Alex Hutchinson Endure Podcast

Exploring The Elastic Limits Of Human Performance With Alex Hutchinson

Share This Article


About This Episode:

In this week’s episode, we take a deep dive into award-winning journalist Alex Hutchinson’s latest book, Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance, and talk about how athletes can apply some of the book’s findings to their own training.

Guest Bio – Alex Hutchinson:

Alex Hutchinson (@sweatscience) is a runner and author who covers the science of endurance for Outside magazine’s Sweat Science column. His latest book is the New York Times bestseller Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance. Before becoming a journalist, worked as a postdoctoral physicist with the U.S. National Security Agency, and competed for the Canadian national team in track, cross-country, and mountain running. He lives in Toronto.

Read More About Alex Hutchinson:

www.alexhutchinson.net

https://twitter.com/sweatscience

Book Link – Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance

Episode Highlights:

  • The role of the mind on the limits of human performance
  • How to use edge finding workouts in training
  • Motivational self talk
  • The future of endurance performance

Listen to the episode on Apple PodcastsSpotifyStitcherGoogle Podcasts, or on your favorite podcast platform.


Thanks To This Week’s Sponsors:

This episode of the TrainRight Podcast is brought to you by Stages Cycling, the industry leader in accurate, reliable and proven power meters and training devices.

Stages Cycling offers the widest range of power meter makes and models to fit any bike, any drivetrain and any rider, all manufactured in their Boulder, Colorado facility. They’ve expanded their offerings to include the Stages Dash line of innovative and intuitive GPS cycling computers covering a full range of training and workout-specific features to make your workouts go as smooth as possible.

And for 2020 Stages is applying its decade of indoor cycling studio expertise to the new StagesBike smart trainer. Check out their latest at www.stagescycling.com and use the coupon code CTS20OFF all caps at checkout for 20% off.


 

Episode Transcription:

Adam Pulford:

Welcome to The TrainRight Podcast. Today, we have distinguished author, runner and speaker Alex Hutchinson joining us for the episode. Welcome to the show, Alex.

Alex Hutchinson:

Thanks a lot, Adam. It’s great to have the chance to be here.

Adam Pulford:

Thank you for taking the time to join us. Before we get into exploring the Curiously Limits of Human Performance, that catchy subtitle on your latest book, could you please tell the audience a bit more about yourself?

Alex Hutchinson:

Sure. I guess I would describe myself currently as a, depending on how specific I want to be, as a journalist or as a science journalist or as a sports science journalist or as an endurance sports science journalist, which is, that gets pretty niche-y but that’s pretty much what I spend most of my time doing these days, is writing about the science of running, cycling, triathlon, cross country skiing, any sort of endurance sport.

Alex Hutchinson:

I do it for Outside Magazine. I have an online column there called Sweat Science and I write for other publications, too. I have, you mentioned, a book that came out last year called Endure. So it’s, for the last, I would say 10… more than that, 10, 12 years, I’ve been writing about the science of endurance, looking at the research that people are doing and trying to understand it and translate it to people who are trying to push their limits as athletes.

Alex Hutchinson:

My background is, well I am and was a runner. I was a competitive runner. I ran for the Canadian National Team for a while at a sort of national level. I didn’t make the Olympics or anything like that. I was a miler, like 1500 meter runner but ran cross country and a little bit of longer stuff and some mountain running. I studied, actually my background is in physics. I’ve studied physics in university and worked as a physicist in my 20s until I saw the light and decided that was not as interesting as the science of endurance. So I became a journalist in my late 20s and gradually sort of gravitated to that niche. I’m talking to you from Toronto and that’s where I’m from and I moved back there probably four or five years ago after living in a bunch of places around the world.

Adam Pulford:

Got you. From what we just heard there and also from what I have read about you, I mean, you’ve had a lifelong pursuit of trying to push the limit of human performance and I think that has kind of led you to be where you are now in the position that you are both as an athlete and a writer/niche of all the things that you just mentioned. That’s exactly what we want to talk about on today’s episode is, and the concepts from your book Endure.

Adam Pulford:

For those listening, if you haven’t read the book yet, I do highly suggest picking up a copy and reading the entire thing. Then I would come back and actually listen to this podcast again because what we want to do is we want to take the concepts of that book and even go slightly beyond that. I may even entitle the episode Endure Beyond, if you’re okay with that, Alex?

