Dopamine Is an Athlete’s Friend

If it isn’t giving you joy, don’t do it. (Photo: Grateful thanks to Frank McKenna on Unsplash; colorized in Photoshop 2021.)

I love Tony Holler’s work.

The retired Illinois state hall-of-fame track and JV football coach enjoyed awe-inspiring success during his active career. He now co-heads the Track Football Consortium.

Which, I reckon, will bring up an issue for distance runners, especially young ones. WHY is this old, over-the-hill former ultramarathon slogger talking about FOOTBALL?

You see, I was educated spiritually with the idea that the same principles apply across everything, including sports. When I look closely I find that they apply in interpersonal relationships, business, technology, and the search for happiness, just to name a few.

Anyway, this is by way of introducing a couple of Tony’s favorite sayings that seem acutely relevant in these COVID days.

“Dopamine is the neurotransmitter that allows sprinters to sprint faster. High dopamine levels also result in reckless confidence. Best two ways to increase dopamine levels… sunshine and sleep.”

“Tired is the enemy, not the goal.”

Football players and sprinters have thrived under Tony’s less-is-more coaching which puts a heavy emphasis on complete recovery and NEVER overtraining.

It took me a long time, back in my running days, to discover that these simple principles apply to the long-distance events as well. I’ve known, or known of, an impressive number of runners who got their best results at the marathon and ultra distances by doing less.

Sure, maybe it takes 100 weekly miles to run a sub-2:30 marathon. I don’t know. But if were training for my first (survival-in-good-humor) marathon today, I’d do it the simple way: one run of 20 miles every week; on alternate weeks, continue after 20 miles with walking for a total of up to 30 miles. Be very, very, VERY careful to finish the 20-milers happily tired but NEVER brutishly exhausted. If you’re feeling bushed at 5 or 10 or 15 miles — STOP RUNNING.

During the rest of the days of the week, do diddly-all, just pokey doddles of max 30 minutes to keep from going crazy. Adjust according to your personal Joy Meter.

Fine-tune your schedule according to inner feeling. Do everything that gives you genuine joy, and do NOTHING else.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.