After watching the 50-50-50 Ironman documentary, I was pulled back into Alex Hutchinson’s book, Endure. The book explores physical and mental endurance and how we are able to push through, go faster and dig deeper when we shouldn’t be able to. Like at the end of a race, no matter what, people usually have a little left to push it through the finish line.
If you’ve ever done a race on gone on a hike, you may have experienced your Central Governor. This mechanism in our brains limits how much physical activity we can do to prevent over working our heart muscle. It reduces recruitment of muscle fibers, giving us a sensation of fatigue in our muscles and most likely, slows us down or forces us to take a break. This may play into why we’re able to push a little harder towards the end - we know the finish is near so we can throw out our built in pacing.
For the longest time, we thought that the only limiting factor on endurance was what we could physically take. This view forgets about the mental aspect of endurance though. As it turns out, a mentally fatigued brain can effect how much we can physically endure. The fresher we are mentally, the more able we are to push physically.
Endurance is about much more than just what your heart or muscles can handle. There are a lot of physiological moving pieces that make this whole thing work. Understanding this, will help you find the edge, where you can push it hard but not too hard. When you’re gassed and you want to quit, remember, you still have a little bit more to push.