In a few days time I will plunge into the cold waters of Loch Lomond and attempt to swim 35 Km from one end to the other. Such challenges are commonly called ‘endurance’ events, and defined as:
The ability to endure an unpleasant or difficult process or situation without giving way.
People usually assume that endurance involves relentless striving and constant suffering but having done many such events over the years I have found it helpful to focus on how to maximise recovery and minimise effort. I am sure that when Ernest Shackleton decided to walk to the North Pole he didn’t look at ways to make it even more difficult but sought out ways to make the challenge as bearable and achievable as humanly possible.
An often held misconception about endurance events is that it is all about mental toughness. If this were true then most people who have enough will-power, grit, testosterone and adrenaline could turn up on the day of a challenge and complete it. More often than not this bravado mindset leads to early injury and giving up. The greatest challenge in completing an endurance event is getting to the start line uninjured, fit and confident that you have a fair chance of completing it. To get to the start line will require months of winter training, early mornings, juggling work/home/training and missing out on many more enjoyable aspects of life. In my experience the best way to complete the necessary training is to become an expert in relaxation and recovery; sleeping well, eating lots of good food, putting your feet up (literally), relaxing baths and switching off from the stresses of life. If you don’t learn how to be ‘lazy’ then there is not much chance of making it to the start line.
As well as becoming a master of recovery the endurance mindset also requires, perhaps counter-intuitively, learning how to minimise your effort. In preparing to swim Loch Lomond my main focus has been on developing an efficient swimming technique; how to glide through the water with minimum drag, how to get the maximum distance on each stroke and how to flow with the waves rather than resist them. This requires constant self-monitoring and acute body awareness, which has several other important spin-offs such as noticing the early onset of injury, pacing myself, recognising when to eat and drink, and knowing how much further I can push my body when my brain is telling me to stop. Key to endurance is economy of effort and taking the path of least resistance.
These same principles are equally applicable to our day to day lives. Becoming physically self-aware, managing our energy levels, noticing early signs of stress and exhaustion and knowing how to recuperate will enable us all to stay healthy, be emotionally resilient and perform at our best.