Fatigue. What is it, really? For the last hundred years or so we’ve believed the research of a guy named A.V. Hill who, in 1920, coined the term “oxygen debt,” when explaining his newfound theory on fatigue. According to Hill’s research, at some point during exertion your muscles don’t get enough oxygen to power them, you go anaerobic (without oxygen), your lactic acid begins to build and within seconds your muscles stop working. We’ve all been there when you hit the wall. Exercise physilogists, for freaking ever, have believed that fatigue is a muscular problem, is mostly linear, and there’s something at the muscular level that reaches a point of no return. When an athlete reaches this muscular limit they simply gotta reduce effort or stop completely. Enter crazy scientist Tim Noakes. His research is flipping fatigue theory on it’s head.
To Noakes, check this, fatigue is an emotion. “We propose,” Noakes begins, “that fatigue is a combination of the brain reading various physiological, subconscious and conscious signals and using these to pace the muscles in order to ensure that the body does not burn out before the finish line is reached. I am not saying that what takes place physiologically in the muscles is irrelevant. What I am saying is that what takes place in the muscle is not what causes fatigue. Instead, metabolic and other changes in the muscles provide part of the information that the brain needs to be able to calculate the appropriate pace for events of different distance and in different environmental conditions.”
Translation. Your performance is regulated by your brain, not your biceps, buttock, back, heart, lungs, legs, tri’s, traps, toes, or other muscles large or small. Like so much of this kinda science Noakes or Hills theory are hard to prove. For me, however, and my personal experiences, Noakes makes the most sense. Recently, my alarm didn’t go off as expected and my wake up call was, literally, a call from PJ. He and jmo, Kevin, downer, and Slo were huddled up out in the cold waiting for my sorry overslept self. So, instead of my normal routine of coffee and reading prior to the torturefestivus, I brushed my tooth, threw on my gear, grabbed a water, and headed down. Everything hurt worse, it seemed because I was out of sorts. Instead of playing my “keep working” mantra, I caught myself watching the timer and others. I was an emotional wreck. My performance suffered. Fact.
Enter durp – example number two. Back in France in 2014, on our first day cycling in Albertville, we traveled new roads for all of us. We wandered over new mountains and around new lakes. It was supposed to be an easy day and ended up being one of the longest. I was cooked as we headed for home and sat in the back hoping Blondie and Downer would ease us back home all kind and gently. As they hammered me and durp into fried mush, I said a few prayers for the finish line to appear. I wasn’t sure how far we had to the barn but it was too far, that much I knew. Durp was dying beside me, or so I thought. Suddenly, like someone had shot him out of a canon, young diabolical durp pedaled to the front and took a pull from Blondie. My legs burned, my lungs screamed, and my mind said, “No way!” Durp found a way and hammered it home to Albertville. It seemed like 5 miles at warp speed. I was never so happy to see the barn. How, I thought to myself, had durp done it? He found a reservoir of energy, not in fatigued muscles but in his mind. For some of us, moreso than others I’m certain – Fatigue is an emotion.
Want to unleash your performance? Work on a better mind. Mentally tough minds keep muscles going. Train. Work. Push. Reach. Do the hard work physically, yes. And, work on training your mind to expect adversity, get comfortable being uncomfortable, and fight through the negative emotions raging in your head. The best way is with a meaningful mantra that you hammer into your subconscious so it plays on autopilot when you need it most. I’ve got more work to do on mine, it appears. Fatigue is a combination of physiological and psychological forces. Don’t forget to train both. Funny, the NCAA only regulates the time we can train our athletes physically. I guess we understand what they believe, huh. What do you believe limits your endurance, friend? Slow down and train the brain. It matters not a little. It matters a great deal, how you talk to self when MOT (moments of truth) arrive. Harden the mind as much as you harden muscle. Good.
Live hard. Love harder (Thanks, Teeks)…