This week’s post is one that will hopefully give you something to think about the next time you run an endurance race and encounter the dreaded “wall.” For those of you not yet familiar with the term “hitting the wall” (or “bonking”), it refers to a point in a race where an athlete suddenly loses energy and consequently slows down or gives up altogether.
Up until recently the general consensus has been that race exhaustion, followed by a decline in performance, is attributed to physiological factors (specifically, depletion of glycogen stores in the liver and muscles). But new research suggests that there is also a significant psychological component at play, and that with the right type of brain-training it might be possible to override sensations of fatigue and discomfort. A tired runner, for example, could potentially ignore perceived threats of “bonking” and continue to perform well all the way to the finish line.
Dr. Samuele Marcora is the exercise physiologist leading the argument that endurance fatigue is nothing more than a perceived state of mind. He explains that under extreme conditions, as when we exert ourselves physically for an extended period of time, our brains attempt to direct our decision-making to prevent us from compromising our ability to survive. Hence, an athlete may think that he or she is exhausted, when really there is enough energy tucked away in reserve to keep going.
The good news then – or bad, depending on how you look at it – is that the wall is probably as high or as low as you want it to be. You can decide that it’s low enough to get over, in which case you’ll have to get serious about devoting time to mental training. Or, you can decide that it’s too high, but now that you’ve read this post you’ll be making that choice knowing that Dr. Marcora says you’re actually choosing to be a quitter!
[For more detailed information about Dr. Marcora’s research, read this article]