Alex Hutchinson:

Absolutely, as long as we’re not taking away the sequel of the book here.

Adam Pulford:

That could be a good title. Feel free to use that for the next title, if you want.

Alex Hutchinson:

I like it. Beyond Endure: The Hidden Secrets or The Actual Practical Applications. Yeah, it’s a good topic.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. I think we’re on to something. Really, I want to recap the book, but as I said, there’s so many good things in there. It’s not going to be a spoiler alert. But in the book, kind of recap, you described at great length the high level of physical training that needs to happen before performance occurs but from there the mind is the new frontier of that progression. Based on your experience as an athlete and now writer, researcher, at what point would you describe that point in which the athlete is working more on the mind than the body or can you even distinguish that point?

Alex Hutchinson:

Yeah. I mean, it’s the angels on the head of the pin question. In some ways, it’s like how do you put your finger on that? So, one thing I would say is, I would answer that with an analogy to sort of when we think about energy systems and you think about aerobic energy systems and anaerobic energy systems. The sort of the simplest way we think about it is when you’re jogging, you’re using aerobic energy and then at a certain point, as you pick up the pace, you cross over and you’re using anaerobic energy, and you’ve crossed over that threshold, then it’s A or B. Of course, we know in reality it’s not A or B, it’s A and B all the time. You’re always using a mix and you’re changing the mix of anaerobic and aerobic energy.

Alex Hutchinson:

Mind and body, it’s never all physical and it is never all mental. I think often the way we think about it is that, and I think… When I talk about the role of the mind, I try to be really careful to emphasize that, don’t worry about that stuff. Like if you’re not training, don’t try and do Jedi mind tricks to become a great marathoner or a great cyclist, like do the training and then start worrying about the details. But even that I would say is maybe… I guess the thing that pops to mind here is you don’t just do body and then start the mind. They’re always working together.

Alex Hutchinson:

For example, if you take someone who is sedentary and let’s say they sign up and do a Couch to 5K program, and so they’re doing their first runs, it’s obvious to us that they’re changing their body, that they’re taking this sedentary body and their heart is getting stronger and they’re maybe losing some weight and their muscles are getting stronger, yada, yada, yada.

Alex Hutchinson:

I think one of the realizations that sort of came to me over time in the… I guess maybe it’s obvious to other people, but it wasn’t obvious to me is that even at that level, the sort of very beginning of physical training, part of the process is mental and a lot what people learn in a Couch to 5K program, and in some ways maybe even one of the most important things, is they start that road of learning how to suffer, of how to push themselves, of how to endure discomfort.

Alex Hutchinson:

So in that ways, in that sense, they are working on their minds right from the start and they’re not going into some sort of brain machine and working on in their minds or whatever. And they’re not necessarily doing meditation or whatever. They’re working on their minds by training. I think it’s a really, really important part of it that is maybe underappreciated how even at the very beginning, you’re working on your mind.

Alex Hutchinson:

Now for a mature athlete, let’s say someone who’s been training for five years or 10 years or whatever the case may be, it may be 20 years, the low hanging fruit of “Am I going to improve my VO2 max?” That mature athlete, you’re scrabbling for smaller and smaller gains and that’s maybe where you could say, “Well, the next breakthrough maybe is going to come when you get your mind working at full tilt or whatever.” But I think everyone at all levels is always working on both.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. Well, I completely agree with you. I, as kind of developing some of the content to this questions to be honest, it’s, you kind of know… As a coach, my background in coaching, you kind of know that. I think that it comes down to an individual level when I’m working with athletes. It’s like you have two athletes and this person that’s so in their head they need to just focus on going hard and suffering in the body. But this person, the other person may be so focused and so good kind of on the physical realm that they then need that next level aspect of training the mind and the mental aspects of competition and flow of some kind.

Adam Pulford:

I know flow is kind of a big topic and you write about it in your book and there’s other great stuff out there. But I would say if we… Kind of a two-fold question. At what point would you say an athlete, “Okay. Physically, pretty good. Okay. And now I’m going to work on the mental aspect,” those mental aspects, where would you steer someone toward in terms of what would be a good mental training exercise to work on for an endurance athlete that has the physical part and what is that physical part?

Alex Hutchinson:

Yeah, that’s a good question. I will say, you titled this episode Beyond Endure, and it’s one of the things in the book I spent a ton of time trying to sort of establish, as much to myself as to anyone else, that this stuff is real, that what’s going on in your head really does matter, it has a measurable effect on performance.

