Tag Archives: scott jurek

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 🙂

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Friday Favorites for Friday

I couldn’t think of another title. Forgive me.

Welcome to Friday, folks. It’s pretty safe to say that no one has ever been as jazzed about their rest day as I am right now. Pat me on the back people, and remember to tell your friends—yes, Robyn Broker is loving her rest days.

I was obviously super high on running in yesterday’s post. I was feeling particularly existential after an incredibly satisfying naked 10 miler. No watch, no music. And let me tell you…running without a watch after having used your Garmin for months is SO refreshing. I loved pacing according to how I felt rather than reaching a certain number. If only my “by feel” approach yielded faster times than when I use my Garmin 😉

Today, I’m still floating on running cloud 9, but let’s get real…yesterday’s post was a bit serious, and Fridays aren’t for seriousness. They are for big bowls of oatmeal (yes…every Friday, religiously), TGIF picture texts to people, and Favorite Things.

Onward and upward, or something:

Claussen Pickles

I realize this is a debatable topic in which there are normally two very divided sides of those who do and those who definitely don’t like pickles.

I am definitely the former, always have been always will be. I’ve started trying to integrate pickles into other things I eat…hey, isn’t the sodium good for runners? One time when I was little I ate so many pickles in one day I actually got sick the next day…but my love continues.

One of the best parts about dating BF is that he doesn’t like pickles, so not only do I get jars to myself—I always get his at restaurants.

Compression Socks

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I did it you guys. I finally resolved that spending over $50 on a pair of socks would outweigh the consequences of injuries due to calf tightness. My own issues with my calves has gone down a lot since starting to wear the Pure Connects, but lingering tightness is imminent…as was buying a pair of these babies.

Admittedly, I wanted a white pair (I have a thing about things that are bright and white) but these are kinda B.A. looking and I’m into them. I hounded the dudes at my running store for if they *really* work and both of them crossed their fingers and hoped to die that the socks really do help. Okya, they didn’t really do that…but I wish I’d made them.

*Update* When I went in the running store, I finally claimed my prize for my AG win at the Float Dodger 5k. I told the staff all about how two ladies had screwed me over for a 3rd place finish…but they still seemed to think it was my fault. Whatever.

Unfortunately, it’s been way too hot in Seattle to wear these babies regularly yet…but I have a feeling they will slowly start becoming a staple in my wardrobe.

Golf

Just kidding! I hate golf.

BUT on Monday, my new fancy employers are having a department-wide golf tournament for everyone. I read the “Come Join Us For Golf!” invitation as: “Skip a day of work and drink free mimosas in the sun!”

Obviously, I agreed. Luckily, one of the people in my “foursome” is a lady who sits across from me and we’re buddies…and she is self-proclaimed “bad at golf” too, so we’ll get to giggle in our shittiness together.

Fun fact: My ENTIRE family loves golf. My dad teaches a golf science class at the University he works for, my sister was captain of the varsity golf team in high school, and my uncle puts on a golf tournament/tv show every year. I’m really not kidding when I say my whole family is obsessive over this boring stupid country club sport.

So why not me? It’s simple. I don’t like golf because I suck at it. It’s childish really, but I don’t like being bad at things…particularly things where I can’t avoid people waiting for me and watching me. So while you’re all concerned with your pars and birdies and whatever, this birdie is more concerned with actually getting the ball off the tee…let along getting it to the hole.

Give me a pick up bball game, softball, capture the flag, or football game anyday. Golf…not so much. And actually no tennis either. Maybe I am just bound to never join a country club.

But, I’m glad that this sport is the reason for my freebie no-work Monday.

Strawberry ChapStick

The most wonderful ChapStick of all. Eternal love right here people.

Eat and Run

I know, I know… I just talked about this book yesterday. I’ll spare you a book review, but I really really enjoyed this book—and I recommend it. I got a lot more out of it than I thought I would, and it did a really good job of humanizing someone who the rest of the world sees as invincible. Ultramarathoners, specifically those as accomplished as Scott Jurek, seem so superior to those of us who run a few “big” races a year. And they are indeed very impressive…but Scott shows that even he deals with burnout, fatigue, and even plantar faciitis.

Next on my running reading list…Lore of Running, which I’m jazzed about.

And don’t worry, I have another non-running book in my current rotation too.

As for this weekend…I’m considering talking to the shoe store about the possibility of integrating the Pure Flows or Cadences into my routine. I love the Pure Connects, but I’m questioning if they’re best for distance?

Also, there’s a little tiny thing called a 20 miler tomorrow morning. I’m actually feeling good about it…hoping to settle into an 8:30 average and try out a new route for some entertainment. Some more paddleboarding will happen as well…I’m obsessed. More on that to come.

Til Monday…

Have a great weekend!!

Play my game! What are your favorite things? What’s your plan for the weekend? Do you know anything about the Pure Flow vs. Cadence vs. Connect? Do you love or hate golf? Love or hate pickles?