Comparison is the Thief of Joy
After conversing with 10 of the world’s best endurance athletes, the above quote seemed apropos. Each pursued a path unique to them, and them alone. There were no roadmaps or how-to-become-a-world-class-endurance-athlete guide books available. Instead, they followed their intuition. Sounds nice, right? Well, that doesn't mean it was easy. If anything, they all veered away from the path of least resistance.
Each one’s path was filled with failures, frustrations, and extreme discomfort. Yet, they persisted. Time and time again, those experiences could have easily morphed into excuses, But that was not allowed. Instead, the dug a little deeper, pushed a little harder, and got a little better.
You might never swim in sub-freezing temperatures, run 100 miles, or complete an Ironman (or even 50 of them... in 50 states... in 50 days…), but it doesn’t really matter. What does matter is answering the call to step into the unknown.
Comparison with others is a useful and fun barometer, but it shouldn’t be the most influential measurement. A more sustainable assessment is the one you have with yourself.
- Are you better than you were yesterday?
- Last week?
- Last year?
Below is a synopsis of the different paths that some of the world’s best endurance athletes have taken. Yes, for some, status was earned through competition; however, those results were just highlights in a much grander, more meaningful and intensely personal journey.
At a young age, Hamilton rejected the competitive surfing world and all it had to offer. Instead, he opted to ride monstrous waves that had yet to be ridden. In 2000, he rode the “Milennium Wave” at Tahiti’s Teahupo’o, which came to be known as the heaviest wave ever ridden. In the time since, he has pioneered a number of innovations that have earned him the title as the world’s greatest big-wave surfer.
Dr. Stephanie Howe-Violett
After being a dual-sport athlete in college (Northern Michigan), Dr. Stephanie Howe-Violett continued pushing her academic and athletic boundaries at high levels. She eventually went on to earn her PhD. in Nutrition & Exercise Science while simultaneously winning notable ultramarathons like the Western States 100. In addition to her position as an ultramarathon elite, she offers a unique coaching service that combines her background in nutrition with her experiences as a high performer.
The IRONMAN triathlon was based on the idea of completion. Mark Allen was one of the few who turned it into a competition. The sport, still in in its infancy, meant that athletes like Allen (a swimmer at UC San Diego) were self-coached and without the luxuries of 21st century technology. Up until 1989, he had not been able to win the IRONMAN World Championships in Kona. Finally, in 1989, he switched his goal from winning to allowing the experience as one where he could get the most from himself. Not only did he go on to win in 1989, but he did five more times in Kona. This earned him ESPN’s title as the greatest endurance athlete ever. Allen’s journey has led him to surfing nearly every day, along with coaching aspiring triathletes.
After running in college (Princeton), Gallagher took off to Thailand. It was an opportunity to detach from the rigors of being an Ivy league student-athlete. That hiatus didn’t last long. Gallagher’s first trail race was an 80-kilometer run in Thailand. The rainy season forced her to train in the monsoon towers. In that experience, she re-discovered her passion for running. She came back to the U.S. and established herself as one of the top young guns in the sport by winning the 2016 Leadville 100. Despite her youth, Gallagher’s resume is already filled with experiences that will be sure to benefit her in the future.
After running in college (Butler) and performing well on the roads, Rob Krar hung up the laces. Injuries and a new job as a pharmacist held his focus. After that time away, Krar re-discovered his love for running on the trails. Something clicked and Krar thrived at these longer distances. At the 2013 Western States 100 mile race, he exploded onto the scene to take 2nd place. That was only the beginning, as Krar he went on to win that race twice and a slew of other notable races. Krar is now a household name in the ultramarathon scene and utilizes that platform to help others in achieving their goals.
At 14, she became the youngest to swim the English Channel and Lynne Cox just kept swimming. The roadblocks were many, but her resilience triumphed. It took Cox 11 years to secure permission to swim from the US to the USSR. Not only did she complete the 2.7 mile swim in 38 degree water, but did so in only a swimsuit, cap, and goggles. Cox’s resume is chalk-full of groundbreaking swims, many of which people initially had doubted. Rather than fall prey to their gossip, Lynne Cox just kept swimming. Her unique experiences combined with crafty storytelling have resulted in an array of novels, including a swimming manual for the Navy Seals.
James “The Iron Cowboy” Lawrence
At 28, he didn’t even know how to swim. Fast-forward ten years and the narrative has shifted. After breaking IRONMAN & Half-IRONMAN Guinness records, Lawrence set his sights on the impossible: 50 IRONMAN-distance triathlons in 50 states in 50 consecutive days. In 2015, Lawrence finished the monstrous undertaking, and day #50 was his fastest. Since then, his life has completely changed as Lawrence now speaks publicly, while also conquering other endurance challenges.
The flip switched for Dan Simonelli after seeing one of his daughters join the junior lifeguards. He transformed from a small-business owner to an influential figure in the open-water swimming scene. Simonelli now coaches a group of kids with special needs, known as the Zombie Patrol, who have completed relay crossings (including English & Catalina Channel). His accomplishments stretch beyond his coaching, As an athlete, Simonelli completed the English Channel in 2016 and a variety of other crossings.
Long-distance swimmer/coach/paddler Kevin Eslinger started (and finished) at the back of the pack. Literally, in his first race, he finished last. But Eslinger wasn’t fueled by results. Rather, he was drawn to the unique maneuverability of the board through the ocean. That curiosity was just the start. He conquered world-record paddles from 70 to 120 miles and experienced a faire share of unforeseen difficulties along the way. In addition to his athletic accomplishments, Eslinger has helped many others complete channel crossings.
The harsh environment of the Arctic is where Sarah Mcnair-Landry thrives. Amongst many excursions, Mcnair-Landry and her brother, Eric, kite-skied across the entire Northwest Passage (3300 km). Along the way, they encountered jagged ice, inclement weather, and even aggressive polar bears. On another trip across Greenland, she was lifted and slammed by her kite. Unbeknownst to her and her crew, she cracked a vertebra in her back. Not only did she finish that mission, but thrived for the remainder of it.
The journey seems to always play out differently than anticipated. In all of their stories, adversity was inevitable. Rather than buckle, they seized those moments with full vigor. They learned from them. They got better. Then, they set their sights on the next objective, put in the work, and followed the path.
Onward and forward,