By Fred Surgent
There is no question that fatigue is the result of physiological compromises in a host of bodily systems (muscular, nervous, hormonal, skeletal, respiratory, cardiovascular, etc.) during an endurance event. However even more critical to this weakening of the systems is the perception of fatigue being encountered. It is the brain that continuously monitors endurance performance and it this organ that eventually determines how far fatigue will be endured. If this is indeed the case, and some researchers believe it is, can the brain be trained to extend its perception of fatigue?
Research seems to be moving in this direction. Of particular interest in this area is the theory espoused by Dr. Timothy Noakes during the late 1990’s known as the Central Governor Theory. According to the theory the brain is similar to a governor on an automobile and prevents the body from going beyond perceived fatigue thus automatically resisting further physiological stress. Along with Noakes theory is the recent research of Dr. Samuele Marcora of the University of Kent who incorporated a mental task while athletes were performing on a stationary bike demonstrating significant improvement in endurance performance. Furthermore a study by Ferris Jabr supported the notion that diverting the thought process from fatigue using music also increased endurance performance. While none of this information is definitive evidence to prove that the brain controls fatigue, it none-the-less demonstrates the possibility that the brain is influential in the fatigue process.
Of particular interest in fatigue being influenced by the brain are two quotes by the great runner Steve Prefontaine. Although he does not mention the brain his fortitude to continue under extreme conditions points to the fact that not only did he push his physical systems to the breaking point, but challenged his brain to go beyond the fatigue he was already experiencing. Both quotes illustrate a toughness of both brain and guts.
“Don’t let fatigue make a coward of you.”
“A lot of people run a race to see who is fastest. I run to see who has the most guts, who can punish himself into exhausting pace, and then at the end, punish himself even more.”
Based on the previous theory presented and the movement toward more research to support this theory, the following suggestions are made to better control the relationship between the brain and perception of fatigue.
- Use imagery to see, feel, and sense yourself going beyond the previous fatigue experienced in a race.
- Train your brain to resist fatigue during workout sessions and race situations. This involves being aware of fatigue setting in and consciously extending the physical boundaries of fatigue.
- Run with the grit to challenge fatigue when it sets in and fight to overcome it.
- Attempt to dream about pushing the body past physiological fatigue during a run.
- Practice blocking out pain and fatigue as part of runs that do not go well.
- Retain a positive attitude no matter how bad the situation gets.
- Change mindset of what the runner experiences related to fatigue and extend those limits.
- Attempt to lose yourself on the run such that you are not aware of the fatigue, but only aware of the experience of a gritty performance.
- When fatigue becomes a problem try concentrating on a difficult task that needs a solution, dissociating from the fatigue.
- Play one of your favorite music tunes over and over in your brain that keeps you occupied to the point of warding off the fatigue.
Jabr, Ferris. “Let’s Get Physical: The Psychology of Effective Workout Music.” Scientific American, March 20, 2013.
Noakes, T. D.: St. Clair Gibson, A.: Lambert, E. V. (2005). “From Castastrophe to Complexity: A Novel Model of Integrative Central Neural Regulation of Effort and Fatigue during Exercise in Humans: Summary and Conclusions.” British Journal of Sport Medicine. 39 (2): 120-124.