Dissociation and performance

I came across this article in the New York Times.

Dr. Morgan, who tested the method in research studies, said he was inspired by a story, reported by an anthropologist that, he suspects, is apocryphal. It involves Tibetan monks who reportedly ran 300 miles in 30 hours, an average pace of six minutes a mile. Their mental trick was to fixate on a distant object, like a mountain peak, and put their breathing in synchrony with their locomotion. Every time a foot hit the ground they would also repeat a mantra.

So Dr. Morgan and his colleagues instructed runners to say “down” to themselves every time a foot went down. They were also to choose an object and stare at it while running on a treadmill and to breathe in sync with their steps. The result, Dr. Morgan said, was that the runners using the monks’ strategy had a statistically significant increase in endurance, doing much better than members of a control group who ran in their usual way.

That, in a sense, is the trick that Paula Radcliffe said she uses. Ms. Radcliffe, the winner of this year’s New York City Marathon, said in a recent interview that she counts her steps when she struggles in a race. “When I count to 100 three times, it’s a mile,” she said. “It helps me focus on the moment and not think about how many miles I have to go. I concentrate on breathing and striding, and I go within myself.”

Pretty cool stuff. I use a form of this for my long runs and races. In many ways, this is what I enjoy about running, that you don’t have to think too much to do it. Just run and let your mind wander. Pretty soon, you forget you’re running.

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