Great feats athletic endurance can not only inspire us, but sometimes leave us bamboozled as to how they are even possible. We have 5 such epic endurance quests here, all of which are demonstrate prowess in completely different domains of physical performance. Enjoy!
Ultradistance runners seem to be a different breed of human, but some take the biscuit when it comes to insane levels of endurance.
Dean Karnazes is an American ultramarathon runner, and author of Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner. Widely considered to be one of the greatest endurance runners of all time, he won the utterly brutal Badwater Ultramarathon, a 135 miles (217 km) across Death Valley in 120 °F (49 °C) temperatures.
In 2005 Dean took on his ultimate lifetime challenge - a 350-mile continuous run through Northern California without stopping. Remarkably the run took 80 hours and 44 minutes to complete, requiring three days without sleep. During the single run he wore out 7 pairs of running shoes!
It wasn’t so long ago in the history books that swimming the English Channel amazed people. To take swimming to nth degree, in comes Benoit Lecomte, the French swimmer who dared to attempt swimming a distance that medieval explorers would have found daunting to sail.
Swimming 8 hours per day, the enigmatic Frenchman crossed the Atlantic Ocean in 73 days in 1998. With a small boat alongside to protect from shark attacks, he covered 3,716 miles of ocean, from from Hyannis, Massachusetts to Quiberon, Brittany, France.
Over two decades later, he is now undertaking an assault on the mother of all oceans – the Pacific. If he is successful, the world-record swimming attempt will take him all the way from Tokyo to San Francisco.
Most feats of human endurance have taken place in modern times. One particularly notable exception is the legendary cycling Englishman Tommy Godwin. In 1939 this fanatical cyclist set the world cycling record for most miles covered in a year, a stunning record that still stands the test of time. Bizarrely he managed this on a bike primitive to todays, which had only four gears.
To achieve this he had to complete 75,065 miles in the time it takes to move from one birthday to the next. Incredibly this involved averaging over 200 miles per day on the saddle. Godwin also set a record for the fastest completion of 100,000 miles. A man beyond his time, he has been crowned in the Golden Book of Cycling as the greatest long-distance rider in the world, with his indefatigable record heralded by many as one of the greatest athletic achievements ever.
In mid-January, 2014, American climbers Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson made history by summiting Yosemite's El Capitan - a sheer 3,000-foot high climb known as the Dawn Wall. The free climb, made only using their hands and feet, has been called the hardest ever done.
The daring pair completed the feat of strength and stamina between December 28 and January 14, 2015. The Dawn Wall is one of the most difficult big-wall climbs in the world, and with free climbing there are literally no safety nets, so the psychological pressure is immense.
The Dawn Wall, is a documentary following Jorgeson and Caldwell on their free climb of El Capitan, which was released on September 19, 2018.
Wim Hof is a medical enigma knick-named the ‘Ice Man’, and for good reason too. For unknown reasons he is able to withstand extremely low temperatures for long periods. His record for being completely immersed in ice stands at 1 hour, 52 minutes, and 42 seconds, which would kill most mortals within 10s of minutes.
Hof combined his deep freeze abilities with physical endurance, summiting Mount Kilimanjaro within two days, and almost Mount Everest…wearing only shorts! But perhaps his most impressive feat was completing a marathon above the arctic circle in Finland, in temperatures close to −20 °C (−4 °F). Again dressed in nothing but shorts, Hof finished in 5 hours and 25 minutes.
Sports scientists and biologists alike have discovered he has a unique ability to move blood to his vital organs at will, something akin to Buddhist monks drying cold, wet towels on their back. Still, exactly how and why Hof is able to manipulate his body temperature in extreme cold is still a mystery.
If you enjoyed this topic, then look out for our upcoming blog on extreme mental endurance, or check out this blog.
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