All of your regular readers know that I love running. I got injured and could not run this year’s London Marathon, but am running it again next time around and have plenty of races lined up in preparation for it over the coming months now that my knee is virtually back to full fitness again.
Getting back into my weekly mileage is tough after a period off doing so… Yet I always find the elation of crossing the line at any marathon is such that it makes it very worthwhile, especially with the money I do my best to raise for some very worthy causes.
A marathon is some assault on your body. I lost 6 pounds in weight running my first marathon due to not taking on board sufficient carbs during the race. i wanted to measure myself after one marathon because i swear I was shorter!
Apparently though, the effects of all this marathon running are not exclusive to my body… The physical stress of running these marathons can also have an effect on my mind…. Let me explain and offer up some photos today…
The June 2009 issue of Psychonomic Bulletin and Review contained an article that looked at the effects of marathon running on memory… They tested marathon runners either a couple of days before the race or within 30 minutes of the finish.
This picture is of me finishing the hottest ever London Marathon on record.
Within the research trials, the runners were given a list of 26 words, and they rated the words for how pleasant they were. They also did two types of memory tests.
Next, the runners were shown the first few letters of words (called word stems) and were asked to write down the first word that came to mind that started with those letters.
Thirteen of these word stems were the start of words that the runners had seen on the list of words rated for pleasantness. If people fill in the word stem with words from the previous list, they are showing an influence of having seen that list before.
Finally, they were shown another list of word stems (different from the stems in the previous memory test). This time, they were told that the stems came from words that were part of the list that they saw earlier. They were told to write down the word from the list that started with that stem. This is a different memory test because the runners have to remember that the word appeared on the list they had seen.
What was the outcome of all this then?
As you might expect given the stress of running a marathon, runners who had just completed the marathon were worse on the explicit memory test than runners who had not yet run the marathon. The difference was not huge, but it was statistically reliable.
However, those that had just run a marathon were actually more likely to fill in a word stem with a word from the previous list than runners who had not yet run!
This is me unnecessarily wearing dark running glasses on a rainy, grey day, racing in Hampshire.
According to a variety of ex-spurts, there are lots of reasons why memory should get worse after running a marathon.
- The marathon is stressful to the body, and it leads to the release of hormones to deal with that stress.
- There are changes in levels of brain chemicals that help neurons pass along signals following a marathon.
- In addition, the body also has lots of waste products in it from breaking down sugars and using them to power muscles.
That said, none of these factors offer up a reasonable reason as to why runners would get worse on one memory test and at the same time would get better on another after running a marathon. So, this article is shrouded with mystery… Though I do hope researchers carry on examining this … I need to know if my continual running is affecting my memory or not! I don’t think it is…
You might like to notice my race number in this race… At Bournemouth Beach, Boscombe Pier… If my memory serves me correctly…
Perhaps selective memory loss is a contributing factor to marathon runners saying “never again” after the race and then coming back next year for more. I’ve heard that the same applies to childbirth! If it didn’t, maybe we would have a slowing or even a reversal of population growth.
Ah yes, quite right Andrew… Much like when Steve Redgrave said he’d never get on the water again after his 4th Rowing gold medal…
The time I have mostly said ‘never again’ has always been after drinking too much the night before… What’s more, it always seem to go hand in hand with memory loss too…
Or perhaps it suggests that conscious processing is impaired by the stress of running a marathon, yet this impairment leads to an improvement in unconscious (or automatic) processing by leaving fewer conscious resources available to interfere with the implicit memory task.
Another thought – why do runners in London have red shoelaces, but not in Hampshire or Dorset?
Aha – well spotted Kate. The red shoe laces were given free to all runners that year at London marathon – part of the main charity raising efforts. You have a keen eye 🙂
And I think you could be on to something there… When i run I find it very easy to focus on a select few things… My ipod is all I need when training, or even the sound of the beach or the sea is enough. it is very zen-like to run. Perhaps this articulates a lesser level of functioning and is reflected in the implicit memory tests…
I would prefer to see some research done on the long term effects of of running on the mental functioning, because I had always been led to believe the brain was enhanced by regular fresh supplies of oxygen and a fit body carrying it around.