June 27, 2021
There was a time in my life when, rightly so, you'd likely have labeled me as a mildly masochistic, somewhat insane, seriously hardcore endurance athlete. You know, one of those guys who is likely to be wearing a swimming Speedo or cycling shorts under my jeans and running shoes tucked away under the seat of my car, just in case the opportunity arose to swim, bike, run or engage in any other form of forward repetitive motion at random points throughout the day.
In the past several years, I have certainly backed off quite a bit from buffeting my body with bouts of extreme sufferance, but for nearly two decades, I spent much of my existence traveling the globe and challenging myself with some of the most difficult and grueling events on the face of the planet, from the famed 72-hour Agoge Race (previously called the “Spartan Death Race“) at 38 degrees below zero in the backwoods of Vermont, to over a dozen of the hardest Ironman triathlons on the face of the planet, to days upon days spent suffering through Navy SEAL training for civilians on the beaches of the Pacific Ocean off the coast of San Diego, and much, much more.
It actually all began in high school.
During seventh-grade basketball practice, I discovered that while I wasn't necessarily the highest jumper or fastest sprinter on the team, I could wax the floor with my teammates or competitors when it came to lasting an entire game without a substitute, or simply running countless numbers of laps and ladders on the court. It seemed my athletic talents mimicked my academic talents: I wasn't necessarily the smartest student, but I was definitely the most tenacious, studying for hours without a break until I had achieved a state of mastery over any given element of academia, from sketching long division and multiplication tables for long nights in my bedroom, to playing the same violin concerto over and over and over again, to reading science chapters until I was blue in the face—and quite doggedly and tirelessly never giving up on anything.
When, at fourteen years old, I fell in love with tennis, I began to run the hills behind my family's country home in North Idaho, often trudging uphill for miles at a time, day after day, a smile plastered across my face as I embraced what is oft referred to in the field of endurance sports as “the suck” while simultaneously experiencing the rush of dopamine, endocannabinoids, and other feel-good neurochemicals that shifted me deeper and deeper into the so-called “runner's high,” During my high school tennis matches, I was the guy who could play an all-day tournament in the blazing sun on a tennis court surface that could fry an egg, go for a run, or hit the gym after the tournament, then wake up the next morning and come back with a big smile on my face, ready for more.
Halfway through my short-lived collegiate tennis career, I signed up for my first actual road race: a ten-mile slug straight up the side of a mountain, with the starting line at the bottom and the finish line at the top. Although I had no clue what I was doing and had never raced cross-country or a 5K, 10K, half-marathon, marathon, or anything of the like in my life, I managed to slowly but systematically plod up that giant slope one step at a time with the same grit and determination that had fueled my daily runs up the hills behind my house, passing other runners one by one until I reached the finish line nearly a mile ahead of all my competitors but one—a fifty-year-old local, undefeated phenom who held the course record for the race.
I was beginning to take mental notes. I had begun to identify what type of activities my body seemed to be really good at performing and my brain seemed hard-wired to crave. And of course, I had a strong hunch that, despite being tall, broad-shouldered, and more muscular than a traditional cross-country runner or skinny endurance athlete, I was kind of good at this whole endurance thing.
In college, I fell in love with bodybuilding, which is, arguably—based upon the oodles and oodles of sets and reps involved, and the amounts of tissue-burning lactic acid one practically bleeds out their eyeballs while engaged in that sport—the “endurance” sport of weight lifting. For this, I'd typically wake at 4 am to train for a couple of hours at the gym before my first classes of the day, then return to the gym later that evening for intense cardio and interval training, often stopping at certain points during the academic day to teach spin classes at the gym or swim laps at the University of Idaho pool.
