Psychology of Peak Performance, Continued

Tips from the World's Great Endurance Athletes

Posted Jun 02, 2017

A couple of weeks ago, I posted some links for those who are interested in optimal human performance.  These stories are devoted not just to gaining coping skills or making tweaks here and there to our mental outlook, but to pushing the boundaries of human capability.  There is a natural feedback loop between the thoughts that we hold in our minds and the behavior that we express in the world.  The same set of circumstances can give rise to very different outcomes, depending on the mindset of the individual person.  Endurance athletes take mental preparation very seriously, and even those of us who are just everyday people can benefit from their advice.  

Deposit Photos
Source: Deposit Photos

Dean Karnazes, Ultra Marathon Man

Brad Beer of The Physical Performance Show interviews living legend Dean Karnazes, who has defied the odds through many feats of endurance.  He has run 350 miles continuously over three days without sleep.  He has run marathons on all seven continents, including Antarctica (without snowshoes). He ran fifty marathons in fifty U.S. states on fifty consecutive days.  He won the Badwater Ultramarathon, over 135 miles in Death Valley at 120 degrees Fahrenheit.  The list goes on and on. 

Most important for this interview, Karnazes recounts his experiences on the Road to Sparta, the title of his new book, referring to the endurance run from Athens to Sparta, a recreation of the ancient route taken by Pheidippides in 490 BCE to rescue Athenian democracy.  Karnazes recounts how ultra running led him away from a dissatisfying corporate job, how he uses little "mantras" to keep himself motivated ("death before DNF" or did not finish), and how he fuels himself and trains.  Perhaps the most amazing thing about Karnazes is that he has never had an overuse injury: There is something to be learned here both psychologically and physiologically.  

Another interesting thing about Karnazes is that his running career led him to explore his Greek roots and even study ancient Greek language, culture, and history.  He has recovered the ancient Greek wisdom of arete or virtue, which is a blend of moral and physical excellence.  Philosophers often neglect the physical component of Greek virtue, and it is good to see someone coming from outside of philosophy correct the record.  

Vegan Runner who Beat Pacific Crest Trail Record

The interview with Karnazes reminded me of vegan hiker and runner, Josh Garrett, who, in 2013, became the first person to complete the 2,654 mile long Pacific Crest Trail in under 60 days.  The record has since been beaten twice, but Garrett showed that the under 60 day pace could be achieved.  Garrett undertook the trip as a fundraiser for the group, Mercy for Animals, and ate lots of vegan snacks along the way.  The trip combined love for animals with love of nature and an indomitable will.  

Two Books about Mental Preparation

My sister, Melanie, and I have been corresponding over text and reading books about endurance athletics and the psychological aspects of preparation.  Right now we are reading The Champion Mindset: An Athlete's Guide to Mental Toughness, by World Champion triathlete and Olympian Joanna Zeiger. The book gives a realistic guide to breaking down goals into achievable action steps and how to balance training with everyday life.  Steps are given for improving self-confidence and mind-body integration that can benefit anyone.  

The next book on our list is The Brave Athlete: Calm the F*ck Down and Rise to the Occasion, by professional athlete Lesley Paterson and sports psychologist Simon Marshal.  I have just gotten started on this one, but it's about defeating self-sabotaging thoughts that prevent us from achieving our goals.  It seems to me that this tendency to think only of gloom and doom produces bad results not only in sports, but in all aspects of life.  

So that's another peak performance roundup, and I hope that you will find it valuable.  Again, I don't think you have to be an elite athlete to be able to benefit from the advice that these experts give.  All of us have to learn to optimize our thinking patterns so that our behaviors will match more closely with our goals in life. We regular people can learn a lot from the lessons of professional endurance athletes.