Five Freakish Feats of Human Performance

david goggins
"When your mind is telling you you're done, you're really only 40 percent done.”

David Goggins

david goggins walk
Video on Instagram

David Goggins is an ex-Navy SEAL who has often been referred to as the ‘toughest man alive'. Here’s a brief account of some of his triumphs over adversity:

  • Overcoming, in his own words, ‘a fucked up childhood’ (detailed in his inspirational book, ‘Can’t Hurt Me’)
  • Went from being obese, weighing almost 300 lbs (136 kgs) down to 190 lbs (86 kgs), to become a Navy SEAL and serve the US Armed Forces in Iraq.
  • After retiring, he became an ultra-marathoner, breaking into the world’s top 20 with a series of top 5 finishes in races such as the Badwater 135, a 135 mile (217 km) race that starts in Death Valley.
  • Pull-up world record holder. At his third attempt in 2013, he completed 4,030 pull-ups in 17 hours (despite being at a biomechanical disadvantage, having longer than average arms).

Then, earlier this month (October 11, 2019), competing in ultra-running again, he did the MOAB 240, a 240 mile race. He ended up getting lost and went seven miles off course. After doubling back, at mile 200 (214 for him) he got a pulmonary oedema and was hospitalised. Against all medical advice, he returned the next day to finish the race (shown in the video above), completing a total of 254 miles (408 km).

Philippe Croizon

In 1994, while trying to take down a TV aerial from his roof, Philippe Croizon was electrocuted by an overhead power cable that sent a 20,000 volt current through his body, leaving him as a quadruple amputee.

During his recovery, he was inspired by a 17 year-old french woman who swam the English Channel. He said that for a moment, he forgot he was handicapped and thought ‘why couldn’t I do that?’.

So, he did some research and assessed his current situation:

  • the shortest route across the English Channel is 34 kms as the crow flies
  • the water temperature is 14º
  • the success rate for able-bodied people who attempt the swim is 10%
  • he was a self-declared couch potato, having never competed in sport in his life
  • he had no arms or legs
  • he couldn’t swim
  • he had no arms or legs
  • he couldn’t swim

Those last two points were worth repeating.

Despite the odds being stacked against him, he put a team together, raised money, had some prostheses made and trained 5 hours a day for 2 years, covering a total of 4000 kms in preparation for the challenge. On September 18th, 2010, aged 42, he completed the swim in under 14 hours. You can watch his TED talk here (in French).

Eddie Hall

Eddie Hall began his sporting career as a swimmer, training three hours a day, before and after school, becoming UK national champion at age 13.

He discovered weight lifting shortly afterwards and went on to compete in strongman events, eventually achieving his dream of being crowned The World’s Strongest Man in 2017, beating Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson (The Mountain in Game of Thrones) and defending champion Brian Shaw.

Hall is best known for breaking the world deadlifting record in 2016 (see above video), pulling 500 kgs (1102 lbs) off the floor. During the lift he burst blood vessels in his brain and feinted, waking up afterwards in a pool of blood. He said that to complete the lift (which broke the previous record by 37 kgs) he put himself in a mental state where he imagined himself at a car crash on the motorway, lifting a car off of his kids.

To reach the superhuman levels of strength that put him in a position to do this, his daily routine involved 5 hours of training, eating 10,000 calories and wearing an oxygen mask in bed to prevent sleep apnoea caused by his extreme weight.

At his strongest, he tipped the scales at 194 kgs (427 lbs), ignoring doctor’s orders to lose weight until he officially became The World’s Strongest Man. He retired shortly after achieving this and has since slimmed down to 169 kgs.

Ivan Denisov

In the video above, Russian world record holder, Ivan Denisov snatches a 32 kg (70 lbs) kettlebell overhead with one hand for 238 reps in 10 minutes, only changing hands once, as allowed by 'long cycle' rules.

As a point of reference, in both the U.S. and the European Union, 32 kgs is the maximum weight for an item of checked airline luggage. This is to prevent airport workers getting injured while they’re loading / unloading it.

Alex Honnold

Although Alex Honnold started climbing at the age of 5, he didn’t consider himself a natural in his sport:

"I was never, like, a bad climber, but I had never been a great climber, either. There were a lot of other climbers who were much, much stronger than me, who started as kids and were, like, instantly freakishly strong – like they just have a natural gift. And that was never me. I just loved climbing, and I've been climbing all the time ever since, so I've naturally gotten better at it, but I've never been gifted.”

However, he eventually became confident enough in his own abilities to take up free climbing, where you don’t use ropes. This basically means that if you’re climbing a rock higher than 30 feet and you make one mistake then your chances of survival are slim.

On June 3, 2017, he made the first free solo ascent of the 883m (2,900 feet) vertical rock, El Capitan in Yosemite National Park in 3 hours and 56 minutes.

It has been described as "one of the great athletic feats of any kind, ever”, and was documented in the academy award-winning film, Free Solo.