How Jure Robic Proved That Willpower Has No Limits

It has been called the hardest competition on the planet.

The Insight Race Across America, also known as RAAM, is a 3,000-mile non-stop bike race from one end of the United States to the other – more than 36% longer than the Tour de France.

But as the cyclists went through their final preparations for the 2004 race, they didn't fear the pain they were about to endure over the next week. They feared the seemingly inhuman winner of last year’s race, Jure Robic.

Since the race is non-stop, each rider chooses exactly how long he rests, how much he eats, and how long he sleeps. He must bike as fast as he can, for as long as he can, while also sleeping as little as he can.

This means that it is just as important to be mentally strong as it is physically strong – and that is exactly where Jure Robic beats the other 23 competitors.  [1]


First, he must face the heat of desert - where temperatures are over 40 degrees Celsius.

During these miles, he does not just have to deal with the discomfort of the heat, but he is also at such risk of dehydration that he must drink as much as one liter of water per hour.

After the heat, Robic’s digestive tract is tested.

He must consume 10,000+ calories every day, which is far more than the body is meant to eat. This leads to issues like severe nausea and diarrhea. Which, of course, are made worse by his constant movement and physical exertion.

Next come problems with the points of contact between Robic’s body and the bike itself.

His feet swell to about double their normal size. His thumb nerves stop functioning properly. And, when asked about the contact between his rear end and the seat itself…he didn’t want to talk about it.

So how do the typical 24 racers endure this torture for 7 – 10 days?

Better yet, how does Robic endure this kind of pain while biking faster than every other rider and only sleeping 90 minutes per night?

Robic is able to accomplish this extraordinary feat of willpower because he does not give himself a choice.

“We are Jure’s software.” Said Miran Stanovik, a member of Robic’s support crew.

“He is the hardware going down the road.”


To endure this hardship, Robic only has a choice over his music, food, and bathroom breaks. Every other decision is up to his support crew.

They decide when he rests, they decide when he eats, and they decide how fast he must go.

“It is best if he has no idea about these things. He rides – that is all.”

And ride he does. Without making any critical decisions, Jure Robic rides to world record finishes over and over again. 

Why does this system work? It seems to make no sense. Who knows when Jure needs to rest better than Jure himself?

Why would he leave that decision like to a crew who has no idea how his muscles feel?

The answer lies in understanding what “fatigue” really is.


For centuries, physiologists believed that fatigue is what occurs when our muscles simply cannot keep working.

They need to rest and replenish, or they will fail.

While this made sense in theory, they could never scientifically prove this is what actually made exercisers give up. 

There was one physiologist, however, who did not believe this was the case. 

In 1924, Archibald Hill proposed the idea that when the body is depleting its energy, the brain will make your muscles feel pain to try to get them to slow down.  [2]

He claimed the brain does this to conserve energy to survive the many hardships we humans used to deal with. Unfortunately, Hill lacked the technology to prove his theory, so it fell upon deaf ears.

50 years later, however, an ultra marathoner and sports scientist named Timothy Noakes began testing Hill’s theory with better technology. 

He found that the brain of an athlete was indeed sending messages to the body to stop when it sensed rapidly depleting energy stores. These messages from the brain were what we call “fatigue”.

However, by Noakes findings, this sense of fatigue created by the brain had nothing do with the muscles actual ability to continue working.

Fatigue wasn’t a physiological response – it was actually an emotion!

Just like the anxiety motivates us to hold back from giving a public speech, fatigue motivates us to hold back from reaching our true physical limits. In both cases, these emotions are trying to keep us safe from perceived pain.

So, whether they knew it or not, Robic and his crew cracked the scientific code to beating fatigue!

Because he ignored his own brain’s messages and listened only to his crew, he conditioned himself to ignore this emotional response to stop.

Over time, Jure’s crew saw that he could push much further than the initial feeling of fatigue. So when Jure said that he could not possibly push any more, they knew it was their duty to motivate him to keep going.


Is it possible that this same phenomenon is true of your willpower?

Could your brain make you feel as if you were completely out of willpower, when really you could keep pushing like Robic?

To answer this question, we need to look at a part of our brain known as the limbic system – or as I refer to it “the primitive brain”.

The primitive brain is wired for survival. It believes that you are still living in the Stone Age. So it will motivate you to eat, stay safe from potential dangers and, in the case of Robic, “stop cycling and rest!”  [4]

So this primitive brain will begin sending messages to you to rest and refuel as soon as you get low on energy. That way you will have enough left to survive in case you can’t find food or you need the energy to make a daring escape. 

This primitive part of the brain is a powerful motivator, but it does not call the shots.

You have a more modernly developed part of your brain – the prefrontal cortex – that allows you to think, plan, and exert willpower. This part of your brain is the final decision-maker of all of your actions.

It has the ability to “override” the primitive brain’s motivation to stop and rest, and say, “this may be painful, but it is worth it!”

However, this does not mean overriding your primitive emotions is easy. And the lower you get on willpower, the harder it is to ignore your impulses to indulge, procrastinate, and get off of the treadmill.

But imagine you are back in the Stone Age and you feel as if you are completely out of energy. Your brain is motivating you to rest, replenish, and stop exerting yourself in any way.

Then, all of the sudden, you see a gazelle in the distance. You see a potential meal and need to hunt it down!

When this happens, your brain will immediately stop sending you messages to rest. Instead, it will give you the energy and motivation that you need to catch the gazelle and live to eat another day.

To do this, your brain will tap into whatever energy you have left because it believes that doing so will be worth it. So even when you feel like you have reached your willpower limit, your brain is still keeping some in reserve.

In today's society that means....

Even if you feel completely drained of willpower, you still have the ability to say
“no” to dessert.

Even if all you want to do is lay on your couch and watch TV, you can still force yourself to clean you kitchen.

Even if you feel like you have no mental energy left, you can still force yourself to stop procrastinating and start studying.

There may be a final limit to your willpower, but it is much farther than what you probably call “exhausted”.


Robic was about 2/3rds of the way through the race in 2004 when he finally believed that he was finished.

He simply could not push any farther.

Despite his ability to ignore his brain’s messages, despite his crew’s motivation, and despite his unbelievable endurance, he just could not keep going.

Then his crew member and best friend, Milan Stanovnik, shouted at Jure about his childhood. Jure had a tough upbringing. His father beat him and said he would never amount to anything.

Then he joined the Slovenian military, where he was treated poorly by officers, and was made to feel like dirt. These hardships created a spark inside of Jure that got him into cycling in the first place.

He wanted to prove to everyone that he could amount to something. He wanted to prove that he was a champion. He had a lifelong purpose to become one of the greatest athletes in the world, and he was willing to do whatever it took to make it happen.

So, with tears streaming down his face, Stanovnik shouted at Robic,

“You show Slovenia, you show the army, you show the world what you are!”

This gave him a sudden burst of energy.

While his best friend continued to yell his words of pride and love, Jure pushed on like a mad man for the next 2 hours.

When even Jure Robic, quite possibly the strongest minded person on the planet, was about to give up, his best friend’s reminder of why he was doing this in the first place was enough for him to keep pushing.


Whatever your purpose, dream, or desire, fall deeply in love with it. It has the power to help you go down a path where other people will think you are foolish.

It has the power to keep you working on it day after day even when it appears that you have reached rock bottom.

And it has the power to give you the strength to break through the barrier of your mental and physical limits and witness what you are truly capable of.

Whenever you are in a struggle, remember your purpose. Hold onto the image of what you know is possible. Then use that rush of willpower to persevere until that purpose becomes a reality.