Then I had a bright idea: I was already swimming, cycling, and running, and somewhat burnt out on bodybuilding, so why not apply my skillset to something new, particularly the brutal swim-bike-run sport of “triathlon”—the very definition itself of multi-sport endurance? So one evening, I attended the University of Idaho triathlon club meeting and—that very night—registered for my first triathlon, scheduled to occur three months later. After ninety days of swimming, biking, running, and studying up every nitty-gritty dynamic from cycling aerodynamics to hydration and nutrition protocols, I recall standing at the pool edge on the morning of the race, hearing the starting gun sound, then slipping into a state of pure, red-hot burning intensity for the next hour of the race. While I had no clue what I was doing, didn't know how to “pace” myself, and felt a deep sense of wanna-be triathlete imposter syndrome, I wound up beating the entire field and setting the course record for the competition.
I was officially hooked.
Over the next decade, I competed in 147 additional triathlons in America, South America, Europe, Asia, and beyond, including Short Course World Championships, Half-Ironman World Championships, Ironman World Championships, and a grand total of 5,569 miles of brutal, hot, endurance competition. Along the way, I sprinkled in additional cross-training via marathons, open water swimming competitions, cycling races, and even water polo competitions.
Just like my experiences in high school basketball and tennis, I was known in triathlon as the guy who simply wouldn't stop. I wasn't the fastest. I wasn't the most naturally talented or biomechanically efficient. I wasn't the most experienced.
But I just.
I'd nearly always start the race in the middle of the swim pack, gradually move my way up through the bike portion of the triathlon, and continue plodding on with steadfast determination, clicking off race markers mile-by-mile and picking off competitors one-by-one throughout the run.
Later, as a trained exercise physiologist, I actually discovered the scientific reasoning behind why my body seemed hardwired for endurance. See, in exercise physiology, there is a concept known as the “lactate threshold.” Quite simply put, this threshold is the point of exercise intensity at which the body begins to accumulate burning lactic acid faster than that lactic acid can be “buffered” by the muscles. Once this threshold is exceeded, exercise becomes increasingly difficult, and failure or fatigue set in quickly.
But in some individuals, the percentage of maximum pace or maximum effort at which the lactate threshold occurs is uncannily high. In other words, let's say that you and I are going to have a footrace over the course of a mile. And let's say that you've got a much higher top-end speed than I do, and can definitely run faster than me, especially for the first quarter or half or so of that mile.
I, on the other hand, may not have the same foot speed as you, but while you gradually slow down as lactic acid accumulates in your muscles over the course of that mile, I'm able to maintain a much higher average speed because I can manage all my lactic acid much better than you can yours. So, every little bit of that mile I creep up on you and eventually pass you before the finish line, simply because my tolerance for lactic acid is higher than yours. Perhaps the best example of a famous athlete who didn't have the fastest speed but possessed a ridiculously high lactate threshold is celebrated cyclist Lance Armstrong, who was also known for his grit, tenacity, and ability to “go” at a decent pace for very long periods of time.
Turns out, this whole lactate threshold thing is actually testable, and, after having undergone multiple bouts of blood lactate testing for swimming, cycling, and running—a protocol in which one exercises at a gradually more difficult pace while stopping every few minutes to test blood levels of lactic acid via a finger prick—I discovered that I was actually born with an uncannily high ability to buffer the burn, so to speak.
Well, then, if endurance is my jam, I figured I might as well run my winners, literally and figuratively. So over twenty years—from the age of 19 until I was 39 years old—I kept at it. I jumped into adventure races, which include map and way-finding, cave spelunking, kayaking, mountain climbing, swimming, cliff jumping, rucking, trekking, and beyond, all in one race. I competed in multi-mile open water and ocean swim races. For years, rarely a month went by that I didn't complete a century (100-mile) organized bike ride or cycling competition. I became a member of the Spartan professional obstacle course racing team and spent four years engaged in that sport, which involved everything from hauling sandbags, to climbing ropes, to crawling under barbed wire, to jumping over fires, to swinging from bars and other obstacles. I learned to shoot a bow, and began to enter hunting competitions that required running, shooting, hiking, more obstacle course racing, and even hauling more than a hundred pounds in a backpack over miles of rough terrain—while running!
