The Human Alley Cat traceur Mark Toorock
If you watched the 2006 James Bond flick Casino Royale, you saw the sport of parkour in the opening chase sequence. If you didn’t make it to the theater, just imagine a rubber ball bouncing through a city, off walls, trees, banisters, buildings, fire hydrants, and rocks. Replace the ball with a person, climbing over 10-foot walls in seconds, vaulting over cars, and leaping from roof to roof, Matrix-style—now you have the concept of parkour. Mark Toorock, one of the world’s best-known practitioners and the owner of what may be the world’s only dedicated parkour training gym, explains, “People who practice parkour see the law of gravity as more of a suggestion than a limitation.”
Called traceurs after the French word for “tracer fire” (a connection this writer is still trying to understand), Toorock and other top practitioners follow a unique training program that is one of the most comprehensive in all of sports. Parkour requires a finely honed combination of speed, strength, balance, endurance, agility, accuracy, coordination, and timing.
Initial training is heavy on conditioning and learning basic moves like the cat balance, pop vault, and cat jump; feline behaviors, minus the hair balls, figure prominently in this sport. To develop strength, endurance, and balance, Toorock has his advanced trainees do crawling pushups—lowering the chest to the ground from the all-fours position, then crawling forward one step—all the way around the block, about a quarter mile. Jumping off boxes helps traceurs develop techniques like the roll, which distributes the force of landing so that joints are protected from the shock of hitting the ground from an eight-foot leap. Trainees perfect balance and fortify core strength by standing on balance beams in a circle and throwing medicine balls at each other. Many of the most advanced traceurs also train in acrobatics.
The Ice Queen Endurance Swimmer Lynne Cox
Lynne Cox has always had an extraordinary ability to produce heat. So what does she do with this unique physiological gift? She swims in the coldest water she can find, wearing nothing but a swimsuit, goggles, and bathing cap. And we don’t mean cold like the winter dips taken by the crazies at the local Polar Bear Club. We’re talking cold cold like in the Arctic Circle, where Cox swam for 23 minutes—a little over a mile—in the Baffin Sea, dodging icebergs all the way. The water measured 28.8 degrees Fahrenheit, a temperature that would render most of us unconscious in less than 15 minutes. Cox attributes her unique abilities to three essential characteristics that enable her to maintain an unusually high core body temperature, even in the most frigid conditions. More than most people’s, Cox’s vasculature responds to the cold by limiting how much warm, core-temperature blood gets sent to the extremities, where it would cool more rapidly. Her large muscles enable her to exercise hard enough to produce more heat than she loses. And her even fat distribution acts as a thermal blanket.
Even so, Cox must train to avoid sharing Leonardo DiCaprio’s fate in Titanic. When she was growing up, she wore only lightweight clothing year-round and slept with the windows open in the winter. Later, she sprinted in her parents’ backyard pool when the water was about 50°F. Whereas most long-distance swimmers train for endurance, for her cold-water swims Cox must train for speed so she can get out of the water as quickly as possible. According to Cox, because so much heat is released through the head, she must swim with her head out of water. Doing so pushes her hips down and creates drag that must be compensated for by a powerful upper body. Cox’s strength training includes thrice-weekly yoga, Pilates, and free-weight workouts. To prepare for the sudden rush of adrenaline when she hits the frigid water, she takes Spin classes to condition herself to hyper heart rates.
The final step? “I treat my body like a thermos. Right before the swim, I drink four eight-ounce glasses of warm water,” Cox says.