Alex Hutchinson:

So then the obvious question is, “Okay, so what should we do about it?” You get to the end of the book and it’s kind of like, there’s some ideas, but it’s… Establishing that it’s a problem is not the same as figuring out how to solve the problem. So to me, that’s still a really open question. Now, having said that, if I had to give one piece of advice right now that I took away from the research to the book and I try… Sorry to meander here. I tried a whole bunch of different things. I tried computer-based brain training and I tried electric brain stimulation and I tried a lot of different approaches to try and improve my… I wrote about and tried a bunch of different approaches. The one that I think has the best combination of it works and there’s good science to back it up and it sort of brings together experience and research is motivational self-talk, which is an old idea in sports psychology, right? Like it’s been around for decades.

Alex Hutchinson:

But to me, there’s a lot of intuitively good ideas in sports psychology, but not necessarily all of them have been really explored to try and figure out, does this just sound good or does it actually work repeatably in different people? So motivational self-talk, there’ve been some good studies.

Alex Hutchinson:

What I’m talking about here is in essence, it’s becoming aware of your internal monologue. It’s listening to the voice in your head when you’re in the middle of a race or a training run or a training ride. Identifying the statements that are problematic, identifying when you’re in a race and saying, “There’s no way I can keep up with this guy. This is where I always blow up.” Because those really are self-fulfilling prophecies in a way that goes beyond just cliches that really, it does…

Alex Hutchinson:

I don’t think we can sort of go all the way down the rabbit hole here, but in a very real way, I would say if you ask me what defines the limits of endurance, it’s your perception of effort, that’s how hard you think that effort is. And if you are telling yourself that you can’t do it, then you’re basically telling yourself that the effort is greater than you’re willing to put up with.

Alex Hutchinson:

So step one, become aware of the internal monologue. Step two, come up with alternatives, things you could be saying to yourself like, “This hurts, but I’ve done the training. This is what it’s supposed to feel like. I’m ready for this.” And step three, practicing that until it becomes second nature. So that at that moment when your competitor starts to pull away from you, your response isn’t, “This is where I always blow up.” Your response is, “I’m ready for this. This is what I’ve trained for.” And you don’t have to think about it. Because in a race, you don’t have the luxury of like saying, “All right, I’m going to do these six things or I need to…” In a race, it’s got to be intuitive and just flowing.

Alex Hutchinson:

So I think there’s good evidence that that really works. Everyone’s different. The words that you’re going to use are different. People respond to different things. You have to just experiment and figure out what sounds good. But if you can make sure that you’re not torpedoing yourself mentally in the middle of a race, I think that’s the simplest but also maybe the most effective way of tackling this stuff.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah, I know. I completely agree in that. As you’re just sitting there describing that in detail, I think of not only for myself, if I’m in a race, but also when I’m coaching my athletes and describing that moment where they either essentially came on glued from the wheel or they pulled away. And usually when they come on glued it’s, “I was hurting really bad and I started telling myself, ‘You can’t do it,'” essentially.

Adam Pulford:

In the times where it’s stuck and they sort of pull away, they would say, and this is what we would go over prior to the race and what would happen would be, “I was suffering, but I reminded myself that everyone else was suffering, too.” And it gives you that little extra boost to go beyond.

Alex Hutchinson:

I was just reading a biography of Emil Zatopek, it’s called “Today We Die A Little!” by Richard Askwith. So Zatopek’s maybe the greatest runner ever, certainly the greatest Olympic runner. He’s the only person to win the 5,000, 10,000 and marathon at a single Olympics. Great book, fascinating character. But anyway, one of the things they would talked about was his… one of his mantras was… And it’s a cliche. Lots of people have said it, but he’s one of the ones who would say, “When you’re hurting and feeling that you can’t maintain the pace, accelerate.”

Alex Hutchinson:

I know. It sounds like a sort of Buddhist riddle or whatever, but the point is you’re stuck in one sort of conception of what you’re capable of and what you think. So if you’re in the middle of a race and you feel like you can’t keep up, you can’t do this, you’re not… You actually may be feeling like you physically can’t keep up with that competitor’s pulling away from you. And that’s totally an illusion, because if you’re halfway through a marathon, say, and someone’s pulling away, if someone suddenly said, “Change of plan, instead of a 26-mile race, it’s going to be a 14-mile race, so there’s actually only one mile left.” Of course, you could speed up. You only can’t speed up in the context of what you believe you’re capable of for the rest of the race.

