The Great Pumpkin Beer Battle, and Training Your Brain
I had planned to review six pumpkin beers for today's blog post, but halfway through the first one I decided that I really don't care for pumpkin beer. It just doesn't do it for me, not in the slightest. Instead, after a couple of episodes of the office and a delicious attempt at an apple monkey bread, I found myself reading about mental strength as a key, yet often neglected aspect of marathon training.
Beer One: Sam Adam's Harvest Pumpkin Ale. Clear amber color with a smell of spice. More taste of fall spices than pumpkin.
Apple monkey bread. Lacking that apple crisp-ness that I was intending, though still delicious.
I've been interested in learning what it takes to get through a marathon; what it takes to be an elite athlete. I think it is safe to say that I will never dominate a field of Kenyans at the Boilermaker, but that doesn't suppress my desire to improve any way that I can. During both of the half marathons that I've run to date, there was a point where I mentally hit a wall. Both times it was about 10 miles in, and both times having Ellie there to push me through was probably the only reason I made it through the last 5k of the races. I know that I have a ton of room for improvement physically, but even more so mentally.
Around beer two, which was a Smuttynose Brewing's Pumpkin Ale which had a bit more pumpkin flavor but also came with a lingering anise spice taste -- that I wasn't big on (Ellie dumped hers after four sips), I came across an article on Runner's World talking about new research diving into physically training your brain to suffer through extremely monotonous computer activities. The hypothesis is that you can gradually adapt to increased levels of the chemical Adenosine, which is attributed to causing mental fatigue. I imagine it is something that the military has done for years really, forcing intense workouts after intentional sleep deprivation to increase a soldiers ability to handle stress. To simulate that via computer program is an interesting idea.
It makes sense that your brain wouldn't be an innocent bystander when it comes to exercise. It wouldn't just wait around until your muscles fail from complete exhaustion and glycogen depletion. Instead it attempts to shut you down long before that. It is probably why during the last stretch of every race the majority of amature runners will speed up to the fastest pace they ran all day, despite reaching their "max" miles earlier. Despite feeling like absolute garbage in the middle miles, you weren't truly at the point of breaking. It was just your brain telling you that you were.
For those keeping track, beer three was Long Trail Ale's Pumpkin Ale -- which I also am not a fan of. I am really not digging the pumpkin spice flavor profile, and basically every brewing company produces the same fake/weird tasting pumpkin spice beer. I didn't end up going through the other three, Ellie and I both called it quits.
Towards the end of the article, the author brought up a good point. We have all experienced one of those runs where we just aren't feeling it. No matter what pace you should be capable of, you perform far worse than anticipated. Those runs suck, but they happen. But hey, by fighting through that urge to quit, you are training your brain to not give in. Eventually research suggests that you can adapt to it and become better for it. I'll have to keep that idea in mind next time I want to give up after a mile.
There is a ton that I don't understand about endurance sports, but the more that I am immersing myself in the literature, as well as actual competition, the more I realize that a lot of it has to do with just plain attitude. What I used to say in jest to my sister . . . that it is all mental . . . that she could go out and run a 5k with no training, actually isn't far off the mark after all (and for the record she was able to go out and do a 5k several times on various occasions with no training). The brain is more than capable of getting you from point A to point B, you just have to ask it nicely and have a positive attitude while you do it.
As far as the beer goes, I think my foray into the land of Pumpkin Ale is over. Unless someone has a great recommendation that they are willing to risk their beer reputations on, I'll pass.