Run, human, run

The “conceptual Swiss Army knife” of endurance

In his foreword to Alex Hutchinson’s Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Endurance, the best-selling author and running enthusiast Malcolm Gladwell recounts two “superb” races he has run—one as a thirteen-year-old against boys two years older, and a personal-best five-kilometre race he ran at age fifty-one. He writes that in both races, inexplicably, he ran faster than training and experience could have predicted. Try as he did to make lightning “strike twice,” he could not repeat his two outlying feats of endurance. Nor could he explain them—that is, Gladwell suggests, until this book came along. He calls himself its “perfect audience.”

Hutchinson, one of North America’s top exercise-science journalists, and a writer I have long admired, begins the book with his own anecdote of an anomalous race, as a junior 1,500-metre runner at McGill University. During a snowy bus ride to a competition, worrying that...