Friday, 11 July 2014

The Butterfly effect!

It's that time again! Training is all done, taper period is over and race day is almost upon me.

As usual and as expected the butterfly effect is taking place in my abdomen.

Why do we get butterflies?


The feeling of 'butterflies' comes from an over activity in the sympathetic (fight or flight) nervous system. The fight or flight response occurs when we are presented with a challenge or stressful event in our lives. The autonomic (involuntary) nervous system has two components; the sympathetic and the parasympathetic (rest and digest) nervous system. These two components of the autonomic nervous system work like a 'see saw', if one goes up, the other goes down or is suppressed. 



As we prepare to tackle the challenge or stressful episode our bodies go through physiological changes. When the fight or flight effect occurs our pupils dilate, our hearts speed up along with our breathing rate, the vessels carrying blood to and from our skeletal muscles dilate and this draws blood from our skin (we look pale) and intestines (smooth, involuntary muscle). All this makes us feel 'on edge.'

Because the fight or flight is up the rest and digest is down. This makes sleeping very difficult and will suppress hunger due to the physiological effects of increased heart and respiratory rate and decreased blood flow to the intestines.

As you tackle this stressful event by fighting or flighting (running away) you want a heart that is beating fast, lungs that are quickly delivering oxygen and eyes wide for full vision. You don't want your blood being used to digest food and you don't want your brain thinking about sleep.

As all this happens, the adrenals, a gland on top of the kidneys, start to produce nor-adrenaline or nor-epinephrine (depending on which side of the Atlantic Ocean you live on), this causes a positive feed back loop which, amplifies the whole effect.

Is it normal?

The stomach starts to feel strange 'like there are butterflies flying around inside.' This will continue and increase right up until the race starts. The whole fight or flight phenomenon is nothing to be scared of and it happens to every single person. It's a completely natural response. Be warned drinking coffee during this period is likely to amplify the effect even more. Personal experience has shown me that I start to feel really nervous after drinking coffee while my fight or flight system is elevated. 

As soon as the race starts or just before it starts, you come to a cortical realisation that the event is going to take place. You will feel a calmness engulfing your body and thoughts and then,,, BOOM...... It's race time! 

Run far, run fast but most of all RunSensible! 

Neil 
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