Art and Science of Fitness | What an ultra-marathoner can teach us - Hindustan Times
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Art and Science of Fitness | What an ultra-marathoner can teach us

Nov 24, 2023 08:40 AM IST

No, we're not talking about endurance or discipline. Jason Dunn's memoir holds an important insight into legacy, and how to create it

I personally like pushing limits for myself and others who trust me enough and taking on challenges that others think are impossible. Any less, and I just don’t like it much. It doesn’t have to be the craziest thing in the world but what could have seemed impossible to someone at that time. What hurts me is that people throw in the towel a lot sooner than what they are capable of. So when I read Jason Dunn’s book, Unlimited: The Art of Being Limitless, I was really excited to share his learnings with everyone because the author had managed to eloquently put my thoughts and more into words.

Jason Dunn at La Ultra - The High from the 2014 edition. ( Kavin Bhonsle) PREMIUM
Jason Dunn at La Ultra - The High from the 2014 edition. ( Kavin Bhonsle)

Jason and I go back almost a decade when he came to participate in La Ultra - The High in the summer of 2014. It was the year when we started the 333 km category. Even though the 222 km category had been going on for four years, we had no clue if 333 km was doable, while crossing three 17,400+ feet high mountain passes in under 72 hours, that too in the inhospitable weather conditions of Ladakh where temperatures could vary from plus 40°C to minus 10°C in less than eight hours. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the quantity of oxygen molecules per breath on the race route can go as low as one-third of that at sea level. If people aren't sensible and careful, they can die. I introduced a longer-distance category to test the limits of the human spirit.

"No matter what our age, our best life still lies ahead of us, but only if we make the choice to pursue it" shared Jason, a sliver of the learnings from his eventful life. I too believe we all have the power to transform our lives and make profound changes.

Jason says, “I’ve learned exponentially more in the past 25 years than I did in my first 34, reinforcing the idea that there are endless lessons to be learned, regardless of age, as long as you remain open-minded.” 

So let's begin with being open-minded.

Today longevity has become a new buzzword, but Jason has a different opinion, and a more pragmatic one at that. “My pursuits have never been about extending my longevity because no matter what you do, you will grow old. Ageing is an inevitable part of life - guaranteed! However, I am determined to live each day with strength and happiness for as long as I’m blessed with life.”

The epiphanic moment for Jason happened when he was 34 years old. His go-to saying until then had been, “I could have___”. As he admits, he truly could have but the fact is that he didn’t, at least up till that point. In the latter half of his teens, he had been good enough to play football in England’s Premier League but took the easy way out. And then, as it usually does, life happened for a couple of decades. That’s when Jason thought about his legacy, not the one visible to others and their opinion of it, but to be honest to his own self, the one that you see, feel and experience. “Which is the only one that truly matters," he says.

He sat there, a quarter of a century ago, self-reflecting. Looking back at his life as if he was 65-70 years old, it hit him hard that his life would have just been about ‘could haves’. He didn’t like what he visualised. I want you to stop reading right here and do exactly what Jason did on that fateful day and take this ‘armchair test’ right now, right here. Time travel a few decades in the future and imagine what you would want your life from today till then to be like.

Make that choice to become a better you today, not tomorrow, not the day after because soon enough tomorrow will become today. Here are a few tools from Jason’s book to get you moving.

“To be truly successful, you must first be prepared to do what you don’t want to do when you don’t want to do it.”-Jason

