Endure: Mind, Muscle, and the Extraordinary Science of Human Performance by Alex Hutchinson
In ENDURE, sports journalist Alex Hutchinson explores the latest theories and experiments designed to breakthrough endurance limits. The big question is, Why do we stop? And, Is there any way to go past the stop?
One view of limitation is the "human machine" view, where our fuel tank is simply empty. Another view is the "All in your head notion," where you stop by choice, rather than physical limitation. The author explains that answers to these questions "aren't as obvious as I thought."
In an effort to manipulate the brain, some researchers try things such as, "trickling a small electric current through the brain's motor cortex."
These experiments have had mixed results. For example, in the "Zapping the Brain" chapter, we learn how Red Bull tested brain stimulation using elite cyclists. Alas, the experiment didn't pan out as the winner was the one who received the placebo, or sham stimulation.
Perhaps the funniest section is the author's "headphone experiment." Alex was attracted to a simple idea: Unlock your body's hidden reserves by "running a few electrons through a carefully selected part of your brain." Well, the results were unsatisfactory, both in effect as well as comfort:
"I had to press the headphones so hard that I would get deep divots across the top of my head."
The author notes that the experiments have not achieved a surefire way to pump-up your endurance in some mechanistic way:
"Translating lab research into a real-world competitive context remains a formidable barrier."
In contrast to the high-tech electrodes, some of the low tech approaches yield surprisingly good results. Self-affirmation talks are one example.
So all in all, I found ENDURE to be a fun, albeit a complicated read. There are tons of anecdotes and stories, with the research intermingled. After all his research, the author admits his best advice would be to "pursue motivational self-talk training."
I guess that means no more of those headphone/electrodes?