Central Governor Theory

I’ve officially indoctrinated myself into the ranks of serious runnerd.

I bought a running textbook. Not a novel, not a book of motivational quotes, not “Runner’s World.”

A mother effing textbook. The Lore of Running, to be specific. And the worst part? I’m stupid excited about it. I’ve already planned early bedtimes of sitting with a highlighter and going through each chapter like I’m studying for a test.

Who am I?! Either this is a sign that I might need to go back to school sooner than I thought, or I’ve really got it bad for running. And because I’m really digging the whole not-ever-having-homework-or-taking-tests lifestyle right now, I’m gonna go with the latter.

It all started with another running book, Eat and Runthe one we’ve already talked about. Scott Jurek was merrily telling me all about his adventures in 100 mile races and whatnot, when he said something that hit me straight between the eyes. Or, more so, it hit me straight in the part of my brain that is haunted by the Tacoma Marathon.

{Yes, still talking about that one—sorry. I thought I was done, but this discovery was just too enlightening to ignore. I promise I’ll stop talking about that race someday}

Truth be told, in many ways I have left that race behind me as I’ve moved onto other endeavors. I certainly learned a lot from it, but it was a fairly traumatic event and I don’t want the bad parts of it to overwhelm my ambitions and love for this sport.

However, to this day I haven’t been able to answer exactly why what happened, well, happened. I was completely depleted and fatigued, and I’d reached my own physical threshold. However, I still hadn’t been able to come up with why, after 26 miles of running, my body decided to quit when the finish line was in view.

Enter, Scott Jurek. He was telling a story about the Western States 100—a notable race in California that courses up and down mountains for a hundred miles. Scott was pacing a friend, who was about to win the race, and right when they got to the local high school track (the location of the race’s finish line) and the finish came into view, his friend collapsed—unable to move.

The circumstances sounded very similar to mine—and as Scott continued to tell the story, my interest heightened and it all started to sound frighteningly parallel. Scott stated that in his opinion, when his friend’s brain processed the finish line in sight, it told his body, “Hey dude, you’re done. You can quit now.” Subsequently, his body gave out, just stopped, because his mind had resolved that it could stop working so hard.

It’s all very hippy dippy stuff, but hear me out. This guy was able to run, up and down mountains no less, for ONE HUNDRED MILES without faltering. Of course he was tired, battling, and exhausted, but there was something that was able to keep him going. But then, right as the finish line comes into view, that same body that’d been working toward this finale just decided to stop? The timing seems all too peculiar, just as my own seemed in the Tacoma Marathon.

Scott goes onto describe some actual scientific rationale behind this occurrence—termed the Central Governor Theory by  Dr. Timothy Noakes. In essence, the theory advocates for the power of the mind over the body in endurance sports.

“The central governor is a proposed process in the brain that regulates exercise in regard to a neurally calculated safe exertion by the body. In particular, physical activity is controlled so that its intensity cannot threaten the body’s homeostasis by causing anoxia damage to the heart.”

In lamens terms, our endurance is not only an effect of our training or our VO2 max, but of a part of our brain that strategically plans out our exertion levels based on the required mileage, time frame, etc. It’s essentially a case for mind over matter, and it advocates that our Central Governor has means of protecting us from overexertion.

It’s a debatable idea, have no doubt. But, it is one that has been cited and used in many sports studies and theories for years.

The thing that struck me about it is that it spoke so closely to the feelings I experienced during the Tacoma Marathon. I had passed my own limits for a good deal of that race: I was hurting, I was done, but for some reason I was able to keep going. And it wasn’t pride at that point—because no matter how much I wanted that BQ and I wanted to keep going, my fatigue had overtaken my pride.

But I was able to keep going, and my legs seemingly had a life of their own. Until, that is, I saw the finish line. I was grateful to see it, have no doubt, but it felt like my desire to be done had overtaken the strength that had kept me going. When I fell, it was because my body had given up, and although I had been able to continue to push it along for all those miles of pain, for some reason—so close to the end, they’d won the battle.

If you attribute the Central Governor Theory to my experience in that race, it makes a whole lot of sense—particularly the part where I fell right before the finish line. In a direct comparison to Scott’s story about his Western States 100 friend, my brain resolved that it could be done upon seeing the end, and my body responded with absolute abdication.

Now, I fully realize that there are a number of factors that could have come into play in the end of that race. I was entirely depleted, have no doubt; a 105 degree fever, cramping legs, and complete fatigue undoubtedly contributed to the time I spent in the medical tent afterward.

However, those factors would have existed whether or not I collapsed so close to the end. I’ve thought all along that it was my mind more than anything else that was the ultimate reason for the disconnect that occurred at mile 26. It felt like a cord between my body and my mind was snapped, and I couldn’t get the two to work in sync any longer.

So yes, my physical exertion was beyond a manageable level. But there was something more that occurred on that day—and the Central Governor Theory, at least to me, explains better than anything else the final factor that came into play.

Again, I promise that I have and will stop analyzing that race. I have gotten over it, and I know one day it’s going to be an ancient memory. But once this idea of the power of the mind was presented to me, I couldn’t help but draw comparisons to that day. Because that day was the first time, and perhaps the only time, where I can say that I relied solely on my mind to carry on when my body was done. My mind was the only thing I had left for a long time in that race—and this theory presented an explanation for just how that dependence actually worked.

I think what I love so much about the Central Governor Theory is the theme that running is so much more than just our physical abilities. We hear time and time again that “Running is a mental sport,” and yet it’s so much easier to measure the physical side of it. We concentrate on times, VO2 max, lactate threshold, maximum heart rate, and mileage so often as the means in which we measure our physical abilities.These things have a lot of merit, of course, but there is something more to running than just the physiology. It’s the reason we can get out of bed in the morning when our bodies are so much happier staying under the covers. It’s the reason why we can sprint to a finish line even though we’ve been dead for miles. Our brains have a lot more power over our abilities that we even realize—and while that’s not to say that we shouldn’t concentrate on the tangible numbers, I truly believe that to be a good runner, we must remember that one of the most valuable tools we have is the one inside our head.

So, in going back to the textbook—The Lore of Running was written by the Central Governor Theorist himself, Timothy Noakes. The book discusses his theory, but also any and all things related to running. It’s definitely somewhat biased and opinion based, as essentially all running books are, however I’m excited to read what more this South African bloke has to say in favor of the power of our minds in relation to the power of our running.

The only problem? Everything is in kilometers, meaning he’s forcing me to exercise my brain while siphoning through chapters. Tricky man that Noakes.

Happy Friday! Happy running 🙂

Advertisements

3 thoughts on “Central Governor Theory

  1. Ricole Runs

    Hmmmm. Very interesting theory! Can I borrow Lore of Running when you’ve grown tired of it at least enough to take a break from it for a week??!! And did you hear that CIM closed? Though I think you could still get in with this “within 10 minutes of BQ” stipulation they apparently have.

    Reply
    1. runbirdierun Post author

      You can totally borrow it!!!! And what do you think about CIM? Currently I have a megawatt Eugene Marathon blogger roadtrip dream in the works…

      Reply
  2. Pingback: 1 Year Old! | Run Birdie Run

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s