Archive for the ‘Dublin Marathon’ Category

By the law of averages, most of us are typically, profoundly average!! But most of us tend to pretend otherwise and it’s an exhausting facade. Most of us will never be more than average. Can we be content with that? We are all born with different aptitudes and potentials. We all have our own strengths and weaknesses. Even if someone excels in one area the chances are they’re pretty average or below average at most other things. That’s just the nature of life. To become truly great at something, you have to dedicate time and energy to it. And because we all have limited time and energy, few of us ever become truly exceptional at more than one thing, if anything at all.  Our culture, driven by social media, now values high achievement and expects it in every area of our lives. We need brilliant careers, accomplished children, perfect bodies, and financial affluence. It is almost reprehensible to be satisfied with “just enough”. “Mediocre” is a dirty word and one we are intolerant of, particularly in this social media generation who tend to treat our Facebook, twitter and snapchat feeds as a shop window for our achievement-rich lives.

There is an expectation in running, as in life, that we should consistently progress and develop ourselves. But in reality, like in life, most of us get stuck in mediocrity because people’s performance follows the “Bell Curve”. The Bell Curve represents what statisticians call a “normal distribution” there will be a small number of very high performers and an equivalent number of very low performers” with the bulk of people clustered near the average.


The “Bell Curve”

We have the right runners, we master the GPS watch, we commit to the training processes, we gather and analyze the endless data drivel, and yet we reach a point we at which we plateau and don’t improve. I haven’t run a personal record at any distance in 2 years – no triumph in two years! As disheartening as this may sound I’m not discouraged because I don’t regard achievement as the yardstick against which I measure success. Achievement is not a bad thing, it’s just not necessary in every moment or facet of our lives. So even though I may never strive to be average, for the moment it appears I am content to hover in between mediocrity and success, and it’s a comfortable place to be because being better doesn’t always matter.

The head is the home of analysis, logic and thought. It’s where things are reasoned, lists of “pros” and “cons” are made and it establishes the rationale to stay in a safe comfort zone.  The heart is the where our intuition lives, our “true identity”. The signals of the heart can guide life choices provided we don’t let the doubts, fears, anxieties, and apprehensions from our head paralyze our decision-making. But surely the heart is merely a muscle that pumps blood 100,000 times a day to all the organs of the body? brain_vs_heartNo in fact, the heart sends more information to the brain than vice versa (McCraty et al., 2004a); the heart controls the brain much more than previously thought. The reality is that the heart plays an extraordinary role in our lives far beyond what is commonly known. There are 40,000 sensory neurons relaying information to the brain from the cardiac muscle, these neurons have both short and long term memory and their signals sent to the brain can affect our emotional experiences. The heart communicates with the brain in four ways: neurologically (through nerve impulses), biochemically (via hormones and neurotransmitters), biophysically (through pressure waves) and energetically (through electromagnetic fields). So the heart and brain together play a critical role in our sense of intuition and decision making (McCraty et al., 2004b). More importantly, research shows that messages the heart sends the brain can also affect performance. Decision making when running, like in life is a negotiation between the head and the heart. The advent of wearable heart rate monitors due to the reduction in both size and cost has bridged the communication gap between them, but do these heart rate monitors help or hinder performance?

Heart rate monitors allow runners to keep an eye on exactly what the heart is doing as the miles tick by.  Knowing and monitoring the heart rate is possibly the most accurate way of monitoring and understanding the bodies’ adaptation to exercise. Endurance training like running markedly improves the hearts ability to pump blood around the body during exercise (Levine et al., 1991). The heart is the engine of the body and it responds to training by growing stronger, as the body becomes fitter the heart rate at any running speed falls (Houston et al., 1979; Thompson, 2007). Using heart rate monitor can help runners to hit the right intensity for each run by keeping workouts within a target heart rate zone. Hitting a “zone” means falling within a particular percentage of your maximum heart rate during every workout–for example, 65 to 70 percent for recovery runs and 80 to 90 percent for tempo workouts. But unfortunately an accurate measure of your maximum heart rate requires a graded exercise test – a VO2max test which forces most runners to use simple heart rate formulas which have a high degree of error. Therefore, many runners who control their effort by heart rate may be doomed from the start by using inaccurate maximal heart rates.

Training using a heart rate monitor may be holding runners back from reaching their potential. If the main concern in workouts is to stay within a target heart rate zone this places an artificial ceiling on performance. But when the focus is instead on performance variables such as speed, distance and standards set in previous workouts – runners work harder and get a greater fitness stimulus from the session. So for some runs   forget the heart rate monitor or GPS and just run by feel. Don’t let the mind control the heart because of feedback from a monitor, allow the intuition of your heart prevail over the doubts and fears of the head.


Houston ME, Bentzen H & Larsen H. (1979). Interrelationships between skeletal muscle adaptations and performance as studied by detraining and retraining. Acta Physiol Scand 105, 163-170.


Levine BD, Lane LD, Buckey JC, Friedman DB & Blomqvist CG. (1991). Left ventricular pressure-volume and Frank-Starling relations in endurance athletes. Implications for orthostatic tolerance and exercise performance. Circulation 84, 1016-1023.


McCraty R, Atkinson M & Bradley RT. (2004a). Electrophysiological evidence of intuition: part 1. The surprising role of the heart. J Altern Complement Med 10, 133-143.


McCraty R, Atkinson M & Bradley RT. (2004b). Electrophysiological evidence of intuition: Part 2. A system-wide process? J Altern Complement Med 10, 325-336.


Thompson PD. (2007). Cardiovascular adaptations to marathon running : the marathoner’s heart. Sports Med 37, 444-447.