Grit vs. the Ventilatory Threshold

By Michael Levine and Jason Jaksetic

In response to the recent Wall Street Journal article on exercise, here at Spartan Race, we felt a certain responsibility to weigh in on the subject of what allows one individual to exceed all her perceived athletic limits, while another individual can’t endure a week of exercise.

When you read the WSJ article, you are going to see terms like VO2 Max, CO2 levels, lactic acid, and, particularly, ‘ventilatory threshold’, and these numbers are going to used to help breakdown athletic achievement and failure.  Thus making the case for certain individuals ‘being hardwired to hate exercise’.

What you won’t see is any talk about resiliency, guts, personal value, or grit – and it is these core constituents of human data the unbalance any equation set up in a lab.    Yes, people often move to quickly into exercise and they find themselves waning at the prospect of success, and many biological factors do play into this fact.  However, more often than not, people do not test the basic limitations of their body.  Instead of slowing down, they needed to accelerate.

We each have a tremendous capacity for physical growth.  Need proof? Google ‘Chris Davis Project’.  This mild-mannered computer specialist from Atlanta was nearly 700 pounds before starting to train with Spartan Race CEO Joe De Sena.  Over the next year, Chris learned just what it meant to truly be out of breath, and then keep walking another five miles!  What he would tell you if he were sitting next to me is that he discovered new limits every day.

The problem was that individually,  he was never able to reach such a point to surpass his preconceived notions of physical effort and what he could accomplish.  Fast forward one year and Chris Davis completed the Spartan Race Beast in Killington, Vermont at just over 260 pounds.

We contend that you need to go no further than the starting line of any of our races to see what grit means.  Maybe, in the end, ventilatory threshold might be a pretty good scientific explanation for what most people mean as ‘grit’, but this leads to a false conclusion that, if the ventilatory threshold is a capped number, then a human’s capacity for grit were also capped, or ‘hard wired’.

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3 Responses

  1. avatar

    I really think it does come down to the intestinal fortitude of an individual. To often the little man on your shoulder whispers into your ear and says it is okay to stop or slow down, and we listen. Self defeat is something we all face everyday without knowing it. We rationalize the idea our bodies have maxed out when it hurts little or we can’t breath properly and for what? To prevent the pain that comes with progress…

  2. avatar

    just when you think you can’t go any further, you go a little more and realize that you have that much more in you. Since training for my first Spartan, I have realized I have more in me than I have ever thought I had. I have had the opportunity to climb Stone mountain with Chris and you want to talk about a truly awesome human being. Chris is an amazing athlete and he doesn’t know the word “QUIT!” AROO! AROO! AROO!

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