For example, for a forthcoming Inside Triathlon article I recently conducted three hours of interviews with Samuele Marcora, a brilliant exercise scientist working at Bangor University in Wales, whose research suggests that the mental capacity to resist the desire to quit is the single most influential factor in exercise performance–more influential than adaptations in the muscles, blood, and heart. Marcora has identified the seat of this capacity in the brain–an area known as the anterior cingulate cortex–and shown that mental exercises designed to stimulate this area can enhance endurance performance in persons who perform no physical exercise. Totally mind-blowing stuff.
Another really cool part of my job is that I get to talk to and learn from the world’s best runners. Among the runners I have enjoyed opportunities to interview within the past year or so are Jenny Barringer, Dan Browne, Tirunesh Dibaba, Robert Kiprono Cheruiyot, Meseret Defar, Haile Gebrselassie, Adam and Kara Goucher, Aderrahim Goumri, Deena Kastor, Khalid Khannouchi, Meb Keflezighi, Eliud Kipchoge, Salina Kosgei, Ryan Hall, Martin Lel, Jen Rhines, Dathan Ritzenhein, Galen Rupp, Shannon Rowbury, Alberto Salazar, Sammy Wanjiru and Anna Willard.
Sometimes these two really cool parts of my job–the scientists and the runners–come together. For example, since becoming interested in the brain’s role in running performance several years ago I have thought a lot about what might be the practical implications of discoveries like those of Samuele Marcora. What types of training practices do they encourage? The best answer to this question has come from my exposure to the world’s best runners. Besides their obvious genetic gifts, the most salient general characteristic of world-class runners, in my experience, is a tremendously strong mind-body connection. The best runners exhibit a remarkably well developed ability to understand the signals of their bodies and use them to manipulate their training in such ways as to provide their bodies with exactly the right stimuli to improve. They are also better able than the rest of us to use their minds to control their bodies–to override that burning desire to quit that always emerges in hard workouts and races, to find more efficient ways to move forward across he earth, and so forth.
We cannot steal the best runners’ genetic gifts, but to a great extent we can emulate their mind-body running skills. After realizing that the world’s best runners were already practicing the lessons revealed by new research on the role of the brain in exercise performance, I set about writing a book whose purpose is to make their secrets available to all runners. On June 1, that book, entitled RUN: The Mind-Body Method of Running by Feel, will be published. It teaches a number of mind-body running skills that are widely practiced by the elites and that promise to take your running to new heights when you incorporate them into your training.
Practical though it may be, RUN is hardly a dry, “Do this, do that” manual. I believe that every book should be above all an enjoyable reading experience, and if I may say so, RUN is a really fun read. It is packed with stories and anecdotes involving great runners like Haile Gebrselassie and Dean Karnazes, many of them centered on my personal encounters with them. The book also presents clear, poet-friendly explanations of the mind-blowing science that “validates” the mind-body running practices of these great runners.
And if that’s not enough, RUN also features a terrific foreword by Dathan Ritzenhein, who shares his perspective on the mind-body running philosophy. (Oh, and that’s Alan Culpepper on the front cover!)
Learn more about RUN: The Mind-Body Method of Running by Feel.[sgi:MattFitzgerald]