Alex Hutchinson:

So you’re never dealing with a true physical… almost never dealing with a true physical limit like, “I actually can’t make my legs move that fast.” What you’re dealing with is a, “I know I have this long left. I need to balance my expenditure, make sure I don’t blow up. So I can’t do that within the confines of how hard it’s going to feel.”

Alex Hutchinson:

So Zatopek’s advice is, you feel like you can’t keep up? Shake that off. Just pick it up, force yourself to speed up. Now it’s not magic. It doesn’t mean that you’re automatically going to be able to sprint for the rest of the marathon or whatever, but you’re going to get out of that false headspace that’s telling you, “You physically can’t.” And then you’re going to find out, well maybe you can close the gap. And maybe you’re going to get gapped again in another mile, who knows? But you’re going to discover that at least at that particular moment, that didn’t have to be the end of your day, because you’ve called your own bluff that actually, you know physically, you can go faster.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. I absolutely agree. I think, to kind of recap that mind and body aspect of it is once you’re fit to the point where you are achieving some of these goal events or hitting your peak times and things like this, that’s when it makes the most sense to start paying attention and focusing on the self-talk, the negotiation that goes on in your head. Until then, it’s like, let’s get threshold up. Let’s get the pace up and get fit.

Alex Hutchinson:

Yeah. I mean, absolutely. All of this, if you’re not fit, if you’re… The size of the bottle is finite and you want to get everything out of the bottle. But if you’ve just got a little sample vial as opposed to a two-liter bottle or a one-quarter jug or whatever, it’s always better to have the maximum physical capacity you can have.

Alex Hutchinson:

But I would say like, look, there are times when you might, for various reasons, run a race when you’re not at peak fitness, and the fundamental challenge remains the same. I studied in England and I had a knee injury that kept me out for almost two years, but I still had a chance to run for my university there as I was just starting to come back and I was like, “This could be the last chance I ever run for a college team. So I’m going to race even though I’ve been out for almost two years and I’ve reached the point now where I’m running four times a week, no more than half an hour at a time. But I’m going to run a 12K cross country race because I’m going to be part of the team and I’m going to try and help us win this race.”

Alex Hutchinson:

Those experiences were really interesting, because it is a different world when you’re not… When you’re used to being fit, when you’ve been fit and then you’re unfit, and it’s like “What is this strange body I’m in that doesn’t respond when I tell it to do X?” It’s like you try and lift your arm and instead your knee moves or something like that. But the fundamental challenge remains the same because, if anything, you get in over your head because you expect to be able to go faster than you actually can. Then you’ve got to fight that battle and you’ve got to listen to the voices and reject the negative voices.

Alex Hutchinson:

In some ways, those races I ran when I was coming back from injury and I was just not fit but I was trying to do it for a team, those are some of the races I’m most proud of because those are the races I finished and it’s like crossed the line and basically sat down and couldn’t get up for the next eight hours. Like, I got everything out of myself in those races and so those gave me confidence in the future, “Well, imagine when I’m fit, if I can push myself as hard as I just pushed myself there.”

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. I tell my athletes all the time it’s you either got to be fit or you got to be tough. [crosstalk 00:20:11]

Alex Hutchinson:

If you can get both, then life is good.

Adam Pulford:

Like you, you’re both. And that’s kind of what we’re talking about because that’s what’s going to give you true performance. I say, but everything’s more fun when you’re fit, clearly.

Alex Hutchinson:

Yeah.

Adam Pulford:

[inaudible 00:20:25] so much more. So that being said, and kind of along the same lines of high performance, I’m going to switch off [inaudible 00:20:34] and I want to talk about Anders Ericsson’s work because if you haven’t read his book entitled Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise, it’s a great one. In there, I’m going to paraphrase here, but he says, “My basic approach is to ask two simple questions, what is the exact nature of the ability and what sorts of training made it possible?” This is while he’s evaluating and researching a top performer. He says that he’s never found an ability that he could not explain by answering those two questions.

Adam Pulford:

Alex, I’ll ask you, in all of your research thus far, have you found any athletes or any stories of athletes that were unbelievable that you couldn’t describe?

