Training the Mind (Of Dementors and Patronus)

Thursday, November 27, 2008

My mind is my best friend and worst enemy. God gave me a mind that will take on a marathon challenge, but will cower at the thought of doing a 400-meter dash. It is a mind that can solve differential equations but gets dumb-founded with a 3X(3X200M).

This is the same mind that dreads the Nike Training Clinics. I was one of the early registrants, but I froze when I saw the training plan: drills, tempo runs and those Number x Number signs. Yes, I love running, particularly the long slow distance, but I dread those that entail running fast at maximal effort. When I run fast, I experience knee pains and heels that hurt. I suppose I lose correct form in an effort to gain short-term speed. The pain does not last long, but it threatens to overshadow running pleasure.

My fear is not without basis. One book says, "...When you push as hard as possible for as long as possible, you do several things that are counterproductive to the adaptive process. First you experience great physical pain, which makes it less likely you will want to repeat the experience...Second, you stimulate the body to an overproduction of adrenal-gland hormones epinephrine and cortisol - the stress-response hormones... By forcing sustained overproduction, you exhaust the adrenal gland for a time, causing the phenomenon referred to as parasympathetic overtraining. This state both inhibits your adaptive ability and removes all joy from the training process."

(Championship Triathlon Training, by George Dalam, PhD and Steven Jonas, MD, both triathletes)

Maybe I am overthinking and overreacting. I suppose the physical pains are bearable, but I find it hard to accept that state where all joy from training is lost. From injury you can recover, but it is very hard to regain lost motivation. I should know - I have a 5-year love/hate/love/hate/love relationship with running.

The Harry Potter in me sees pain, injury and fatigue as Dementors threatening to drain out all the running happiness in me. Prior to my first session (the assessment run) I even tried to imagine the Patronus I would conjure when the Dementors attack. It would be my favorite dog Sofia, a Shetland sheepdog. I pictured Sofia bravely chasing away the Dementors and herding us to safety.

Dementor, Sofia

The Dementors did not attack the first night. Across the Great Hall that is Nike Park we
did our drills and passed through the Sorting Hat. Like a Freshman wizard, I watched in awe as the Headmaster and the professors demonstrated the tricks. They were awesome. I must confess though that I cheated in doing the drills. Dumbledore told us to run at maximal effort, but I think I only ran at maximum tolerable effort. I guess I was still afraid - of the Dementors. I seem to attract them when I exert maximal effort.

Yesterday my fellow wizards and I returned to the Hogwarts grounds to do practice runs. One wizard-friend was a natural - light on his feet and effortlessly fast. I silently wished I could run like that. As my fellow wizards finished their runs, I opted to stay behind. I walked further and found myself on the spot where we started our assessment runs. I remembered my wizard friend and his natural running form. I can run like that. With that picture in mind, I found myself setting my stopwatch and suddenly darting to do fast runs. I would do 5X800M with 10-15min rest intervals. I was aiming for fastest time within maximum tolerable effort. I went home jubilant. Speed runs can be fun after all. I just have to watch out for Dementors. In due time I hope to do away with a Patronus. Sofia and I will run in peace at Hogwarts.


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