Yep, if a sport involved any shred of stamina, steadfastness, or sufferance, I'd happily sign up to be at the starting line.
And of course, along the way, I applied that same stubborn tenacity to academia, to business, and to life in general, often working five to six jobs at a time while sleeping four hours a night, starting and building new companies in the health and fitness industry, investing, advising, coaching, consulting, and juggling as many balls as I possibly could, because, frankly, I like to work long and work hard. Bring on the lactic acid, baby.
So why am I telling you all this?
Because, as you may have predicted, the concept of enduring is a topic very near and dear to my heart.
What Is Spiritual Stamina?
So, yes, I know endurance. It's a language I've spoken for quite some time.
But it's one thing to have the physical or mental endurance and stamina required to sit on a hard bicycle seat to pedal and sweat for six hours, or grit one's teeth through bitter cold ocean waves for thousands upon thousands of swim strokes, or wake up at 4 am and strap on a pair of running shoes to pound the pavement for mile upon mile…
…and quite another thing to possess spiritual stamina.
Yes, spiritual stamina.
See, in the same way you can train your brain, heart, muscles, and lungs to resist fatigue, train your cardiovascular system to build new blood vessels for oxygen and fuel delivery, and train the central governor in your brain to possess the staying power to keep pushing through no matter how physically fatigued you are or how much your body is screaming at you to throw in the towel and succumb to exhaustion, you can also train your spirit to resist temptation, to master carnal passions and desires, to combat lust and pride and to hold fast with perseverance, persistence, and patience when all the allures of the world seem to be working in cahoots to derail your spiritual health and your ability to make full impact for God with the purpose you've been given for life.
Unfortunately, as I write in my book Fit Soul, while most of us inherently know that caring for our soul is important, we somehow shove it to the side because let's face it, life gets busy, and it just seems far more practical and immediately useful to go hit the gym rather than sit cross-legged on the floor meditating and praying, spending an extra five minutes in bed in the morning gratitude journaling, or prioritizing relationships during a long and joyful family dinner. The concept of putting on our spiritual armor and equipping ourselves to withstand all the temptations and flaming arrows that the world inevitably flings at us each day; training our spirit to—by the grace of God—withstand the pride of life, the pride of the eyes, and the lust of the flesh; and viewing our spiritual life as a training ground for battle is, sadly, often an afterthought.
Just imagine if you wanted to gain the superior fitness of an Olympian, or the chiseled body of a movie star, or the lightning-fast brain of a rocket scientist. Would your workout consist of cranking out a tiny handful of pushups before bed each night, eating one healthy meal a week, and reading picture books of airplanes to train your brain? I would surely hope not. Yet it can be so simple to stray into a habit of our spiritual stamina and endurance training to consist of saying a simple prayer before bedtime, digesting a few verses or a couple of minutes of the Bible before rushing off to work in the morning, or meditating that one time for that one social media photo.
Fact is, as I also write in Fit Soul, I personally spent about 20 years of my life, up until I was in my mid-30s, barely tending to my spirit—until I realized that my own unhappiness and constant striving for the next big physical, mental, business, and personal achievement and obstacle to overcome was simply leaving my spirit even more shriveled, shrunken, unfit, and neglected, and leaving me unfulfilled, unhappy, and unable to fully love others and to make a maximum, purpose-filled impact with my life for God’s glory. Perhaps most concerningly, my lack of devotion to spiritual fitness and all the chinks in my spiritual armor was leaving me wide open to falling, failing, and being swept up by, as Galatians 5:19-21, says “…sexual immorality, impurity, and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.”
Ultimately, in a state of God-given conviction, I realized that in order for me to be both truly impactful and purposeful for God, to not be a washed-up, weak spiritual warrior, and to be a true father, leader, and legacy-builder for my family, I needed to apply just as much forethought, seriousness, and training to my spiritual stamina and endurance as I had been applying to my physical and mental training. I need to follow the instructions of Ephesians 6:10–18, which says:
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
Therefore, put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.
Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.”
So that's exactly what I did, and while, in the first chapter of my book Fit Soul, I describe to you the entirety of my journal from poverty-stricken spiritual detraining to wealth-infused spiritual fitness, I can give you a brief glimpse now of how I became fitted with the full armor of God: belt, breastplate, boots, shield, sword, helmet, and prayer.
Ultimately, I began to train my spirit the same way I train my body and mind. See, I pride myself on maintaining a streak of physically rigorous workouts 365 days a year, taking a cold shower or cold soak daily, doing three sauna sessions a week, walking at least 15,000 steps per day, foam rolling at least ten minutes per morning, getting a massage at least twice per month, taking a carefully selected handful of supplements both morning and evening, stopping every 30 minutes of work to move or stretch for two minutes, reading at least three books per week, writing at least 200 words per day, practicing guitar for a minimum of ten minutes per day, etc., etc.
Why not apply that same determination, temperancy, and mastery of passions and desires to my spiritual fitness? And what would happen if I did? After all, if I can stare at a blank wall running on a treadmill for three hours, surely I could read a chapter of my Bible each morning, couldn't I? Could I take the concept of stamina—commonly defined as the bodily or mental capacity to sustain a prolonged stressful effort or activity—and apply that concept to my spirit?
So I began to attend church on a regular basis, not as an afterthought or occasional visit, but with a reverent and worshipful attitude…
I turned to God daily, praying for clarity, wisdom, insight, and a life drawn closer to union with Him…
I continued to pray without ceasing, throughout the day, and not just before meals or at church…
I studied the spiritual disciplines, and began to incorporate gratitude, service, silence, meditation, and Scripture memorization into my daily routine…
I returned to my childhood love for music, and steeped myself in praise and worship songs…
I set aside my selfish tendencies and gave more time, tender care, and teaching to my wife and twin sons…
I read at least one chapter a day from my Bible, and followed a Bible reading plan the same way I'd devotedly follow a workout plan…
I memorized at least one verse from the Bible each morning…
I gathered my family for gratitude, meditation and prayer each morning, and re-gathered them for self-examination, purpose, prayer, and thanksgiving each evening…
I began to volunteer in my local community and at my church…
I recorded one new worship song on my guitar each month…
You get the idea. I began to plan, systematize, structure, and apply just as much seriousness to my spiritual training as I would to my physical training had I, say, signed up for an Ironman triathlon, but of course with the realization that the spiritual “race” is a race with a far more important, meaningful finish line—a race that results in everlasting glory and eternal happiness found in God, and not just a perishable blue ribbon or a shiny gold medal.
The fruits began to pour forth into my life, particularly when it came to me feeling far more equipped to be able to resist temptation.
For example, as you can read in my three-part series on sex, porn, and polyamory here, one temptation I've struggled with for much of my life had been sexual infidelity, lust, and porn. But as I grew closer to God and closer to my wife through my focus on building spiritual stamina, I suddenly found myself able to walk past beautiful, attractive women on the street, in grocery stores, at the gym, or at clubs or restaurants without nary a thought of lusting after or objectifying that woman or cheating on my wife.
When insulted, treated rudely, or disparaged by others, I found myself able to respond in a spirit of love and forgiveness, rather than becoming angry, lashing out, or experiencing a gut response of bitterness, rage, or resentment, finding myself more able to make relationships transformational instead of purely transactional (read more about that here).
When stressed or in an unpleasant or annoying situation, I felt myself more free and able to, in the words of holocaust survivor Victor Frankl choose an attitude of gratefulness, acceptance, and contentment no matter the circumstances (you can read more about satisfaction and completeness in articles such as Soul and Beauty.
At the end of a hard and demanding day of work, I was able to turn to God, prayer, meditation, and worship instead of weed, wine, cocktails, kava, or plant medicines for mental relief or relaxation (you can read more about my perspective on responsible use of such compounds in Honey.)