Alex Hutchinson:

Yeah, that’s interesting. There’s a few different ways I can answer that. One is, I can say there are some stories that are unbelievable because they probably shouldn’t be believed, that they’re not true. One of the things I went into in the book is like, okay, what… Because I was talking about reserves of energy, like being able to push beyond what feels like your physical limit.

Alex Hutchinson:

So what about these stories of someone’s trapped under a car and the bystanders lifts the car off the person with this hysterical strength. Is that believable? That I think at least the way a lot of those stories are told, those stories are unbelievable because they’re not right. There’s something missing. Like there’s the lever action of you’re only lifting up half the car or the suspension of the car or a quarter of the car, or you’re not even lifting the car, maybe you’re just taking some weight off the suspension so someone can drag the person out or maybe it’s just unreliable.

Alex Hutchinson:

So there’s feats where it’s like… And there’s literature on that. There’s some scientific literature and claims about you’ll can only access 80% of your muscle. I got in touch with the authors of the textbook and they’re like, “I don’t remember where we got that number.” And it’s like, “Okay, well then I don’t believe that number. I don’t believe that’s real.” So that’s unbelievable in one sense of the word.

Alex Hutchinson:

There are also things, when I was researching for the book, that were unbelievable in the sense of like, if this wasn’t a really trusted source, I wouldn’t believe it. The example for that is I was looking into oxygen as a limiter, like do we really… To what extent is like, if you’re not breathing deeply enough, this lack of oxygen, a limiter? Well okay, what happens if you don’t breathe at all? What happens if you’re a free diver? I wasn’t familiar with free diving. We don’t do a lot of free diving.

Adam Pulford:

I’m not familiar as well.

Alex Hutchinson:

Yeah. It’s like “Whoa, you’re telling me that with no trickery, no like pre-breathing pure oxygen, the world record for breath holding is 11 minutes and like 40, 35 or 40 seconds.” The record for diving deep is like 305 feet or something like that or 330 feet, I can’t remember exactly, like diving straight down. So that’s not even like… You hold your breath is one thing, you’re diving down 300 feet. You’re pacing becomes pretty crucial because if you’ve misjudged by 1%, you’re going to die because you’re not going to make it back up to the surface.

Alex Hutchinson:

So that stuff, I found unbelievable in the sense that I could feel neurons exploding in my head, but it’s true, it happens. And that gets at your question of like how are things believable or unbelievable in the sense of like can we make sense of them? How did someone get from here to there. That, I think, I have an interesting perspective on that now as a guy in my mid 40s who still trains reasonably hard, not as hard as I used to, but pretty hard.

Alex Hutchinson:

So I think about things like when I think about like unbelievable performances. I think back to when I was 19 or 20 and training hard and contemplating things like Haile Gebrselassie running 10,000 meters in 26, 22. When I was in college, this is when the world record for 10,000 meters came down by like 40 seconds in the course of two or three years. We can ask what might’ve gone into that, but that was just… I was a collegiate athlete. I won races in university and yet I couldn’t keep up for even a mile with a guy who was running 10,000 meters.

Alex Hutchinson:

I was like, I don’t understand. I can’t mentally put that into Ericsson’s framework of like, “Well, you go out and run.” It’s like, “Well, I’m running. I’m doing the same training that guy’s doing and I’m nowhere near. I cannot believe that.” Now for me, between the ages of let’s say 19 and 23 or 22, I made a big advance in my own performance. I had some big breakthroughs. I ran times that three or four years earlier would’ve seemed impossible to me, that I didn’t even in my sort of lying awake imagining or at night dreaming, I wasn’t imagining running the times I ended up running. So I got to a level that seemed impossible. Now, I’m on the other side of it and it’s like I train pretty hard but I am way, way, way slower than I was 20 years ago.

Alex Hutchinson:

So on the one hand I could say, “Man, those people who run those times, it’s impossible. I don’t know how you get there.” But I could also say that about my own times from where I was 20, it’s like now I go out for a run and I look at the pace and I’m like, “I just did like a mile reps and the pace on my mile reps is slower than I used to do a 16-mile threshold run that was like no big deal. It’s impossible. Nobody could do that.” But I did that and I know that I did that. And I know what steps I took to get there. I know what the training that allowed me to get from low to high and now I’m back at low. And it seems crazy, but because I’m on other side of the curve, I’ve already seen that it was possible for me, for my body to do those things that seem so crazy.

