Explore the Limits

Shutting down the body may be the best way to survive trauma

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Olga Guryanova — Unsplash

On May 20, 1999, Anna Bagenholm was skiing off-piste in the mountains outside Narvik in Norway. Heading down a steep mountainside — on a route she had taken many times before — she lost control, fell and landed on her back on a frozen river. As she struggled to get back up, a hole appeared beneath her, and she slipped into the ice-cold water. Desperate, and trapped beneath thick ice, she found a small pocket of air. But, the mental and physical cost of staying alive was ultimately too high. After 40 frantic minutes, Anna suffered cardiac arrest; without immediate attention, she would soon be dead. Her body temperature plummeted, causing her vital organs to shut down. …

What science tells us about expertise

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Psychologists, cognitive scientists, and AI researchers have for decades grappled with answering: what does it mean to be an expert, and how does someone become one?

To theorize about human ability, science must consider whether expertise is acquired as a result of nature or nurture. Are you born with the capacity to be one of the best, or can you achieve greatness with the right training?

This debate is as old as philosophy itself, with Plato favoring nature, and Aristotle leaning towards nurture.

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Tbel Abuseridze — Unsplash

However, as with all decisions that initially appear to be binary, the argument is usually considerably more nuanced. …

Astronauts lose 17% of their endurance after only 2 weeks in space

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During the 1980s, I cut out every space-related article from the daily newspapers that I could find.

It was the era of Buck Rogers, E.T., re-runs of Star Trek, and the Space Shuttle.

Launching whilst attached to the back of an immense rocket, the Space Shuttle hurtled beyond the atmosphere, delivering payloads, before returning to the Earth’s atmosphere and landing on a runway.

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I pasted the cuttings into scrapbooks, reading, and re-reading them. Space and the future felt a little bit closer, and anything seemed possible.

On Saturday mornings, I would cycle down to the local library and search for books on space, both fact and fiction. …

We don’t really understand them, and they don’t really understand us

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While we wait for the race to start, it’s raining hard — the mountain weather report says it’s worse higher up.

It’s June, but we are in the mountains. I should expect this.

According to the British Journal of Sports Medicine, health professionals do not understand ultra-marathoners, and “they do not understand us”.

If an ultra-marathoner visits a doctor complaining of a niggle in the left foot at mile 73 of a 100-miler, and is told to stop running, then the advice will be ignored.

For the ultra-marathoner, racing is not simply embarking on a very long run, but forms part of an ethos, a culture, a community, and the very spirit of who they are. Endurance events truly embody the old, usually trite, adage that “it’s the taking part that counts”. The slowest will be given the same respect, and applause as the fastest, often more. …

Acute and chronic sleep loss have a psychological and physiological cost

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Kasper Rasmussen — Unsplash

In 1927, at the age of 25, Charles Lindbergh became famous as the first person to fly solo, non-stop, transatlantic between New York and Paris.

It was an epic journey for the time, taking Lindbergh over 33 hours to complete the 3,600-mile flight. Surprisingly, his biggest challenge was not mechanical, weather, or navigation, but was simply staying awake. He later recalled that despite stamping his feet, slapping his face, and sniffing ammonia, after 20 hours of continuous flight he finally succumbed to sleep.

He awoke to find himself heading straight into the sea - with only just enough time he pulled up, regained control, and continued his flight. The undoubted sharp surge of adrenaline was short-lived and he continued to battle to remain awake until he finally landed in Paris, becoming a celebrated part of aviation history. …

Does age really limit our capacity for endurance?

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Nicky Spinks

Scientists have identified that age is not the limiting factor in endurance sports that we had once thought. Even beyond our physical prime, we are able to compensate for the loss of some physical capacity by adopting a range of psychological and behavioural skills that result from experience formed during both training, and competition.

According to a paper published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, analysis of more than 370,000 finishers of 100km ultra-marathons over the last 5 decades, identified peak performance as being reached in our mid- 40’s. …

The effect of evolutionary psychology on sport

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Jyotirmoy Gupta — Unsplash

The Theory of Natural Selection is able to unify all species, past and present.

Darwin’s Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection shook the world when it was first published in 1859.

The theory had huge implications and provided answers to the following previously unanswerable questions:

  • How do organisms change over time?
  • How do species originate?
  • How do key, adaptive functions aid survival?

The uproar and consternation it received were in response to a theory that, at its simplest, can be summarised as follows:

Individuals with adaptations best suited to their environment, are most likely to survive and pass on those features through inheritance. …

An ultra-marathon is an immersive experience, combining race, landscape, and people

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Jakob Owens — Unsplash

The summit of Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in Scotland, was bleak. The clouds were on the ground, and the rain was a continuous fine spray.

Out of context, the view would have been disheartening.

But I carried with me from the beginning of the race the haunting sound of bagpipes, and along the climb, beautiful scenes of valleys and rivers.

This was magnificent.

Only the thought of a voluntarily, out-of-control descent darkened the moment.

An event, especially an ultra-marathon, is intimately linked to the environment. …

Meeting an athlete’s basic ‘psychological needs’ increases motivation

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Paolo Candelo — Unsplash

There was no denying it, running this far hurt.

Why was I doing this?

What possible reason could I have for trying to run this far?

What is motivation?

Motivation is what maintains, sustains, directs, and channels human behaviour over an extended period of time.

It positively impacts the ability to focus, increases the willingness to achieve excellence through mental and physical effort, and importantly, it energises and directs behaviour.

The result, in behavioural terms, is persistence. Indeed, according to the legendary American baseball player, Babe Ruth:

“It’s hard to beat a person who never gives up.”

Motivation is strongly linked to the adoption of a sporting mindset and forms part of a process that is essential for successful performance. …

As little as 10 minutes of exercise improves cognitive impairment

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Matthew Bennett — Unsplash

Recent research has shown that not only does exercise benefit our general cardiovascular health, but also our mental well-being.

Indeed, physical exercise has been strongly linked to adaptation in both our behaviour and our neurobiology — including the structure and function of the brain. Importantly increases have been seen in the formation of blood vessels, key proteins, and neurotransmitters

Exercise directly benefits both the efficiency and health of the brain.

As little as 10 minutes of daily exercise may be sufficient to temporarily boost cognitive function, whilst 6 months of activity, may actually reverse some of the effects of mild cognitive impairment. …


Explore the Limits

Exploring the limits of human potential — through science…

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