I became better, as I write about in Marshmallows, at patience and delayed gratification.
I became less begrudged and hesitant and more motivated and inspired to carve out unselfish time for charity, volunteering, and giving, which I tell you more about in Forever.
I released my unhealthy, white-knuckled grasp on control and began to see my OCD-like tendencies melt away.
I became more connected to my family as they joined me on a journey of morning and evening prayer, meditation, gratitude, service, and self-examination.
As you learn in my articles Death and Hell, I discovered more about what really happens when we humans die, how exactly that shapes our lives, and the importance of full union with God and perspective on life and deathbeds in general.
I experienced a greater sense of awe and beauty in God's creation.
Ultimately, an overall sense of peace, love, and joy began to saturate my entire day, and night.
It turns out that—in the same way one gradually sees their body morph as they begin to hit the gym each day, or their brain morph as they begin to read, learn new things, memorize facts, or play musical instruments on a consistent basis—a deep and meaningful spiritual transformation occurs when the spirit is trained with the same forethought, planning, specificity, and systematization as the body and mind. In other words, spiritual stamina is trainable.
You too can possess this same steadfast endurance, this same power to withstand hardship and stress, and this same inward fortitude necessary to persist in the face of temptation, failure, and stress. But you must set your jaw and prepare for a journey of…
…guts and grit.
Just as with any massive, transformative goal in life, you must now view yourself standing on the training field, a wooden bucket full of steel maces, kettlebells, and heavy rocks before you; sandpits, hot pavement, and steep hills surrounding you; plush couches, free food, icy cold lemonade, and a cocktail bar distracting you; and make a decision as to what path you will choose.
How To Endure
I've given you plenty of resources above to begin upon your path to endurance, particularly the articles I've linked to, my book Fit Soul, my Spiritual Disciplines Journal, the Spiritual Disciplines Handbook by Adele Calhoun, and the other resources I list here.
But nothing has been more dear to me and nothing will be a closer and more helpful companion to you on this journey to self-mastery, endurance, and spiritual stamina than a Bible. Consider just a few of the verses sprinkled throughout Scripture that you can use as inspiration, motivation, and direction for your spiritual training.
1 Corinthians 10:13: “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man, But God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.”
Mark 13:13: “And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end shall be saved.“
James 1:12-18: “Blessed is the man who endures temptation, for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first fruits of His creatures.”
James 1:2-4: “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”
Colossians 1:9-11: “For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God, strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and long suffering with joy.”
Romans 12:12: “…rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer.”
Hebrews 12:1-3: “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.”
And finally, perhaps two of my favorites:
Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Isaiah 40:31: “But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”
When it comes to endurance and spiritual stamina, your Bible is your training manual. This article is just a quick guide to inspire you and get you jump-started. Now it's time to take one deep breath, to release your fears about whether or not you will have enough time to train, set aside any sense of “imposter syndrome,” to place full trust in God that He will clothe and feed you even if you're working less, working out less, or even sleeping less to make your spiritual endurance training a priority and to take that first step forward.
Do you struggle with temptation, and often find yourself succumbing to it?
Do you get confused or overwhelmed by the variety of ways one can pray, meditate, read the Bible, or “be spiritual”?
Do you lay awake at night feeling as though, although you checked a lot of productivity boxes, at the end of the day, you are still restless and unfulfilled?
Do you want to live a fully impactful life that inspires others to greatness and defies the sad status quo of what the world accepts as adequate spiritual health?
Do you want to ingest more beauty, dance more, sing more, dream more, create more, and experience life with a fuller sense of peace, love, and joy of all God's creation?
I crave this kind of meaning.
But it doesn't just happen. You must, as I write here, trust God and strap on your sword. We are in this together, you and I, fighting a battle for our very soul. And we must come prepared.
So how about you? How is your own spiritual stamina? Do you tackle and train it with the same ferocity as you do your body and mind? If not, how do you plan to start? Leave your thoughts, comments, questions, and feedback below. I read it all.