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Inside the limits of human endurance

What the mind believes, the body achieves

The final few kilometers of a triathlon. Two athletes are neck in next in the battle to break the finish line tape. Over the last 1,000 meters one pulls away and sets a pace the other can’t meet.

What caused one athlete to falter while the other surged? Could the second place athlete have pushed harder? Did his body give out or did his mind give up? What limits our capacity to endure?

Unlike most race day analysis, it is the second best that goes under the microscope in Alex Hutchinson’s book Endure: Mind, Body and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance.

Are physical limits set by our body or our brain? It’s a complex topic, and Hutchinson writes “The brain’s role in endurance is, perhaps, the single most controversial topic in sports science.”

Blending cutting-edge science and vivid storytelling, Enduredocuments paradigm-altering research over the past decade that reveals seemingly physical barriers are set as much by your brain as by your body.

He suggests that the mind is the new frontier of endurance—and the horizons of performance are much more elastic than we once thought.

One of my favorite books in a long time, Endure is a worthwhile read for any athlete that has ever wondered if they could push themselves just a little bit more – or imagined where the limits of their endurance might lie. It will inform, entertain and perhaps inspire you to examine what you’re capable of, and what “capable of” even means.

Mastering your inner dialogue can have a significant impact on your perceived effort and make every task easier. What the mind believes, the body achieves.


An award winning science journalist, Alex Hutchinson is the author of Endure: Mind, Body and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance and writes the “Sweat Science” column for Outsideand Runner’s World.

A Cambridge trained physicist, endurance is a topic this Canadian author has studied in depth and experienced up close and personal as a former long distance runner for the Canadian national team.

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