For most guys, a feat of endurance can be sitting through nine innings of a ballgame without getting up to go the bathroom. But for a select few athletes, a true test of the human spirit can be anything from three-day long runs to transatlantic swims. With a focus on the power of the human spirit, Men’s Fitness looks at seven feats that pushed the limits of what we are truly capable of accomplishing.
The Longest Tennis Match
On average, a tennis match lasts about three and a half hours. A long game can go up to five. But during the 2010 Wimbledon championships, John Isner and Nicolas Mahut played a match that lasted for over 11 hours. The longest contest in professional tennis history, the match consisted of 183 games held over the course of three days with the longest set going for over eight hours. With 28 different ball boys working in rotation, the players slurped coconut water and munched on chicken to keep their energy up over the exhausting playing period. And although they were given breaks to rest at night, both men were seen practicing during the time they had off. In the end, however, Isner came out with the hard-fought victory — and the worst case of tennis elbow in history.
Longest Fight in Boxing
In the days before ringside judges, state commissions and million dollar paydays, boxers duked it out until one man was left standing. Unsurprisingly, this “survival of the fittest” approach to the sport often resulted in endless brawls, specifically on April 6, 1893, when Andy Bowen and Jack Burke fought for an unbelievable 111 three-minute rounds. Trading blows for seven hours and 19 minutes, the pugilists pummeled each other until the referee finally called a stop to the massacre and ruled it a draw. And although there wasn’t a decisive winner, this epic battle took a serious toll on both fighters. Burke was said to have broken all the bones in both of his hands and soon retired, while Bowen was killed in the ring in his next fight.
First Person To Swim the Atlantic
The next time you’re finishing up an exhausting round of laps at your local gym, think of Benoit Lecomte. One of the greatest long-distance swimmers to ever live, the Frenchman is credited with being the first person to successfully swim across the Atlantic Ocean without the benefit of a kick board. Doggy paddling for around 73 days, Lecomte covered approximately 3,716 miles of deep-sea to complete this mammoth task in 1998. Beginning in Hyannis, Massachusetts, the athlete swam in two hour sessions for up to eight hours a day until he reached his goal over two months later in Quiberon, Brittany, France. And if you’re wondering how Lecomte avoided becoming great white food, he was tailed by a boat with an electromagnetic field that warded off sharks.
The Superhuman Run
Considered to be the best endurance runner on earth, Dean Karnazes was covering ridiculous distances from the time he was in grade school. As he grew, so did his accomplishments, and on October 18, 2005, the California native completed one of the most awe inspiring runs of all time when he pulled off a nonstop, 350-mile run around the San Francisco Bay area. Beginning his trek on a Wednesday afternoon, Karnazes pushed himself for over 80 hours of relentless pavement pounding until he finally finished his journey on Saturday night. The runner’s abilities are so exceptional, he was recently featured on Stan Lee’s History channel series Superhumans where his phenomenal gifts were attributed to an uncommon lack of lactic acid buildup in his system while running. That should come in handy when Karnazes attempts his next goal of running 500 miles.
Highest Climbs Without the Aid of Oxygen
Like Lance Armstrong and Michael Phelps, Italian alpinist Karl Unterkircher was the rare type of athlete who was seemingly constructed for his chosen sport. This preternatural ability allowed the skilled climber to accomplish something no other man has done when he scaled both Mount Everest and K2 in 2004 without the aid of oxygen tanks. The two highest peaks on Earth, Tibet’s Everest and China’s K2 both reach peaks of over 22,000 feet and have claimed hundreds of lives. Unterkircher not only conquered treacherous passes and deadly climbs, but oxygen levels so low that he risked passing out from exhaustion just by breathing. Sadly, while Unterkircher reached many summits, he fell into a chasm while climbing the Nanga Parbat Mountain in the Himalayas in 2008 and is presumed dead.
The Longest Breath
Believe it or not, illusionist David Blaine briefly held a Guinness World Record after holding his breath underwater for 17 minutes and four seconds live on The Oprah Winfrey Show. The illusionist would not stay on top for long, however, as German diver Tom Sietas set out to top Blaine. One of the world’s leading free drivers, Sietas has set records for swimming to depths of nearly 700 feet without the aid of oxygen tanks. The Hamburg native has been able to reach these frightening points thanks to an amazing lung capacity, which helped him best Blaine on December 30, 2008, when he submerged himself underwater for 17 minutes and 19 seconds.
The Super Cyclist
By traveling from the southwestern point of Land’s End to John o’ Groats in the northeast, it is possible to cover all of Great Britain in an uninterrupted trip. This course, popular with tourists, takes about three months to cover on foot and about two weeks on a bicycle. But in 2001, cyclist Gethin Butler conquered the whole journey in only two days. Racing across 874 miles of terrain, the extreme cyclist spent a little over 44 hours on his bike, vigorously pedaling with little rest until his astonishing trip was complete. An extreme rider, Butler has also cycled 1,000 miles in two days, seven hours and 53 minutes.