Updated: Dec 21, 2018
Joe here - I recently read some research by a guy called Samuele Marcora, he is a professor in exercise physiology who investigates the mind/brain in endurance performance. Interesting guy. Interesting research. Check it out.
God knows, I'm no academic, I ride the bike. Why I find his research so interesting is that it puts language, science and study behind what I experience in endurance cycling.
By the way these ideas also have merit in the greater endurance event we're all engaged in - life - so for those of you who don't ride the bike, keep reading.
Marcora's research challenges the long-standing assumption that muscle fatigue causes exhaustion, resulting in failure. His findings suggest that muscular exhaustion and failure is instead more limited by an individual's perception of effort.
Essentially he is saying that most of us stop, or get to our point of failure, because we perceive the effort to be beyond our ability to continue. We think we can't go further so we don't.
Things that influence our perception of effort are mental fatigue, sleep deprivation, presence of competitors, a reward (such as the finish line, high ranking, monetary), etc.
This is why we can speed up when we see the finish line or to fight off a competitor.
This is why we can go above and beyond if a loved one is sick or in desperate need.
This is why we stop sooner when we are mentally tired and/or sleep deprived.
Endurance cycling takes all of these factors to the maximum, as does life by the way. Over the years I have learned to bring great awareness to the quality of my internal dialogue because if negative chatter gets too loud or persistent then my perception of effort starts to build and I start to think about stopping.
Interestingly, as my perception of effort increases so does my heart rate. Stress anyone? The body and performance follows the mind.
In these sorts of situations (think 3AM pedalling up a mountain side in extreme cold) I intentionally power down, it's important to give my mind the space to recalibrate.
So how do I recalibrate? I focus my awareness on one thing, might be my breathing, might be the 3 metres in front of the handle bars or the sound of the tyres as they rhythmically revolve in the quiet of the night. It doesn't matter what I focus on, it matter's that I focus on something other than 'effort'.
You see, perception of effort can only build if you focus on how hard it is. The opposite is also true.
I'm not saying it isn't hard or that there is an absence of suffering by the way. I'm just saying that focusing on it doesn't help.
The mind-body-performance connection is intriguing. I don't have all the answers, nor does Samuele Marcora but the exploration into what we are truly capable of, what defines our limits and how we define our limits is a worthy exploration.
Endurance is elastic.
So when you think about stopping, no matter whether you are in a stressful life situation, 8 KM into a 10KM or pedalling up an endless hill maybe consider coming up with a strategy to help your mind recalibrate, you just may find that your perception of effort decreases and you can go further than you think.
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