chrissie may be exceptional and “made for triathlon,” this doesn’t mean her book is any less inspiring or that she didn’t work hard for her accomplishments. Heck, by the end of the book I was Googling Kona-qualifying Ironman races and plotting my own triumphant entrance into the tri-world. Do you think I should start by finally buying that road bike?
The point is—Chrissie allowed me to dream, to think beyond the limits I’ve set for myself, and I think this is the goal of her book. When a reader can transcend into the mind and lifestyle of a world champion athlete, there becomes a moment when we recognize our own potential—and maybe, just maybe, we decide to dig a little deeper. This is why I love books about the best of the best—and this is why I loved Chrissie’s book.
One final thought: my most favorite thing about A Life Without Limits was Chrissie’s endless search for “the perfect race;” a race that in preparation, execution, and finale goes exactly as planned. This is something I can absolutely relate to—as I’m constantly choreographing the details of my own “perfect race.” This made her so relateable to me—and I loved that as an amateur recreational runner, I was able to make a direct comparison to a world champion. Because that’s the thing about sports—no matter our level or title, we’re all after the same end goal: to do the very best that we are capable of. Chrissie is constantly on a mission, both athletically and in her life, to reach these capabilities—and in doing so, she manages to break through the glass ceiling of limitations over and over.
I recommend this book to anyone interested in endurance sports, running, triathlon, Ironman, or general athletic accomplishment. Chrissie’s combination of self-deprecation and detailed narrative really draws you in, and I’m willing to bet you’ll be waving your “Team Chrissie” flag before you’re halfway through. I could hear her voice throughout this whole book—charming British accent and all—and that level of authorial intrigue speaks highly of her passion and likeability.
Have you read A Life Without Limits? What did you think?
*Disclaimer: I’m a terrible English major and read most of my books on my e-reader. Therefore, my sharing ability is very limited, so when you ask to borrow something and I say no—well, you know why.