Do Runners Have Amnesia?

imagesCA32IXH9Completing a marathon can feel exciting, but no doubt, it hurts. Still, most runners choose to sign up for more. A new psychological study offers some explanation of why, by finding that some marathon runners seem to develop selective amnesia and forget what the true experience is like.


The new study was published in the journal Memory. Przemyslaw Babel, a professor of psychology at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, focused on the marathon because the experience combines pain with emotions.

The Research:

At the finish line of the 2012 Cracovia Marathon in Krakow, Babel asked 62 of the finishers to rate the intensity and unpleasantness of the pain they were feeling right after they finished, as well as their general emotional state.

The runners reported a moderate intensity and unpleasantness of pain at the time, averaging about a 5.5 on a scale of zero to 10.

Then either three or six months later, the same runners were asked to remember how much pain they were in after they finished the marathon.

Their memories proved  quite different than how they responded three to six months previously. Most of the runners recalled the race as being much less painful than they said at the time, averaging a three on a 10-point scale.


The runners who had reported less happiness at the race’s end later remembered their pain more accurately than those who felt elated after crossing the finish line, even if their pain at the time had been about the same.


According to the study, “The results of the current study suggest that memory of pain and affect is influenced by the meaning and affective value of the pain experience. This may help us to understand why the previous research on the memory of pain were so diverse.”


Is Too Much Running Bad for You?

Goodshoot 1In the past few weeks, the subject of marathons has become an elevated topic in newspapers and websites. A recent study published in BMJ by Dr. Beth Taylor, et al. used several Boston qualifiers and their partners to show the effects of running on cardiovascular health.

Dr. Taylor and her colleagues contacted numerous Boston Marathon qualifiers and inquired on their relationship status: Did they have a partner? If yes, did their partners run as well? If the answer was also yes, the researchers asked if both of them would be available and willing to have their heart scanned and cardiovascular risk assessed.

A total of 42 runners agreed, along with their partners (thus doubling the study participants). The demographics looked like this:

It was split 50/50 for male/females.
Ages ranged from 33-59.
Partners’ ages were near the same but the majority of them were not active runners.

At the Boston Marathon expo in 2012, exactly one day before the race, the participants visited a lab located next door and filled out a questionnaire about exercise and health histories and blood samples were taken. They then had their heart scanned using a noninvasive method.

Results were not surprising: runners were thinner than their partners, had lower blood pressure, lower heart rates and lower levels of bad cholesterol. However, according to a New York Times article on the study, “Running did not insulate the racers altogether from heart disease, the scientists found. Some of the racers, particularly the oldest ones, carried large deposits of plaques in their arteries, a worrying sign.”

Basically, running doesn’t relieve you of aging, unfortunate genetics and bad habits that you formed before you started the sport. Is this surprising to you?

Good news: the study showed marathon training is not bad for your heart as is often the myth in fitness.