Are you mentally tough enough to complete an ultra-marathon? It probably comes as no surprise that evidence is mounting that your mental capacity has a say in your success or failure at such a goal. But the specific cognitive abilities that determine your outcome may be a surprise to you.
How do you score on inhibitory control?
A 2015 study by Cona et al found that there were correlations between certain cognitive abilities and performance of an ultra marathon running event (an 80km race in this instance). The runners that performed better in the race also outperformed the slower runners in tasks that challenged their inhibitory control. There are lots of online tests for challenging your own inhibitory control – just google ‘Stroop Test’ and you will come up with lots of examples. I did the one on the Psytoolkit website and scored a Stroop effect of 220ms. Unfortunately there are many variations on the Stroop test and scoring systems, so normative data does not exist to my knowledge. You can try it yourself here:- http://www.psytoolkit.org/lessons/stroop.html.
So what is inhibitory control?
It is basically the ability to inhibit a natural or habitual response in preference for another that is more congruent with a specific goal. In the Stroop test, this often requires the participant to name the ink colour of a word that may be representative, or contradictory to that colour. For example, the word ‘green’ may appear in red ink- so your time-taken to answer ‘red’ is measured. The participant is asked to repeat this process a large number of times and their average response time (and accuracy) is measured.
So how does this translate to running performance?
So you can resist the impulse to answer ‘green’ when the ink is red – so what!? When we run long distances, we are constantly making choices and resisting impulses. When the going gets tough, our instinct is to stop, or slow down. But this may be incongruent with our goal, which could be to get a personal best. Those with a greater ability in inhibitory control may be able to resist this urge to slow down or stop because they rank their goal as a higher priority than that urge. They sacrifice an immediate reward for the delayed reward which is to finish with their best possible time. Runners with lower levels of inhibitory control may be more likely to succumb to the urge to stop so that they can enjoy an immediate pay-off for their choice (the pain stops).
So what can you do about this? There is evidence that inhibitory control can be improved with training (Berkman et al, 2014) but there is insufficient evidence that improvements in the lab cross-over into other aspects of life. This field is certainly a ‘watch-this-space’ topic, so I will. In the meantime, when the going gets tough on my next long run, I’ll keep reminding myself of what the ultimate goal is, and train my mind on that.
Berkman, Elliot T., Lauren E. Kahn, and Junaid S. Merchant. “Training-induced changes in inhibitory control network activity.” Journal of Neuroscience 34.1 (2014): 149-157.
Cona, G., Cavazzana, A., Paoli, A., Marcolin, G., Grainer, A., & Bisiacchi, P. S. (2015). It’s a matter of mind! Cognitive functioning predicts the athletic performance in ultra-marathon runners. PloS one, 10(7), e0132943
There is no shortage of people who want to tell you running is bad for you especially if you’re a beginner runner. ‘It wrecks your knees!’ they proclaim. I bet you anyone who has said that to you doesn’t run themselves. I do run, and do believe that almost anyone can run comfortably and enjoyably, and enhance their health (heart, bone, brain) in the process.
So here are my 3 Tips For a Beginner Runner To Start On The Right Foot
1. Get your cadence right!
This is really simple – download a metronome app from your favourite app store (there are lots for free that will be perfect). Set it to 180 beats/min. Jog on the spot to the rhythm of the metronome. See if you can maintain this for 1 minute. Rest, repeat, rest, repeat. If you pull up well from this the next day, do it again. Repeat this as frequently as you can for three weeks. The purpose of this exercise is twofold: First, to help program your brain to run at a high turnover. This will decrease impact stress. Second, it will help condition your feet, ankles, calves, knees and hips for the impact of running.
2. Run Quietly
When you have completed your three weeks running on the spot you are ready to start moving forward. But you must do this quietly! Tread lightly on the ground. Take note of the noise your feet make when they impact- do they slap, or stroke the ground? Aim to impact the ground softly – and when you start to get heavy, walk. Also, you shouldn’t be huffing and puffing yet. Aim to run easily, and when the lungs start to struggle, walk. The first few months of running should be about getting comfortable with running – not getting a hardcore cardio blow-out (do that on a bike!).
3. Be Patient
If you are taking running up as an adult, who may not have run for 20 years, be realistic. Give yourself 6 months before you start thinking about tackling an event. Your body will adapt to running if you are conservative, but consistent. Aim to run every second day, even if it is just a short lap around the block. You will have some ups and downs, but the improvement will come if you are patient. You will eventually find the running ‘gear’ that you can click into and the kms will just glide away.
