Endure: Mind Body and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance with Alex Hutchinson

Alex Hutchinson – What It Means To Endure

What exactly is endurance? Is it physical or mental? Or both? How do we increase our endurance effectively? Are there shortcuts and do they truly work?

Photo Credit: Florence Tsui

A former Canadian national-team distance runner, Alex Hutchinson is a National Magazine Award-winning journalist whose work appears in Outside, The Globe and Mail, The New York Times, The New Yorker, and other publications. His recent book, Endure, goes into great depth and page-turning  reading about the brain, the body, and the mind-boggling limits that humans can endure.

Alex covered Nike’s Breaking 2 project in 2017 where elite marathoner Eliud Kipchoge attempted a sub-2 hour marathon, albeit in fabricated and controlled conditions. Kipchoge came up just short, but in so doing, showed us how close the human body actually is to breaking this wall.

In this episode, Alex shares the science and the mysteries of endurance, a subject near and dear to all runners. From short sprints to ultra-marathons, endurance plays a crucial role and today we find out what it is and how to extend it. 

Questions Alex is asked:

3:01 First Four:

  1. How old are you?
  2. Where were you born?
  3. Where do you live now?
  4. What is your favorite race distance? 

4:16 What is your background as a runner, a scientist, and a journalist?

8:04 Was there a tipping point that moved you into studying and writing about endurance?

10:15 How did your being ‘stuck’ in the 1500, and then breaking through, influence you?

14:04 Had you trained the same all along?

15:24 How do you define ‘Endurance’?

16:43 Several years ago, you predicted that the sub-2 hour marathon would fall in 2075. How did you come up with that prediction and what are your thoughts now?

19:52 What is it besides math and science and research that comes into play?

22:05 How does the brain interpret pain?

26:10 How can we train our brain to increase endurance?

33:14 How do elite athletes use perception of effort to their advantage?

35:19 How can we manipulate our perception of effort?

37:11 How are our brains’ defense mechanisms inaccurate?

39:20 How can substances that are taken with the intention of enhancing performance actually detract from performance?

43:08 Is pushing performance limits on our own less safe than in a controlled environment like a research lab?

46:25 What about thirst and dehydration and hyponatremia? 

52:45 Can you summarize the last three chapters of your book: Training The Brain, Zapping The Brain, and Belief?

1:00:20 Final Kick Round:

  1. What is your favorite local training run or outing (location, starting point, parking, distance, terrain and safety issues)?
  2. Favorite book(s), video or resource? 
  3. Who or what would you like to have featured on the Run To The Top podcast?

Quotes by Alex:

“In covering the ‘Breaking 2’ project, I met Kipchoge for the first time six months before the race and he had just run a half-marathon in just under an hour. I asked him, ‘What are the changes you’re going to make in your training that will allow you to go twice as far at the same pace?’. And his answer was, ‘My training will be the same, but my mind will be different.”

“When the fuel gauge says ‘Empty’, the car is out of gas. But, humans aren’t quite like that, or at least, our fuel gauge is much less reliable and we often tend to get the sign that the radiator’s overheating or the fuel is empty at a point when it’s not actually, it’s just getting close.”

“There’s the illusion that you can know everything about yourself by measuring it with wearable technology. When you stack up training monitoring with a bunch of wearable technology vs. at the end of each run saying, ‘ How hard was that on a scale of 1-10?’, what you find is the supercomputer between your ears is a much more effective integrator of all the mental stress, the physical stress, the psychological stress that tells you how hard you’re working.”

“It’s not just about what’s going on in the body; it’s about what your brain thinks is going on in the body.”

“Understand that we all have amazing capacity for self-delusion. Our personal experiences are definitely shaped by our expectations. So always be skeptical of your impressions, but ultimately there’s no better guide; you have to figure out what works for you.”

“The message I hope people come away from the book with is not. ‘I should go buy this pill or invest in this brain stimulation device.’, but that, ‘How much I am able to push myself?’ and ‘The limits of my endurance are fundamentally a function of what’s going on in my brain’ and they respond to, ‘What I believe is what I’m capable of’.

Take a Listen on Your Next Run


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Mentioned in this podcast: 

Run To The Top Winners Circle Facebook Community

RunnersConnect Facebook page

HempDaddy’s Homepage

Bear Mattress

Book: Endure by Alex Hutchinson

Alex’s Homepage

Eliud Kipchoge – Breaking 2 2017

Eliud Kipchoge – Breaking 2, Take 2

The Humber River Running Trail

Book: Good To Go by Christie Aschwanden

Brad Stulberg – Outside Magazine

Steve Magness

Book: Peak Performance by Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness

Book: The Passion Paradox by Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness


Follow Alex on:




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