Most high level competitive CrossFitters use August as their off season. After months of grueling competition, many give their bodies a break or take the opportunity to get stronger by jumping on a squat cycle. I should do this, but my love of track and field pushes me in a different direction: long distance running.
Every year since 2011, I have run the Disney World Wine and Dine Half with a childhood friend (you might already know this from chapter 4 of Meathead: Unraveling the Athletic Brain). This year, I decided to take on a new challenge that will require a much higher level of training. I'm running the NYC Marathon: one of the most iconic and historical sporting events in the U.S. On this day, all the different races, socioeconomic classes, and cultures of NYC stop to run, cheer, and pay honor to the glorious capabilities of the human body even if it is just for a (New York) minute.
Running In Costa Rica
I was fortunate enough to do my first few training runs in some remote regions of Costa Rica (primary rainforest surrounding the Dole banana plantation) that only researchers and indigenous tribes have access to. Running in the Costa Rican wilderness, I was able to reflect on some really important questions. Thoughts like "why the hell am I doing this" and "shouldn't I be hanging out by a pool right now?" would pop into my head mid-run. Then it finally hit me - not only am I a dopamine addict - I'm also an endurance training junkie!
Tapping Into Your Inner Endurance Junkie
While endurance training isn't exactly heroin, the brain can become insanely addicted to it. I would argue even more so than strength-based training. Christopher McDougall is right in that we are "born [hard-wired] to run." How so?
When you put an animal that is "born to run" on a running regimen, an avalanche of neurochemicals are released. What types of neurochemicals are these? Well, you should already know that dopamine is a big one from my "Drugs, Alcohol and.....exercise?" post. Aside from dopamine though, there are other unique neurochemicals known as monamines and catecholamines. Dopamine is a catecholamine (let's call them CCAs for short). Serotonin is a monamines but the other CCAs of endurance training include norepinephrine which is the predecessor to another CCA, epinephrine. Over the years, researchers have been able to precisely characterize the cascade of CCA and monoamine release when an animal like a hamster runs either voluntarily or by force. These CCAs and monoamines also hang out in the open space (termed synapse) between two nerve cells long after exercise stops, creating that euphoric "runner's high."
With more and more endurance training, the neurochemical signals become stronger leading to more release and a better high. The signal can even be more pronounced (and felt) with an immediate absence of running, but the strength of this signal will fade with time. This is the reason why it is easier or harder to get back on #datgrind, depending who you are and how you're wired.
Scientists have even reported changes in the number of nerve cells and size of entire brain areas with endurance training. Yes, we are indeed hard-wired to run.
More Than Just A Marathon
I'm genetically built to be a power athlete and this has been reinforced with over three decades of of sprint and strength training. Despite this, I'm determined to train my butt off and show everyone that I can tap into my inner endurance junkie when I run the NYC marathon in the Fall.
But I need your help! I'm running to support Healthier Generation which aims to fight childhood obesity by implementing more physical activity programs and nutritional resources in school systems. If you are a consistent reader of FC^2 and have benefited from my posts, I would greatly appreciate a little "tit for tat." Maybe I will even throw a copy of Meathead your way : )
Please make sure to donate if you can!
About Allison Brager:
Professional: Academic Researcher with a focus on neurobiology @ Morehouse School of Medicine and professor at Morehouse College
PHD Info: Kent State with a focus on neurobiology (PHD from Department of Biological Sciences)
CrossFit Games Experience: 2015 Regionals - Team, 2014 Regionals Athlete, 2013 CrossFit Games - Team, 2012 Regionals Athlete
Collegiate Athletic Background: Brown University Track & Field, 4 year varsity letterman, specialist in pole vault and hurdles
Facebook: Meathead: Unraveling The Athletic Brain
Allison's Blog: www.dormivigilia.com
Instagram and Twitter: @beastlyvaulter
Like this article? Check out Allison's book Meathead: Unraveling The Athletic Brain
Allison's Healthier Generation Donation Page: https://www.crowdrise.com/healthiergennyc2015/fundraiser/allisonbrager