We are here if you need us!
At iNform we have helped hundreds of people begin to run, from people that want to run around the park with their kids, to those wanting to tackle a marathon. If you want to get running the best way possible, give us a call!
I’m not surprised you may not have enough time to exercise, or to look after yourself. It is very clear that our society has it’s reward system back to front; despite the evident negative outcomes such as lack of energy and stiff bodies. I’d like to take this opportunity to boldly share with you our mission at iNform to push back against this tide and urge society to start rewarding differently, more smartly. We will be fighting the status quo for your health!
Invest a small amount in exercise and be rewarded with productivity
The research is very clear that when we invest a small amount of time out of the day for some brisk exercise, we get paid back in stamina and the ability to do more. Yet, our society does not reward this “timeout”. In executive circles, constant pressure to perform, whispers are hard to ignore that time spent at the gym or working-out is a waste of productive time. We have all bought this lie.
So, here’s a simple challenge that will pay you a solid dividend. Find 20 minutes before you leave for work in the morning, or build a half hour break time into your day, treat it as Stephen Covey’s Urgent And Important task, and get in a walk or a run or a cycle or climbing of stairs. Leave a few minutes for a shower if you have one at the office. Start this without telling the world about it. Let them see you start.
And here is what you’ll notice:
People will ask what you are doing and why. This will give you the chance to let them know that you are re-engineering the way our society rewards our behaviours.
You are doing this because everyone around you and the Australian economy, will stand to benefit from a fitter population (and workforce) with sharper thoughts and better stamina.
It all starts by finding any means possible for turning our backs on old habits and putting our backs into smarter efforts that will yield a bigger prize that we’ll all be around longer to enjoy.
Why should we reward ourselves?
Smarter rewards systems are needed in family time too! In the early decades of preparing for and then building a family, where do most of us place our health in the order of tasks and priorities? Nowadays, the ever-growing list of demands means that many women and men who run households and families, put others before themselves at a great and hidden cost.
The cost is all those moments when exhaustion has robbed us of exercise or tight finances have robbed us of health options like exercise physiologists or gym memberships.
There is just not enough time to go around and people with strong parental instincts yield to our inbuilt reward system of giving us an endorphin rush when we sacrifice ourselves for our loved ones. However, that healthy reward system evolved during a time of unavoidable physical labour.
So, we have a battle ahead, but evidence-based approaches to short, structured fitness plans like we provide at iNform Health and Fitness Solutions can give back to your body the strength and capacity it was always destined to have.
Yes, clocks can be turned back, despite all the momentum that tries to pull us away from taking personal time out to invest in our health. So come and join us in fighting the status quo for your health!
So, we have four weeks (eeeek!!) till the Leukaemia Foundation ride from St Kilda, Melbourne to Adelaide. That’s 1070kms in effectively 6 days (as we have a recovery day in the middle). Needless to say, some of us are getting a bit nervous about this undertaking! As such, I know that questions are being asked like “What was I thinking?!”, “will I make it?” and “how can I improve my training between now and then?!”
While this blog post could give many readers ideas to improve their cycling results (or running) at any stage of their training, I am particularly writing this for my ‘Ride as One’ team members.
There are three training-hacks that I would suggest will significantly improve your cycling results and give you significant improvements above the benefits you are getting from your current training. Now, different riders will need different strategies to fast track their improvements and be ready for this great undertaking, so pick the one or two that you think will address your needs more specifically. I’ll expand on each below.
Three Training hacks to fast-track your cycling results:
- Increasing kilometres and riding frequency by commuting
- Increasing fatigue resistance through improved strength
- Increasing efficiency by dropping some weight!!
Increasing kilometres and riding frequency by commuting
One of the things that will be the hardest during the ride from Melbourne is the accumulated fatigue of long days on the saddle, and then having to get back on the bike early the next morning! Now that we are all committed to our training rides, and have put some decent Ks in the legs, it can be a good idea to put some more consecutive rides together, to get used, and adapt, to that feeling of heavy legs from the day before. Adding a few commutes to your week over the next 4 weeks would not only increase your total weekly mileage, but also get you used to being on the saddle day after day. I wrote a blog a few months back which discusses this in more detail, which I would encourage you to check out!
