A few weeks back, Mason & I were installing a new door frame at our house and talking about his swimming. During the conversation, we discussed his goals for this year for high school, short course and long course. One thing on his list was to improve his speed in the shorter races which will then transfer over to the longer events. I told him it was simple. He just needed to swim “faster than the speed of pain.”
Of course, he laughed at me because it did not make logical sense to him.
But it did to me.
DISCLAIMER: I am an engineer and NOT a medical doctor, so anything written below this line is complete bullshit that came out of my engineering brain. You have been officially warned.
So here is my theory. The human body is an amazing creation that can do incredible things. It has 1 billion ways to cope with physical, mental and emotional distress and each way is purely about self preservation. It wants to protect itself at all costs. Period.
Let’s imagine you are running along the road and you have a pain in your calf. One of the many nerve endings in your leg would send a signal via the neural network to some center of the brain which we will hereafter call “The Boss Man.” The Boss Man gets the email, and sends out instructions to deal with the problem. He may send a signal to the legs to slow down. He may send a signal to the other leg to take up the slack (limp). He may even send a signal to the larynx to cause a grunt or the tear ducts to dump some water.
Or if you woke him up out of a deep sleep (daydreaming about winning), he may just send a signal for the Charley horses to take you out. Or even multiple ones if you pissed him off enough (see here). Whatever signal he sends, the primary purpose is to prevent the pain from getting any worse and to keep you from damaging his machine.
Now there are several “filters” that other parts of the brain can throw at The Boss Man to delay his tactics. The “Macho Men Don’t Cry” filter is very useful when trying to gut out the last 100 yards of that 5K run or when you are taking a shower in a hotel after forgetting to put body glide in all the necessary spots.
The “Pain is Temporary Pride is Forever” filter does wonders in the later stages of a marathon when The Boss Man starts getting creative with his signals. For some reason he loves causing a cramp in one body part when the real pain is elsewhere.
But depending on the severity of the pain and/or location (think groinal region), the “Scream Like a Little Girl” filter can easily overrule all others. And that is just not right. Or easy to get people from talking about for years.
In Mason’s case, his favorite event is the obnoxiously painful 200 butterfly. At least that is what I hear. I am not willing to embarrass myself and my entire family enough to learn how to do the butterfly stroke. I will leave that for Mason. But the 200 fly seems like a pretty long event to try to fool the Boss Man. In Mason’s case, he is under 2 minutes right now for the 200 fly. With the right filters in place before hand, he should be able to confuse the Boss Man long enough to finish. At least that is my theory.
And it works. This weekend was the High School City Championships. Mason had an awesome meet winning the 100 fly and the 200 Individual Medley with pretty good times. But the true test was his lead off for the 4×100 free relay. His best time going into the event was a 50.84 which he swam in September. His Crawfish coach, Jayme, told him to go out at top speed and hold on.
He did. And he swam a 49.27. Over a 1.5 second drop in the 100 yard freestyle. He told me afterward that at 75 yards he was starting to hurt, but he just kept going. He threw all the filters at the Boss Man and it confused him enough for Mason to finish.
He swam Faster Than the Speed of Pain. And that is fast.
So now I am working on a similar concept for my 100 mile run in February. But I like to call it Faster Than the Speed of Rigor Mortis. Yep, that should be about right.