I recently listened to the audio book Born To Run: A Hidden Tribe, Super Athletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall. The book is about ultra-marathoners (typically described as those that run 50km or more) and focuses on a reclusive tribe called the Tarahumara whose members can run inanely long distances with what seems to be little effort.

Anyway, in the book McDougall talks about Scott Jurek, arguably the greatest ultra-marathoner ever, and a time when Jurek ran two ultramarathons within two weeks. Normally, running two such races in a such a short period of time would be considered pure insanity but the awe factor jumps from insanity to super human when considering that the second race was The Badwater Ultramarathon, known as “the world’s toughest foot race”. The Badwater Ultramarathon is a 135 mile race in the Badwater Basin in California’s Death Valley where temperatures often reach 130° F. The course starts at 279 feet below sea level and ends at an elevation of 8,360 feet. This race is so grading and the heat so extreme that people often hallucinate while running. Oh, and it was Jurek’s first time ever running the race.

By mile 60 Jurek was toast. He was shaking and vomiting and couldn’t even hold his arms up, running with them dangling by his side like a lurch. He eventually dropped to his knees and laid down in apparent defeat. As he was struggling during the race, Jurek’s wife Leah and best friend Dusty used two very different motivation techniques. Leah was feeding her husband fake pacing splits so that he would think he was running at a different speed than he actually was. Dusty, on the other hand, told Jurek, “Don’t be a f*cking p*ssy”.

He wasn’t even halfway done with the race and he was completely decimated mentally and physically. McDougall does an amazing job describing the war in Jurek’s head as he lay there when he wrote,

“’There’s no way,’ Scott told himself. ‘You’re done. You’d have to do something totally sick to win this thing now. Sick, like what? Like, starting all over again. Like pretending you just woke up from a great night’s sleep and the race hasn’t even started yet. You’d have to run the next 80 miles as fast as you’ve ever run 80 miles in your life. No chance Jerk-er. Ya I know.’

For 10 minutes Scott lay like a corpse. Then he got up and did it, shattering the Badwater record with a time of 24 hours 36 minutes.”

Wow! I am amazed every time I hear about these people running ultramarathons but I was absolutely blown away when I heard how Jurek was a corpse at mile 60 of a 135 mile race and somehow willed himself to not only get up and finish but to do so in record time! It is one of the most amazing stories I ever heard.

And it got me thinking. If this guy can lay on the side of the road in complete exhaustion in 130° F degree heat and somehow will himself to rise and run 80 more miles, what more am I capable of when I think I can’t go on? What more are you capable of when you think you are spent?

If this guy can do that, then we have absolutely no excuse to quit when things get hard.

And before you go off assuming that Jurek is some pre-destined supernova of talent that came out of the womb running you should know that he was one of the weakest runners in high school, often falling behind the pack while his running mates threw balls of mud at him.

What makes Jurek the legend he is is his passion for running and his willingness to push himself further than most are willing to. And if he can push himself that far we all can do it. There is nothing supernatural about Scott Jurek, as far as I can tell. He’s just willing to push harder when the road gets tougher.

Whether it be during physical exercise or hunting for a job or trying to start your own company, you will face moments like Scott did when he laid on the road like a corpse thinking it was all over. But just like Scott, we need to negotiate with our minds, pull ourselves up and will ourselves to the finish line. We are capable of so much more than we think we are. Sometimes we need to reach down deep, deeper than we even thought existed, but it’s there. That passion, that will, that energy, that fire to push ourselves far beyond the reaches of our own mind.

“Then he got up and he did it.”