When do we need endurance? When we are going really hard? When we are going really fast? When we are going really far? 

There is great discomfort in any of these and that discomfort needs to be overcome to finish, Maybe we need endurance in all three, but a different kind in each. 


Definition Of Endurance

As part of my progressively more difficult (for me) run training I need to do speed work, and hill work, and long distance work that are all quite uncomfortable. In order to improve self-discipline to stay in the work I’ve assigned myself I’ve been meditating on this definition of endurance:

Endurance is the ability to resist the increasingly intense urge to quit. This echoes the original version from researcher Samuele Marcora (described in Alex Hutchinson’s article in Outdoor Magazine and in his book Endure) that says, endurance is “the struggle to continue against a mounting desire to stop.”

That urge to quit may culminate in a tough debate in my head, but it starts with extremely unpleasant sensations in the body, that threaten to keep getting more unpleasant if I persist. The urge to quit is first a flood of sensation in the body, and second a thought in the mind. My mind reacts to the bodily discomfort, with at least two sides starting to argue – one side wanting to go on, the other side wanting to quit. 

And quitting could be defined as totally stopping, or just backing down, away from that extremely uncomfortable level of effort, taking it slightly more easy. Any of those would be a failure to do the work that needs to be done, to get my body ready for the event ahead.

Photo by David Marcu on Unsplash

Improving Endurance

With this definition setting the stage I see two two sides to improving endurance:

There are the sensations that arise in the body. I can work on decreasing the unpleasant sensations in the body – having them develop more slowly and becoming less intense as they do.  

There are urges that arise in the mind. I can work on increasing my strength and technique to resist that urge a bit longer than before, even as it gets more intense.  

The key is recognizing there is space between those two, and that I can do something to expand that space. 

To make room on the first side, I must simply do the work to become more fit in ways that are specific to the event I am training for. I find confirmation that I have more fitness than before when I see that I can go as hard (as fast, as long) and feel less discomfort than I did before, or at the same discomfort level I can go a bit harder (faster, longer) than I did before. 

To make room on the second side, I must work on my interpretation of those signals, and the narrative I use to describe the discomfort and prescribe my response to it. I do this through mindfulness training. I learn to see the signals, not as threats, but as useful information from a body that is wise, yet knows only part of my situation. The positive and meaningful narrative I’ve developed around my goal, and my education on what the body can safely do can complement the information coming from my body, giving me more confidence to keep going.


Kinds and Quality Of Endurance

There is a kind of intense discomfort I experience when running one mile at my top speed. There is another kind of intense discomfort I feel when I run 10K at top pace. And another kind of intense discomfort I feel when I run for as far as I can go, 50K and beyond. Each requires a form of endurance to resist their particular blend of intensifying urges to quit. (It’s easier to specialize in just one event and develop a suitable form of endurance for it).

As I get more fit in body, the signals are quieted a bit when going at the same speed, which gives me room to speed up a bit more or go a bit farther, taking me back up to the limits of my endurance. That’s the kind of fitness everyone knows they need to train for.

As I get more fit in mind, the way I perceive and interact with the signals becomes more peaceful. I find that I can accept them and continue on longer than before, though they are as intense as they ever have been. That’s the kind of fitness that only some people seem to know they can work on.

Endurance is the ability to keep going, which can be measured in terms of quantity – how must faster or how much farther I can go. But endurance also has this quality to it, enabling me to keep going in a certain way. I can develop a different relationship to the discomfort, not merely tolerate it. That takes into account both the body and the mind within it. 


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