Increasing fatigue resistance through improved strength
Introducing some strength training into your weekly routine can have two significant effects. Firstly, and perhaps obviously, if you are stronger, each pedal stroke is a smaller percentage of your maximal strength, so you accumulate less fatigue over a ride; and you also get to apply more power to each pedal stroke if desired, so you get to ride faster both on flats and up hills!
Secondly, and along the theme of the effect mentioned above for commuting, the timing of your strength workouts can also affect your resilience to ‘heavy and tired’ legs. Doing your strength work the day before a ride will have a ‘pre-fatiguing’ effect for your ride. While this is likely to make your ride a little bit less enjoyable, it will result in overcompensations happening, which will lead to accelerated results.
Ideal exercises to perform would be squats, split squats, step ups, etc. If you are unfamiliar with these, I would suggest focusing on the other ‘hacks’, or consulting an exercise professional for guidance.
Increasing efficiency by dropping some weight!!
In my opinion, this is the greatest return on investment strategy at this stage of the training journey. If needed and desired, you could easily lose 2-3kgs in the next four weeks without losing strength or affecting your performance negatively.
Now, buckle up (!) because I’m about to potentially bust some long-held cycling myth! One of the best strategies to achieve the outcomes mentioned above (or even better) would be to adopt what is known as a Low-Carb-High-Fat (LCHF) eating style. In essence, this would be made up of about 60% fats (yum!)-25/30% protein-10/15% carbs
Ok… are you feeling alright??… Let’s continue.
There are some things that I would like you to keep in mind before we flesh this out further:
While there are large volumes of research that clearly show that to maximise high intensity exercise we require adequate amounts of carbohydrates (glucose) in our system (as much as 100grams per hour), this does not necessarily translate to exercise requirements at lower intensities. Let’s remember that we are not racing from Melbourne to Adelaide! so improvements in ‘elite’ performance at maximal intensities is not what we are concerned about!! If you were a TDF rider, we’d be modifying this for competition.
High Fat, and fat adaptation for cycling
So how does this work? Well, in simple terms, by following such a nutrient breakdown, we increase our reliance on fat as an energy source, as highlighted in this paper.
There are some key benefits to this, which are described in more detail here which include a lesser reliance on ongoing external sources of carbohydrate supplementation during a ride. We effectively use much more of our own fat stores for energy than we would when ingesting larger amounts of glucose.
This increased reliance on fat for our energy also leads to decreased lactate production at given workloads… meaning less fatigue! This happens because lactate is a by-product of glucose metabolism. Relying on fat for energy delays the need to access glucose in large quantities, hence elevating the threshold at which you start to produce lactate.
In fact, studies such as this one show very favourable improvements in performance at moderate intensities, that may not be seen at high intensity.
There are many benefits to a LCHF eating style, including consistent weight-loss and reduced hunger, as well as many health benefits for those with any range of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases. All these are well explained here in a good narrative style, so if you would like to delve deeper, I would encourage you to read the paper.
Application of a low-carb-high-fat diet for cycling
Many of the studies I have shared have seen results from LCHF in 2-3 weeks, so the four weeks we have left give you plenty of time to see some good results. Ideally you would commit to it and follow the eating style everyday, but it isn’t essential, so you don’t have to do it everyday or during your riding days – but I would recommend it! And you certainly don’t have to do it during the ride from Melbourne. I would suggest that now you treat it as a training exercise to get greater adaptations!
So what does this look like on a day-to-day basis?
While a simple Google search can give you lots of great ideas, the broader structure looks like this:
Breakfast: eggs with some sort of added meat (bacon/ham/salmon) plus some veges (mushroom, baby spinach), cooked in olive or coconut oil (I tend to add extra butter!)
Lunch: some sort of a protein (fish, seafood, chicken, red meat) plus salad. LOTS of olive oil added.
Dinner: some sort of a protein (fish, seafood, chicken, red meat) plus veges. LOTS of olive oil added.
Snacks could be a small handful of nuts.
On rides I just take nuts… and I’ve even been known to take some roasted sweet potato (yum!!).
First few days are hard… stick to it!! You are probably on a sugar roller-coaster, and getting off it takes a bit of effort, but it is worth it on MANY fronts!
Alright, good luck!! As always , if you have any questions, leave a comment below or contact us!