Alex Hutchinson on the Limits of Human Endurance

Throughout history, humans have doubted their own abilities. For some reason, we love self-imposed limitations…

Mount Everest

Everest: the top of the world

In the 1940’s, running a mile under four minutes was considered by many scientists to be impossible.

Today, more than 1,400 men have run a mile faster than 4:00

Before 1978, summiting Mount Everest without supplemental oxygen was considered impossible.

Today, about 200 people have summited Everest without supplement oxygen…

As of today, a sub-2:00 marathon is a pipe dream.

But in the future? Who knows…

The pattern here is clear: we’re not very good at predicting the future limits of human endurance.

While the pace of new world records has certainly slowed over the decades, nobody really knows what the human species is truly capable of in the endurance arena.

And to me, that’s incredibly exciting.

It means the future is untold, unwritten, and unencumbered. And that as long as people have the desire to compete, we will continue to strive toward greatness.

And as we strive toward ever increasing levels of greatness, what are the factors that limit us? How might we overcome them?

That brings us to today’s podcast guest: award-winning science journalist Alex Hutchinson.

How to “override the brain’s protective circuitry”

Alex Hutchinson holds a PhD in Physics from Cambridge, a Master’s in Journalism from Columbia, and is a former national-class runner in Canada. He’s written for Runner’s World, Outside Magazine, The Globe & Mail, Popular Mechanics, and many other major media.

I’ve been pestering Alex to write another book after Which Comes First, Cardio or Weights? became one of my favorite exercise science myth-busters (if you haven’t picked it up yet, I highly recommend it).

And he finally delivered! His new book, Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance has quickly become my favorite running book from the last few years.

With a foreword by Malcolm Gladwell, you can’t go wrong:

Alex Hutchinson

Our conversation centers on the psychological limits of endurance:

  • intrinsic motivation
  • peer pressure
  • joy and running for “the right reasons”
  • how to access hidden reserves of energy
  • overriding the “central governor”

Alex’s book showed me the many factors that limit endurance – and practical methods for overcoming those limitations.

Often, it’s not your training that predicts your race performances, but what’s between your ears.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts or on the Stitcher platform.

Show Links & Resources:

A big thank you to Alex for coming on the show. This was a very interesting discussion for me and I hope you enjoy it, too.

If you enjoy the SR Podcast, your honest review on iTunes is much appreciated!

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