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Wednesday
Jun152011

Climbing with the Mind

A view of Douthat Lake from Middle Mountain Trail (a pretty good climb on a Mountain Bike).

There is a frequently told story, or urban legend, about a man who dies upon being locked in a walk-in freezer, despite the fact it was unpowered and the interior was room temperature. The point is followed up with the idea that the mind ‘creates the universe’.  Unfortunately this is a myth or urban legend; however, there are a number of well-known mind-body connections that pay a role in athletics and exercise.

It is generally believed that when you are moving (or biking) uphill, the autonomic nervous system (ANS) of your brain says ‘slow-down’ or sends a message of fatigue. This is an energy-saving survival mechanism. As Dr. Hauss describes in his book, The Buddha’s Brain, the PNS is perpetually scanning for danger and we need to conserve our energy so we can run away from sabre tooth tigers on the savanna.

So when you are biking up a long, intimidating hill the message of fatigue is sent to your brain and your body experiences a false or induced sense of fatigue. This can be especially true in mountain biking on narrow single track. Around my neck of the woods, in areas such as Douthat or North Mountain, there are short sections of very steep trail that you must power into.  The net result is that a 200 watt effort will feel or seem like a 300 watt effort.

In my experience this dissipates with time. There are many hills, previously perceived impossible, that I can pedal, bottom to top, without stopping to push. Plus, you can gauge your visual-visceral response to the terrain by examining your perceived efforts. Again this is something that is improved with meditation. Unfortunately, meditation will not add very much conditioning something. You will still need to power up those hills.

Reader Comments (1)

There is a very fascinating episode of the Radiolab podcast about this:

http://www.radiolab.org/2010/apr/05/

I highly recommend it!

June 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDave

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