Alex Hutchinson:

Sorry, that’s a long, long answer. But I guess what I’m saying is, I see what Ericsson is saying and I sort of feel it viscerally. I understand because I’ve been from a place where I was training hard and then I got faster, a lot faster, and then now, thanks to the passage of time, I’m slower and it’s like, “Okay, I can see that there can be…” I don’t feel different than I did 20 years ago. I train hard. I go out and do… I feel like I’m running fast, but it’s just like, “Really, that was how fast I ran that mile? What the hell? How did I do that 20 years ago? How was my body capable of moving faster when it feels like I’m sprinting right now?”

Adam Pulford:

This may be to Ericsson’s point, but I’ll… kind of thinking of this as a question. When you ran your fastest time that you did, say university, how many hours of training did you have leading up to that point?

Alex Hutchinson:

Yeah, it’s a good question. I wonder. I mean, yeah, 10,000 or not 10,000? When I ran my probably my single fastest… It’s hard to compare across events, but probably my best performance was probably when I was 21 and I started training when I was 15. So the rule of thumb, like 10,000 hours, often is sort of you think of it as 10 years and I’d been going for six years. Now I think I would’ve got better because that’s when I got hurt. So I don’t think that was necessarily a true peak. I think I still had improvement in me with… because I was a fairly conservative trainer, building up gradually, not just sort of… I think I had room to improve, but it got derailed by injury.

Alex Hutchinson:

So I wasn’t at 10,000 hours, but I had put in a lot of training. I was also not just sort of rolling out of bed and saying, “I wonder how fast I can run today.” When I think about the 10,000 hour rule, which has obviously become more controversial in the years since Malcolm Gladwell popularized it, I think if you look closely at what… even at the way Gladwell phrased it, it was never like a, “Do 10,000 hours and you will…” Like, there’s that guy who quit his job, never having played a full round of golf in his life, and decided to, after reading Outliers, decided to become a professional golfer. There’s this guy in like Washington state or something and he spent eight years or something and he became a really, really good golfer. He did not become a professional golfer. He’d put in this 10,000 hours, he became like a two handicap or something.

Alex Hutchinson:

And that’s actually, to some end, you could say that, “Well, that proves 10,000 hour rule is wrong.” But to me it’s like, it proves exactly what any sort of rational person who would’ve said the 10,000 hour rule is about, which is that it takes a lot of hours of practice and not just mindless practice, but of deliberate practice, to come close to maximizing your potential.

Alex Hutchinson:

Now different people have different potentials. There’s no amount of practice that’s going to make me a center in the NBA. And that’s an obvious thing because you can see that I’m not six foot 10, but there are a lot of other traits that are just like height, but they’re less visible, that whether it’s hematocrit or whatever or… You know, there’s lots of things, that we are endowed with certain capacities. But within whatever constraints we’re born with, it’s very unlikely you’re going to max out your potential without, if not 10,000 hours, then at least a lot of hours of very specific hard work.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. I could completely agree with that. And that’s also Ericsson’s point. For the audience, what we’re talking about here is, again read Ericsson’s book, but that’s what Malcolm was talking about with the 10,000 hour principle was citing a lot of Ericsson’s research and what Ericsson kind of came away with was, well, whether it’s 7,000 or 12,000, the point is that there’s a lot of training that goes on with that.

Adam Pulford:

I think it kind of comes back to our mind versus body training aspect. It’s not one or the other. At some point, there is a shift toward one versus the other. But mindless training will become foolhardy at some point. Right? And just like what you were saying before, you can’t think your way into achieving a world championship. You actually need to take some action on that, move your body and do the right training.

Alex Hutchinson:

Yeah. I mean you could imagine, and in fact you don’t even need to imagine it, there are companies selling devices where it’s like you can get your training by just hooking up electric current to your muscles and it’s going to stimulate your muscles and it’s going to make you fit or whatever. So you can imagine this, “Well, could you have a mindless model?” Maybe I could get super strong while I’m sleeping or like while I’m comatose or while I’m watching TV. I’ve got electricity making my leg muscles twitch and lift heavy weights.