  • Create a limitless mindset: We tend to be our biggest enemies because we tend to create our own limits when we are capable of achieving a lot more. We often use the word ‘impossible’ even though that word itself is made up of ‘I-am-possible’. Jason writes: “Impossible is primarily a mental state that can be dismantled by making a single decision: One choice to forgo the path of least resistance. That one decision can transform the impossible into the possible. And as you persist in making the right choices, one decision at a time, you will ultimately cultivate an unlimited state of mind. Then, you achieve your impossible – whatever that may be. This is the magical, life-altering transformation that I’ve been lucky to witness in many individuals. Ordinary people achieve extraordinary feats that they once thought impossible.”
  • Four-second rule: As winters head our way, they bring feelings of wanting to sleep for a few extra minutes. Most of us have that urge every morning no matter what the weather. When you are faced with a dilemma of doing what needs to be done versus taking the easy way out, shut down the tempting inner voice within ‘four seconds’ and simply get up. This time-bound technique will play a crucial role in your journey of a new you as it did for Jason.
  • 90-day high-performance planning: As much as the armchair test talks about a few decades, it is important to recognise that magical change will happen one step, one repetition and one day at a time. You need to come up with a plan for the next 90 days to maintain your concentration on measurable objectives in the next 30, 60 and 90 days. Jason adds, “The goal is to provide daily guidance and generate positive momentum, propelling you toward your target at an appropriate pace. These are small, attainable goals that, when achieved, should boost your confidence by hitting short-term stretch targets. Consequently, the daily actions become your daily reality.” For that you need to come up with the overall ‘objective’, your end goal in a particular time, followed by specific, measurable and time-bound ‘targets’ over 90 days, broken down into 30, 60 and 90-day targets. Finally, the ‘actions’, which are tasks you must accomplish daily or within each specified time frame in order to reach your stretch targets and ambitious goals.
  • Positive language, positive mindset: “You cannot achieve the extraordinary if your mind is constrained and hindered by negative conditioning from external influences. Many people live their whole lives without coming anywhere close to achieving their best because their mind has been conditioned or influenced by people and the world around them to react negatively,” says Jason. In 1999, Jason dedicated a significant amount of mindful effort to identifying words with predominantly negative connotations that he needed to eliminate from both his spoken vocabulary and unspoken thoughts. He came up with ‘disappointed’, ‘hate’, ‘can’t’ and ‘hard’. It’s high time you do the same and make a deliberate and conscious decision to change your vocabulary. I would go to the extent of saying that you should encourage all around you to do the same too.
  • ‘Gratitude’ will empower you: This has become a fashionable word today that most say but don’t mean it. Jason has been in three life-threatening accidents and that changed his outlook on life. He actually learnt to appreciate life and what he had rather than his injuries and losses. As Jason says, “Grateful people are not only beautiful, but they are often humble too, which is one of my favourite human traits. Typically, they care deeply about others, and you can’t help but feel like you just want to be around them and in their presence.” It’s just that it’s now time to care deeply about yourself too and become your own best friend. You’ll find something to be thankful for every day, so practice gratitude daily.
  • ‘Perspective’: Don’t sweat the small stuff: There are two kinds of people in this world. There are those who are consistently positive, happy and grateful no matter what problems they face. And then there are those who are perpetually negative and pessimistic about most minor problems. You need to start determining issues that are genuinely worth worrying and stressing about in the grand scheme of life. One way to go about it is to have a scale where ‘one’ could be that you’ll certainly die and ‘eight’ could be a minor irritation that will soon resolve itself and go away. Repeatedly doing this exercise will help you to stop sweating about the small stuff that doesn't deserve you being stressed.
  • Facing fears: Jason’s biggest fear was drowning. That helped him pick up swimming, starting from a non-stop lap (25 metres) in the pool to eventually doing almost 4 km swimming in open waters during Ironman triathlons. So pick up something that scares you. You don’t need to plan massive things immediately, but following a 90-day high-performance plan, work on baby steps actionable daily.
  • Failure and redemption: Failure is the biggest teacher out there. It is inevitable. It’s good to learn to face it sooner rather than later. As Jason says, “In failure and defeat, you learn more about yourself than when you win or succeed. And that has a meaning. And so for me, the thing that powered me for so many years was redemption.” So when you fail at what you set out to do, don’t be disheartened, just consistently work harder.

It all sounds like stuff we all know. We all make New Year's resolutions in an effort to become better versions of ourselves. Most people stop before January is over and don’t end up achieving their resolutions. Today is as good as any day. Start with the tips shared above and soon you’ll reach your unlimited potential.

Keep miling and smiling.

Dr Rajat Chauhan (drrajatchauhan.com) is the author of The Pain Handbook: A non-surgical way to managing back, neck and knee pain; MoveMint Medicine: Your Journey to Peak Health and La Ultra: cOuch to 5, 11 & 22 kms in 100 days

He writes a weekly column, exclusively for HT Premium readers, that breaks down the science of movement and exercise.

The views expressed are personal

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