Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Intuition my dear Watson

Had an interesting conversation with Clea during our 16 miler on Sunday, based around a book she recently lent me - Matt Fitzgerald's "Run: The Mind-Body Method of Running by Feel". He does waffle and ramble quite a bit (just spit it out man), but his main point resonates with me.  He argues that running basically boils down to physical and mental confidence - the mental influenced by training experiences, and the physical by physiological feedback from the body to the unconscious brain (a la Noakes' central governor principle). In other words, mental confidence is what the mind thinks the body can do, whereas physical confidence is what the body knows it can do.

(Speaking of Noakes, I am still ploughing through his lengthy tome, but unless I want shoulders like Atlas it does not go well into my carry-on luggage).

Of course, these two concepts are highly correlated, and physical is a prime source of mental confidence, but his other point is that the entire aim of training is to feed both levels of confidence to go out and run the race you want. So that in turn leads on to the idea of intuition-based training - the concept that through experience, most of our knowledge of what works and what doesn't is stored on a subconscious level that we access through our intuition.

And while I am not quite ready to tear up my training plans and run free into the hills on a wild tear, I do think a bit of flexibility and personalization is needed in any set plan ("cheating" as some might say).

I am making my way through the book (devoured large chunks of it during my "airport day from hell" on Sunday), and I'm hoping to garner a lot more insight and food-for-thought from it.

Anyway, our conversation centered on the different ways people approach and run races.  Clea is very methodical and consistent.  She will have a plan, hit split times almost to the second and nail those negative splits.  If it's a good day, she'll speed up in latter stages of a race.  It is a very disciplined approach that works really well for her.

I on the other hand am not wired that way.  I don't have the same discipline, nor the same consistency.  Maybe I'm a bit of a dreamer, or just plain stupid, but I often stand at the start line of my goal races thinking "what if".  What if this is my day, what if this is the day that it all comes together for me.  How would I feel if I took it easy at the start and finished the race wondering what I could have done if I'd really gone for it.

I can tell you - I would kick myself.  But that's what motivates me.

Yes, there have been occasions (and plenty of them) when I've crashed and burned, but I will happily take all of them in return for the feeling you get when you really go for it and it all works out.  You cross that finishing line and it feels bloody fantastic, like you're floating on air!!!

Which just illustrates that different approaches work for different people, and conversely what works for one may not work for another.  We all come from different places, with different life lessons, experiences, hopes, desires and motivations.  And as it is in races, so it is with training - different plans work for different people, and there is no one-method-fits-all approach.  You just need to find what works for you, and have the courage to change it when need be.

And the book makes some interesting points about the role of the subconscious.  When I got my huge PR at White Rock, I ran the first 5 miles much faster than I had planned, but afterwards I realized that on a subconscious level I had been preparing for, and anticipating running at that speed for weeks.  At mile 5 I guess I just let myself in on the secret.  That was one of two key moments during the race.  The other was around mile 12 when I saw someone holding a sign that convinced me I was going to run a Boston qualifying time (somewhat embarrassingly, Clea informed me Sunday it was a quote from Star Wars - apparently I'd been "Yoda"ed).  For the rest of the race, I had no doubt whatsoever that I would nail it, and it really focused me on that one goal.  But would the result have been the same if I hadn't had that moment?  I will never know, but I suspect not.  I don't doubt I would still have run a good race, but I don't think I would have gotten anywhere near the time I did.

And I've always wondered how I was able to predict my finishing times in both 100 milers I've completed to within 5 minutes.  Just coincidence, or the subconscious mind playing its old tricks again?

Interesting things to ponder (and I do so love to ponder).

So putting it all to work.  Well I got back to my hotel this evening, and my intuition was telling me that I had a need for speed.  So I hit the treadmill.  Hard.  Only ran two miles, but I ran them in 11:41 (5:50 pace).

Fueled no doubt by the fact that I can't stand the treadmill.  Still, gotta be happy with that - never gone sub-6 on a run of more than a mile before (especially since I struggle so much with my long runs in this hot and muggy weather - not that I'm going to become a fan of the treadmill any time soon).

Heading out for some good ol' Louisiana cajun cooking to celebrate.


brendaontheRun said...

Hi Mark
Do you ever listen to the podcast "Marathon Talk"? It's by 2 British guys and is really enjoyable - they do some great interviews with people like Tim Noakes etc so it's quite educational too.

Mark said...

Yes I do, that's a really good show. I particularly like Tony's Trials.

brendaontheRun said...

Me too - he's hilarious! Also, have you seen that the Dragon's Back is running in 2012 (I think it's another one-time only event). Check out http://www.dragonsbackrace.com/joomla/
I applied and got in!!! I can't wait to tell the family.

Mark said...

Wow, that looks awesome. And really really hard!!!

brendaontheRun said...

Yes it does look really, really hard but if I'm going to kill myself on any race, I can't think of a better place to do it!! I think the navigation is going to be the hardest part, especially with the low mist etc. At least I have 13 months to train!!