November 24, 2018

Finding Your Dopamine

“The way I train is based on my feelings, that is, on my desire to climb a mountain or to discover a valley.”

Kilian Jornet

If I didn’t know better, I’d say these words were from some new-age hippie prepping for the John Muir trail, not the best ultra runner on the world stage. It is an interesting twist to us runners, me included, that training should be based on the whimsical – feelings and desires – not the more austere discipline and commitment.

I’m not surprised, however, given what little I know about Kilian. Like the fact that ultra running is just one of his athletic pursuits, the other being skiing, which he focuses on exclusively in the winter months. Or the fact that in a typical week of ultra training he climbs between 30,000 and 65,000 feet, training for some 30 hours. (that is just his climbing, not his descending). In a typical year he trains everyday and gets in 1,000 hours.

Why this doesn’t surprise me comes down to something very basic. There is no way in hell he could do what he does – the massive training, racing, and winning year after year – if he didn’t love what he does! No way!

Here’s another quote from this endurance guru…

Enjoy every day and every outing. Training should not be an "obligation", just a way to improve. Training should be spending time doing something you love.

What does this have to do with the dopamine? Let me explain. Kilian talks of mountains and valleys. He talks about running in the mountains is not really running. He calls it “a 5-sense experience.” He calls for enjoying the scenery, smelling the earth and feeling the wind.

Ok, dopamine is neurotransmitter, a chemical that transmits signals between the brain’s nerve cells (neurons). Turns out, the brain neurons that produce dopamine become activated when something good happens, like seeing an amazing sunset, or when we come across something novel, like finding a new trail or discovering a new summit. It’s all about chemicals. Turns out, dopamine is also produced when something negative that is happening to you (pain from grinding up a mountain trail) ceases to happen.

So, it appears to me, Kilian Jornet, the most accomplished ultra runner in the sport, has tapped into the most natural formula for training motivation – dopamine production – by keeping things fun and enjoyable.

I think it is time time to modify my training!

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