And now, I say, I will have the BQ, please.
Based on my half-marathon finish last weekend, the Runner's World online Training Calculator tells me I am capable of a 21:55 5k, which is 2 seconds off my recent 5k PR (I attribute the difference to weaving around horses on the course). But more importantly, the marathon prediction from a 1:40 is a 3:30:05. My 26.2 PR is 3:57. Growl.
Hel-lo, 27 minutes of heart break.
What's in those 27 minutes? That's what I want to know. But since my BQ time is a 3:40 and I won't be greedy (today), we'll say my goal and my reality are separated by 17 minutes.
I'm putting training aside because I do what I'm told, and what I was told to do was brutal and more than sufficient. So what's in those 17 minutes?
I'm going to break it down.
You get the day you get, and for me, it's heat. Unfortunately, global warming seems to follow me to races. If it's a Sunday morning and I have a chip on my shoe, Al Gore makes his point in all caps.
Then there's the nutrition issue--the need to figure out my salt and water ratio and the magic electrolyte formula that will keep my pace up and eliminate my hallucinations of french fries falling from the sky into my open mouth after mile 20.
And tied to that, there's my brain, which kind of has a majority stake in the show, much to my chagrin. I'd prefer an iPod full of Bruce and my flirty charm could get me a 3:40, but no dice. It's all in my head. But we're not talking mind over matter. We're just talking matter. Lots of gray matter doing funky stuff with chemicals.
One of the people I'm working with on the new blog knows a lot about brains. He wrote the book on running and brains, literally. He's, like, smart and shit, which I'm not just saying so I can get the key to my new home.
When I mentioned my brain to him, he kindly didn't say, "You're not nearly the dumbest" runner he's worked with. No, that was my coach who said that (he was being jokey--I hope). But Matt did clarify for me that the notion of "mind over matter" is somewhat of a fallacy because, in running, our minds are matter. The lowest common denominator in our performance is the brain, an organ that directs the processional from Start to Finish. When the winner points to the sky after a race, he's committing a fundamental attribution error. It ain't God, dude. Point to your skull.
Matt tells me the reason I couldn't overcome the brakes on my feet at mile 20 in Phoenix is the same reason I can't fly: my body won't let me do what it cannot manage--whether due to training, glycogen, or whatever physiological inadequacy I'm dealing with.
However, we can train our brains to suck it up when it comes to fatigue and pain, to delay the ultimate triumph of fatigue over performance at the same time that we're getting droopy. I would try to get scientific, but I typically limit my discussions of brain chemistry to telling Henry he will rot his in front of the TV. So, in his blog post today, Matt explains it like this:
For example, during exercise, predictable changes occur in the rate at which the brain takes up oxygen and fuel substrates. These changes are also predictably correlated with the onset of fatigue. Initially, the level of oxygen uptake by the brain increases to meet the energy demands of the brain’s intensely active motor centers. But when very intense efforts are sustained, oxygen uptake by the brain deceases, and when this happens, fatigue occurs, likely because the brain’s motor centers reduce their output to avoid becoming too oxygen-depleted.
The brain’s primary fuel substrate is glucose. However, the brain can also metabolize lactate, and it does so increasingly during prolonged, intense exercise. The balance of fuel substrates used by the brain is expressed as the metabolic ratio. At rest, the metabolic ratio is approximately 6. During prolonged, intense exercise this ratio decreases. Fatigue occurs when the metabolic ratio drops to 3, again probably because inadequate energy supply forces the brain’s motor centers to reduce their output.
But here’s what’s interesting: The precise metabolic ratio at which fatigue occurs varies by circumstances. And there is some evidence that a conscious will to continue exercising causes fatigue to occur at a lower metabolic ratio–in other words, that willing acts to raise the fatigue threshold associated with this particular mechanism. But here’s what’s even more interesting: When an athlete is suffering enough that he must will himself to continue exercising, this willing itself causes the metabolic ratio to drop. So clearly we are not looking at mind over matter here. The will to resist fatigue actually pushes the organism toward fatigue while at the same time pushing back the point at which fatigue occurs. To me, this phenomenon really sums up how the brain and body work together during exercise.
To me, this phenomenon really sums up how annoying my brain is. You have to get tired to not get tired? That is some freaky, cruel brain joke. What it makes me think of is Henry's first 8 weeks of life. In the first week, I wanted to shoot myself when I was forced awake every 90 minutes to feed him. Zoloft helped ease that, sure, but so did the training of living life that way. By week 4, I was somewhat more accustomed to the sleep deprivation and more functional as a result. I think I even got dressed by week 5.
The take-away point is that long distance running is a brain activity, and if you think that core work and hamstring curls are the only supplemental training you need, you're gonna be staring at some hard truths (and falling french fries) around mile 20. My brain needs to get its shit together by October 18 because I have 17 minutes to lose on a double loop around Lowell. That's right, I registered for Bay State. And I'm entitled to Boston 2010.
*If this is all too cerebral for you, I apologize. I'm trying to cut back on references to sex and weed. But if you want something more sophomoric, there's a feud in the blogosphere to keep it light. And strange.