Alex Hutchinson:

It’s like anyone who’s involved in sport knows that’s never going to do the job. It’s never just about how big your muscle fibers are, it’s about how you use them. And on multiple levels, like both just in the way you contract your muscles, your brain has to be involved. It’s not just brute force. It’s like, how are you pedaling that bike? Exactly how are you pressing or pulling or moving around that circle. Then there’s the larger, the sort of the bigger picture of the tactical decisions of the motivational factors. All these things are tied in. If you imagine the sort of Frankenstein model of training where you’re just hooked up to a machine, you know intuitively that that’s never going to do the job.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. Absolutely agree. So speaking of high performers, we recently saw the marathon distance run being ran under two hours. Back in September, you and I were at the Endurance Coaching Summit hosted by TrainingPeaks in Boulder, Colorado, and [crosstalk 00:33:50]-

Alex Hutchinson:

I know where this is going.

Adam Pulford:

Yes, of course you do. Now I don’t recall what year you said that this would be done, but I do remember you saying that it was further out into the future than 2019. So Eliud Kipchoge ran it in one hour, 59 minutes and 40 seconds. I’m guessing you’re a little surprised.

Alex Hutchinson:

I was surprised. At that summit, at the Endurance Research Summit, or Endurance Coaching Summit, I… someone asked like, “Do you think Kipchoge will do it in Vienna?” And I said, “No. I think the odds are 10%, 20%.” I can’t remember exactly what I said. But my sort of rule of thumb is in all predictions and bets on the marathon, always bet on failure. It’s a safe bet because the marathon induces a lot of failure. It’s a low percentage game. So, yeah, I was surprised.

Alex Hutchinson:

Now, I mean there’s a couple of things to say about Kipchoge’s record, which is amazing. Kipchoge is among my heroes. It’s not a world record. He didn’t do it in a sanctioned race because he had pacemakers who were rotating in and out, which in legal races, you can’t. Everyone who is part of the race has to have started the race at the same time. You can’t just have people hopping in every lap to provide drafting assistance, which in running is not as big a deal as cycling, but it’s to a marathon pace, you’re moving pretty fast and drafting is a factor.

Alex Hutchinson:

So in terms of my salvaging my predictions, it’s like, well he didn’t do it under record legal conditions. And the other big elephant in the room is the shoes. He’s wearing shoes. I don’t think the shoes are cheating necessarily, but they’re faster than they… We don’t know much about the shoes. He wore a prototype shoe in Vienna, which we don’t know much about except that it’s assumed to be better than the previous version of the shoe, which was the Vaporfly Next%, which was supposed to be better than the Vaporfly 4%, which was supposed to be 4%, which I think good evidence suggests is 4% faster than Nike or anyone else’s best previous marathon flats.

Alex Hutchinson:

So when we see someone getting faster each year for three years, but then the shoes they’re wearing are demonstrably faster each year for three years, it becomes… And this is a sensitive debate where people get pretty upset with if they feel like you’re trying to take something away from Kipchoge or on the other side, people get upset because they feel like the shoes are cheating. I’m somewhere in the middle. I think there’s a difficult discussion to be had, but you can’t discuss Kipchoge’s accomplishments without acknowledging that changing conditions, like the shoes, almost certainly played some role in his ability to do what no one thought was possible. Now I will say it’s not like every guy on the street corner is going out and running a sub 2 marathon because the shoes are equipped with jet packs.

Alex Hutchinson:

Kipchoge is still doing something that’s tremendously… and that only he has shown that he can do, and that I think the mental side is hugely important to… I think, especially if we go back two years to the Breaking2 project where Kipchoge ran two flat 25, so he missed the two-hour barrier by 25 seconds, and there were other runners in that race. I think that, if anything, was maybe the biggest mental accomplishment in this sort of road to two hours, because at that point, nobody had run anything faster than 2:02:57. So he took two and a half minutes on.

Alex Hutchinson:

Now, it doesn’t matter what shoes you’re wearing. You can be, “Oh, he’s got all the aids in the world.” To go out and run pass through the half marathon in under an hour was an act of tremendous courage and confidence that I’m not sure anybody else in the world was ready to handle.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. I think as I’m listening to you right now, it’s like all the things allowed him to go sub-two. But that mental… Again, we’re back to the mind, back to the mind-body thing, right… the mental aspect of, “Just work in two hours,” where do you think that is going to take the marathon as a race, as a macro component to all of us? Is it a Bannister Effect?

Alex Hutchinson:

It…

 


Share This Article

Comments 1

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *