When it comes to pain, marathoners often forget just how much 26.2 miles actually hurt.
Marathons are painful. From the muscle-weary legs to side-splitting aches to blisters and bruised toenails that eventually fall off. So why do we keep signing up for them despite the inevitable pain?
There are several reasons that can factor into this. However, a recent study written by Prezmyslaw Babel and published in the journal Memory, may have one scientifically proven answer behind this phenomenon.
Assessing the memory of pain induced by running a marathon, the study polled 62 marathoners in Poland on their perceived pain level immediately after a race and then again either three or six months later. The second phase had the participants split into two groups, in which 32 participants were asked three months later and 30 participants were asked six months after the fact. The three-month group felt 10 percent less pain than their initial response, while the six-month group reported a 20 percent decrease in perceived pain.
“Regardless of the length of recall delay, participants underestimated both recalled pain intensity and unpleasantness,” Babel cites in his study.
In other words, by the time you’re ready to sign up for the next marathon (and as more time passes in between), you’ve already forgotten about the sore calves and feet, blisters and chafing skin that comes with running one.
Although the study doesn’t focus on how positive affects may have an influence on the memory of pain, Babel does note in his study that marathons are “harbingers of a happy event.” Thus suggesting that the positive emotions associated with crossing a finish line, receiving a medal and feeling accomplished far outweigh the negative emotions tied to physiologic pain, and those positive emotions are usually what we takeaway from a race in terms of long-term memory association.
How does this apply to the average marathoner? The next time you’re suffering along the course, pull a Jedi mind-trick and imagine the future six-month-self that’s already moved on from the pain.
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