Thursday, February 16, 2012

"Vanderbilt" Miles

Hope defeats Calvin 83-70 in 181st meeting of  "The Rivalry"!

The Central Governor theory or the idea that the body has a neural governor that greatly influences how we as runners (or triathletes or any kind of athlete I imagine) perceive physical exertion is somewhat new. I've heard enough theories now, having coached cross country for around nine years at the high school level, that at some point you have to look at your own life and develop a "feeling" for what meshes with your own experience and what feels not quite right. I grew up in running with two coaches: my high school and college coaches dedicated to Arthur Lydiard's training principles. Consequently, I have always identified with that school "old school":  high volume, periodization, base phase, etc. type of thinking. Now I see Sports Physiology has moved on (without telling me of course) to this concept of Neural Governor. It is embodied by a particular researcher, Prof Tim Noakes, as well as the host of my Wednesday evening marathon training clinic Owen Anderson. It is both challenging and fun for me to take in new viewpoints about what I take so seriously and also still appreciate as so life affirming and comforting as distance running, whether it is cross country coaching or marathon running or somewhere in between.

Tonight at the clinic Owen was detailing the Neural Governor theory as it applies to running and it reminded me of my college cross country coach, Bill Vanderbilt. We would be running along, hoping to be close to the end of the assigned length of the run, and Coach Vanderbilt would drive by in the bus and say "Okay, 1 more mile". So I would speed up and really try to get it done (my Senior year I was a bit jaded, but I speeded up out of respect rather than naivete). How that fits into the neural governor theory is this: we have an area in the brain that regulates our perceived difficulty. Of course Coach V. was indicating by his announcement of "one more mile" that we should speed up because we didn't have far to go. And of course it was maybe two or three more miles to go: in other words: a Vanderbilt Mile. This is the essence of what the neural governor does. If it was really lactic acid build up causing muscle fatigue, we wouldn't be able to speed up like we do. But we actually do better because our neural governor allows us to feel better for a time to get finished with our physical exertion, even if they are "Vanderbilt Miles". Maybe that seems like a large oversimplification of a respected theory, but it does limn the idea with a concrete example. More on this in the future I'm sure.

Bill Vanderbilt: who coached the Hope cross country program from 1971-87. A 1961 Hope graduate, Vanderbilt guided Hope cross country teams to 17 Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association (MIAA) championships, 14 by the men and three by the women.

1 comment:

  1. Sometimes I try to outsmart my own Central Governor with self-talk and trying to ignore it, haha. It seems to help to just recognize it!! What a great story from your running past!