Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Mindful Endurance Athlete Study: Part 1a, Descriptive Stats

At the very beginning this year, I began collecting pilot data for a new study examining the intersection between psychology - particularly, mindfulness skills - and endurance sports. This will be the first in a series of posts describing preliminary results, starting with descriptive statistics. If you'd like to link back to the initial study, take a look here.

Descriptive Stats: Who Are You?

 For starters - a total of n=326 people are represented in this data set. A pretty even distribution of triathletes and individual sport athletes (with some overlap - counting triathletes who also compete in single-sport events).

Average training hours/week is also fairly evenly distributed - the largest chunks fall between 7-13hrs/week, although sizable groups for 5-7hrs and 15+ as well.

Note also that long-time endurance athletes are highly represented in this sample - almost 1/3 have been at it for over 10 years.

Approximately half identify as age-group competitive, although there are a fair number at the pointy end - this will be interesting to break down between groups when we start looking at psychological skills!

You're loners. Well, almost 2/3 of you are. Whether out of necessity or a predominance of introverts is another question.

You're not all plugged in. Again, this will be a really interesting question to correlate with mindfulness skills - are the media consumers also less attentive and aware or not?

Gender and age brackets - a reasonably distributed random sample.

But...will mental skills be more a function (if a function at all) of real age or training age?

A lot of you are really stressed.

And that's not taking into account the physical stress of all those training hours.

In terms of regular mind-body practice, most people don't do it. Because of the "leave blank if none" option, the percentages shown are skewed a bit - the take-away is that a small handful of you practice yoga a few times per week (44/326, or 13.5%) or meditate (about 11%), with an impressive 15 daily meditators.

But is exercise in of itself a sufficient "moving meditation"? Maybe...stay tuned.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Stress, Mindfulness, Brain Changes, Inflammation...and Exercise (Updated)

A small puzzle piece added into my master map: exercise (just the basics for now). See right-hand side.

Exercise is interesting in that it is both a stressor (given that your body doesn't distinguish between physical/emotional/psychological stress in terms of the physiologic response) - and will thus contribute somewhat to the HPA axis/SNS cascade, as well as accumulation of ROS. However, in terms of exercise-induced ROS - we need them as the stimulus for muscle adaptation. Many, many recent studies show that while supplementing with antioxidants does reduced ROS, it also blunts the exact musculoskeletal adaptations you're trying to produce with exercise.

And that's why we talk about "eustress" vs "distress."

I've also thrown in the exercise -> mindfulness link, although I believe this is going to depend on the individual. For many (especially the iconic endurance athlete - the lone ultrarunner out in nature, the long distance open water swimmer), exercise is essentially moving meditation, and will hopefully take you down the same stress-reduction/SNS-quieting physiologic pathway in your daily life as, say, a sitting body-scan mindfulness exercise.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Clif Notes from a conversation on mental training for endurance athletes

A few months ago I chatted with Tim Floyd (Magnolia Masters swim coach) about one of my favorite topics - mental training and sports performance. Specifically, we bounced around ideas & tried to connect the dots between brain power, physiologic stress, and swimming/biking/running faster while avoiding injury.

These are the notes I took:

If you've been following along, you may have noticed I think in diagrams. I also scribble a lot. Here's the English language interpretation of the above:

  • Attention & awareness is important. If you "fix your brain" (meditation, mindfulness activity of choice, etc), you're better able to attend to/be aware of your internal & external experience. And vice versa. The better your attention & awareness is, the healthier/"more trained" your brain will be.
  • Attention & awareness allows you to observe & not react to internal/external stressors. This decreases your perceived stress level. Less stress leads to a healthier autonomic nervous system (think heart rate variability). This likely shows up in practice as less neuromuscular fatigue
    • Decreased neuromuscular fatigue -> decreased injury risk.
  • Deep practice is key. Athletes may experience this as getting into a "flow state." Practices that train attention & awareness (eg mindfulness) likely enhance your ability to get into flow state. The easier it is for you to do that, the more deep practice you'll get in (key for swimming technique and performance, for example).
    • The effects of deep practice likely also interface with autonomic nervous function and neuromuscular fatigue.
  • Interesting peripheral things we talked about, as they relate to the above key points:
    • MyJump - app that measures vertical jump height. Why would we care about this? Indexing neuromuscular fatigue.
    • Focus Band - a "mind training headset" that *maybe* gets you to deep practice. I haven't personally used it, but my impression is it's essentially mindfulness training with external feedback. 
    • Float pods - in the "healthy autonomic nervous system" toolbox.
  • Reading recommendations!
    • The Quiet Eye in Action
    • Zen Body Being
    • Easy Speed

Cross-country Adventures & A Return to Triathlon-ing

July: Tulsa, OK

I spent July in Oklahoma and was reminded how much I miss the South. Big sunny skies. Lots of cycling. A little bit of running for the first time in a long time. Stupid hot but stupid fun.

The Arkansas River became a familiar backdrop.
Shameless plug: Can't say enough good things about the Soas Racing Speed Series kit for hot weather cycling. Seriously, 95-105 degrees and as cool as one can be in that weather.

August: Rochester, MN

Small town. Good cycling. Lots of corn fields, less hot, lots of wind. Wide road shoulders and the most passing distance I've ever been given by drivers.

It's a good sign when you find a cheese company on your first ride.
My orthopedist blessed me to do a little bit of local racing. MN triathletes are quite friendly. It's been two seasons, so transitions were at snail-pace and I did a few comical things like follow a swim buoy that was attached to a boat going to rescue someone and not a part of the swim course. I had a good time and even made some podiums. 

Real winners get pint glasses.