Race resume

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Neurotype- 100 mile to 100 meters.

     I'm writing this in rambling fashion. I've forgotten all of the stuff I learned when I got my double  PhDs in creative writing and physiology from Columbia. Just as I've blocked the most horrifying parts of that time on Hoth  when my friend found me unconscious in a blizzard and saved my life by stuffing me inside his gutted Tauntaun. Both of those are equally true.

 This is more just thoughts on my experiences in training for and racing both ultras, the 100 mile specifically, and sprints and how they differ in terms of neurotransmitters and personality type. 
  My first race back after running 100 miles was 100 meters where I ran 12.8 seconds after stumbling out of the blocks. It was my first time ever using blocks. I've improved a ton so they are no longer a stumbling block. That's sort of a wide range of effort and distance and the disparity goes well beyond the physical. The mental aspect is so different that I wouldn't even classify the two as a similar sport. The mental aspect not only varies from the idea of time and intensity but also from the chemicals involved in the brain. How you think of it and what it requires to sprint and how you feel afterward is very chemically dissimilar. Arousal before the race is even profoundly different with one being a Celine Dion song trying to relax and the other akin to lighting yourself on fire while listening to AC/DC's Thunderstruck.

These neurotypes have come about from a body builder (Christian Thibaudeau) so they are aimed at strength athletes more than runners. I look at them only as a runner so I can see the similarities and they absolutely apply. If you look at how a self coached athlete chooses their training program/ workouts or race distances you will see correlations in preference, similar to food choices, music, clothes.  Here's a basic idea of the different neurotransmitters at play and how they line up with various personality types:
1A Dopamine Seeking. High acetylcholine. Most neurally powered. Can tolerate the highest intensity loading but does best with the lowest volumes.

 1B Dopamine Seeking. Low acetylcholine Also neurally driven, but more explosive than the 1A. More "athletic", where 1A uses brute force to accomplish a task. Many track and field jumpers.

 2A Adrenaline Seeking. High GABA. Very outgoing due to a desire for affirmation of others and low social anxiety. Does well with a mix of neural and muscular training. Can be difficult to taper and prepare for high competitions.

 2B Adrenaline Seeking Low GABA. More of a "bodybuilder" type. Higher anxiety and reward dependent. Not generally a great athlete, has to work very hard to be good at their sport and is often a more supporting player. Doesn't tolerate a lot of intense neural work well.

 3 Serotonin seeking. Overproduces cortisol. High anxiety and seeks predictability. Makes good endurance athletes since this type of work is highly predictable. Doesn't do well with neural work, since they have the weakest nervous system.

  These neurotypes or personality types are general observations in different athletes and there is no  cut and dry rule on each. Although I do feel that our personality types (hormone dominance) do choose our ideal natural discipline. Me for instance. I'm a type 1 yet I did well at Ironman and ultras. I consciously chose those sports but my true happiness always came from intensity. I just happen to be durable enough (from starting strength training from an early age) that I was able to do a crap ton of volume (for the sport), up into the 30-40 hours a week range for years, and mix in a crap ton of intensity which was/ is my type 1 personality showing through, which is similar to a person craving a piece of cake. I crave(d) intensity for a hit a of dopamine which is tougher to obtain on a 5 hour run or bike. A 200 meter sprint is an immediate fix. But it ultimately led to massive under performance in Ironman because of constantly being tired. I suspect I may have been a more natural Olympic distance guy.

  You can mix, or find a mix of, the various types within an individual but there will always be an underlying preference that indicates the neurotransmitters that we're seeking. As a coacher of athletes for the past 20 years as I learn more about the chemical side of personality I am trying to correlate or classify athletes with this in mind. I have an athlete who over the past 3 years has gone from focusing on 100 milers to wanting to run a fast 5k. He then switched to Ironman and has been able to do massive amounts of volume. Yet this past Saturday ran a solo 16:30 5k  time trial on the track. He's always up for and enthusiastic for intensity. He was also a professional golfer which, believe it or not, is very much a type 1 athlete in that it's risk seeking both in the sport itself and as a chosen profession. And if you think about golf from a neural pov it isn't that much different from a sprinter. You line up and need hyper focus for just a few seconds. Then you take (maybe) a risk in your shot and then you're immediately gratified with success. Or that's what you're seeking anyway.
 Definite Type 1-2 tendencies. His type 3 side comes into play, in my opinion, more from the novelty side of Ironman and also the significant challenge it presents. Ignoring neurotransmitters for the sake of the challenge or discipline is a whole nother blog post in itself. Craving desert (sugar cravings can also be a sign of high cortisol levels) but not allowing it because of the satisfaction of being disciplined is a mobius strip of psychology. Anyway, his recovery and ability to absorb massive volume is very good which isn't necessarily a type 1 trait. He's just as happy banging out 200's on a track as he is riding 6 hours on a trainer. So he's a mix and as his coach I need to be aware of this and recognize that he will thrive more if I don't go by the book with periodization and allow some satisfaction of his underlying cravings. The good thing is that I recognize this and I also see how destructive a durable and motivated athlete can be to themselves.

  Understanding an athlete's neurotype should not only help to steer their race choices but also steer their periodization. Polarized training for example is a good choice for an athlete who enjoys intensity, or a type 1-2. They may need a long, focused period of Z2 or easy mileage but if they get bored and aren't enjoying it then I say don't do it or at the very least allow some workouts that are "fun" for them. You could also extend this concept over to the workplace and examine the productivity of employees. I guarantee the most productive people are the ones who enjoy their job. 

 I had written a bunch more on this but was going in circles and rambling way off track so I cut it short here. I feel there is real potential in understanding neurotypes and what types of training will yield the best results.
 If you're interested in learning more from the Master himself then check out Christian Thibaudeau over at T-nation. Like I said, he's a bodybuilder and his perspective is from that view point BUT there is real correlation in runners and endurance athletes. We have the same hormones and neurotransmitters that guide everything we do.


  1. I truly enjoyed reading this. Thanks!

  2. I've heard you discussing this on Endurance Planet, and I think it's fascinating. I'm a runner, but agree that these concepts can be extrapolated beyond strength training. Are there any books or other non-commercial resources to read on this subject?

  3. There is plenty of information out there on personality types and the corresponding neurotransmitters but not much that uses it for athletes. Christian Thibaudeau has done the most in correlating it to sports. I have yet to find anything based on running though. I've listened to and read much of what Christian puts out there and look at it through the eyes of a long time runner and coach.