Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Tough Mind In Tough Body

Pete Magill put up a great post on his blog on training the mind. Some selected portions:
We use carbohydrates in liquid to train the brain to ease up on its physiological restrictions. We use altitude to train the brain to accept pain as an offshoot of running. We use bare feet to train the brain to monitor and control our foot plant autonomically.

Note that this is where form methods like Pose and ChiRunning have it exactly backward. These methods attempt to use conscious manipulation of our bodies to develop better running form - they want our brains to train our bodies. In fact, it is our bodies that train our brains, the principle behind technique drills and, according to McDougal, barefoot running.

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There are things most of us accept as valid parts of our training that have nothing to do with physiology - and everything to do with our brains.

I was a freshman at La Canada High School in 1975-1976. At that time, California high schools still ran 2 miles for cross country. I ran varsity as a freshman, and I was incredibly overmatched. Every race was painful. It seemed absurd to me that people my age were being forced to race that far.

So this is what I did during the summer between my freshman and sophomore years: I ran a couple 6 mile races. I reasoned that once I got used to racing 6 miles, 2 miles would be a breeze. Guess what? I was right. My sophomore year I was Top 10 in my league, Top 15 in my CIF (regional) division, and - best of all - I never thought of a cross country race as "long."

Physiologically, those couple 6 mile races couldn't have had much impact. But they trained my brain.

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Only a couple years back, I was attempting to run an American age group record for 3000 meters, but I was struggling to find a workout that provided the proper training stress. I simply wasn't getting any faster. I emailed Asics Aggies coach Joe Rubio and asked his advice. His response was simple and to the point, something to the effect of: "Race an 800 and a 5000, maybe a 400 too. Race like you did when you were back in high school and tried everything." He was right. I raced faster. I raced longer. And then I set the record. It wasn't about finding the right workout. It was about making the 3000 seem neither fast nor long.

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