Are You The Endurance Type?: Review of Alex Hutchinson's Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiosity o
I am the endurance type so, naturally I am intrigued by the title of Alex Hutchinson’s new book Endure: Mind, Body and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance. And I can’t stop thinking about the book as I train for my next ultramarathon. How do I do it? What propels me forward? What takes me to the finish? Is it my mind, my brain, my body? Is it the pain I endure, how I use oxygen, or how I hydrate and fuel? How do endurance sports athletes, ordinary and elite, do it? Endure aims to shed light on this question and to explore the phenomenon that is human endurance.
If you’re not the endurance type, you might find Endure ambitious, exhausting, and hard to keep up with. But be patient. Along the way you will be fascinated and perhaps prodded to explore and engage in one of the many endurance sports Hutchinson showcases via the history of the endurance sport, a smorgasbord of scientific research, case studies, and astonishing feats of human endurance.
The endurance sports highlighted in Endure include adventure motorcycling, racewalking marathon running, ultrarunning, cycling, and freediving. The history and the scientific studies of
human endurance dating to as far back as the 1700s to the present are intriguing. While readers might become a bit overwhelmed with a dizzying array of in-depth scientific studies, Hutchinson does a fine job of using a conversational tone and storytelling to engage readers who might find the scientific jargon and findings mind-numbing and exhausting. But that’s OK! Mind-numbing exhaustion are not unfamiliar to endurance athletes who push their mind and body beyond their limit.
Endure is organized into three parts: Mind and Muscle; Limits; and Limit Breakers. These sections of the book are jam-packed with scientific research studies, conclusions, and concepts shaped by world renowned researchers and endurance athletes themselves including, but not limited to,Tim Noakes, who authored Lore of Running, Samuele Marcora, an exercise scientist, Michael Joyner, a leading expert in human endurance, and the Nike Sport Research Lab’s Breaking2 Project team. Hutchinson presents a vast body of comprehensive sport specific scientific studies in individual chapters devoted to the role of the brain, pain, muscle, oxygen, heat, thirst, fuel, food, and belief in endurance sports.
Hutchinson weaves past and present day endurance feats with scientific studies, the history of endurance sports physiology, and a variety of anecdotes to tell the story of human endurance. He turns to Marcora's definition of endurance - "the struggle to continue against a mounting desire to stop." Extraordinary accounts of human endurance will keep you turning the pages. Diane Van Deren, who underwent brain surgery to stop her epileptic seizures, became the first woman to finish the 430 mile Yukon Arctic Ultra. In addition to the brain, Hutchinson presents compelling accounts of the role of muscle, pain, heat, thirst, and belief in human endurance.
There is the heart-wrenching story of Max Gilpin, a high school football player who died from complications after enduring heat stroke during football practice. There is the incredible survival story of Pablo Valencia, who walked almost 150 miles in desert terrain without water, was found “stark naked and shrunken to a skeleton,” and was nursed back to health.
Photo courtesy of Alex Hutchinson
Alex Hutchinson is an elite runner, a trained physicist, and a sports science journalist. Endure might be a bit overwhelming to the uninitiated but the intriguing research and the inspirational anecdotes will resonate with readers, especially if they are elite or ordinary endurance athletes. But you don't have to be either to enjoy Endure. With an index and extensive notes, Endure is a well-researched scholarly book to be enjoyed by the science community, endurance athletes, a general audience, and curious readers.
Fatigued muscles, heat, thirst, pain, suffering, and my brain, in its diminished capacity (I have even hallucinated), especially during 100 mile and 24 hour ultra events are par for the course and still keep me going. Endure has got me thinking about my brain and body when I train and run in ways I had not considered.
Hutchinson warns, “This book is not a training manual.” If you are an endurance athlete, the book will resonate with your story of human endurance. Thinking about becoming an endurance athlete? Pace yourself and tackle Hutchinson’s Endure: Mind, Body and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance!
To read my interview with Alex Hutchinson, click here.