Extreme Motivation

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With obstacle racing events such as Spartan Race, Tough Mudder, and Warrior Dash gaining popularity in the last decade there is a smaller select set of participants looking for endurance events that are even more extreme and even less traditional than the typical running events such as a 5K, Half Marathon, and Marathon.  One has to wonder what goes through the mind of someone who would undertake something such as the   Hurricane Heat 12-Hour, the World’s Toughest Mudder 24-Hour, and the SISU Iron 30-Hour event.


As someone who’s done a number of these events, I inevitably get asked why would someone do something that crazy.  I, like most of my friends who undertake these events, don’t do it because we’re some sort of super athletes who are born with natural abilities.  Those super athletes are far and few and between.  We’re not out to break some sort of course record, rather we’re there to challenge ourselves and achieve personal growth.

The majority of us are just common everyday folks; students, teachers, chefs, programmers, middle-age professionals, big and small in stature, men and women from all walks of life.  We all just sort of fell into it.  Most of us began by entering a smaller obstacle event either on a whim or on a dare from family, friends, or co-workers.  While the majority of people who do these smaller events tend to just stick with them, some of us pushed harder in preparation for it and found the event easy.  We also found that the personal rewards far outweigh the hard work put into preparation.

14017499_race_0.7318784329801812.displaySo we progressively move on to tougher and longer events, seeking bigger personal rewards and growth.  What we eventually discover is that while there are some true physical limitations, our bodies are much more adaptive and capable that we know, and that 90% of the limits are mental in nature.  When we tackle of one these big endurance events we face the same mental challenge as someone who hasn’t exercised in years, is overweight, and now wants to tackle a 5K run.  We face the same fears and self doubts, we wonder if our body can hack it, and why we even take on the challenge.  We look for excuses not to do it, family, work, expenses, etc.


Obviously, there cases where these are true social-financial limits, but often it’s a choice.  This is the first mental limit, and for some it is the biggest limiter as they let the excuses take over and don’t even make the attempt.  For experienced endurance athletes, we simply don’t think about it and just commit.  We’ve learned that once our mind is committed, our body will follow.  The second set of mental limits comes when we’re training for the event, that of motivation.  It’s hard to physically tax yourself on a regular basis, your mind naturally wants to take the easy route, hit the snooze button, stop early, etc.  Here, some of us are lone wolves who’ve gotten use to the physical demands, and can just go it alone.  But many find that misery loves company, and it’s best to be in the company of others in their training regime.

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For the 12-hour or more events, there’s the third set of mental limits; that of continuing when our mind says to stop.  To overcome these set of final limits, we develop and focus on an Other motivation; something that is other than ourselves.  This Other motivation could be a person, an ideal, or even a sense of redemption.  As we push our physical limits, our minds instinctively want to protect our body from harm, so it goes may over-react and into self preservation mode, often causing us to stop us way short from reaching our physical limit. By focusing on this Other motivation, we overcome our mind’s false sense of danger, push the limit, and further expand our capabilities.  In writing the article, I hope to give the readers a glimpse in the mind of an extreme endurance event participant, and impart on you the motivation to push your limits and achieve personal growth.  I’ll be focusing on others who for reasons beyond their control cannot be there with me as attempt the 2016 SISU Iron 30-hour event this weekend, April 29th, 2016 in Monrovia, CA.


Khanh Nguyen

Khanh Nguyen


Khanh Nguyen is statistician residing in Las Vegas, NV.  When not doing analyses in his day job, he’s a semi-pro photographer, but the last couple of years his free time is focused mainly on trail running, training for his next obstacle adventure, and organizing his own local events.  You can check out more of his extreme endurance passion at www.facebook.com/millionburpee

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