Defying the evidence: I DO remember the pain of my one and only marathon

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Yesterday Sam sent me an article that is re-circulating. It’s entitled, “The Science Behind Why You Don’t Remember the Pain of Running Marathon.”

The thing is, I actually do remember the pain of my marathon. So I’m some kind of anomaly in that respect. I think one reason I remember it is that I blogged about it. In serious, painful detail. You can read that post here. I also had this research presented to me shortly after the marathon. So I filed it away and have kept it near the surface of my mind.

Nevertheless, the research makes sense to me. In a nutshell, the findings say that endurance athletes (indeed pretty much all athletes) are used to experiencing some pain associated with pushing themselves. But they learn to distinguish that pain from the pain of injury. Not only that, athletes also tend to recall event highlights.

And finally, “Pleasant emotion—your sense of accomplishment, self-satisfaction, or pride—can blunt your memory of the tough stuff…” Maybe there is something specific about physical accomplishment because I don’t know that we do this in other areas of life.

When I talk to friends who didn’t enjoy graduate school, for example, they have a tendency to dwell on what was hard and awful. When I talk to friends about broken relationships, only those who have worked hard at it are able to get past the parts that made them angry or sad (that is, it’s rare that someone will forget the pain of a bad relationship).

So I wonder if the accomplishments associated with physical endurance–the sense of achievement, of hard training paying off–are a different order that enables them to create amnesia.

Sometimes. As I said, I remember. I also remember the Around the Bay 30K of 2015. At the time I doubted I would ever run the 30K again. But here I am, training for Around the Bay 30K on March 31, 2019.

It’s not that I don’t remember that it was difficult, especially the last few kilometres. According to my race report, with about 2K to go, “This is around the time that I started to ask myself what the heck I thought I was doing and why did I sign up for this race and is this supposed to be fun or what the hell?”

So I clearly didn’t love it the whole way through. But that would be an unrealistic expectation anyway. Does my willingness to do it again four years later mean I’ve forgotten how hard it was? Or does it mean I’m up for another challenge?

I don’t know for sure. But based on my half marathon experience, my half marathons these days are a lot more fun than my half marathons four years ago. Not that there aren’t any tough moments, but I’m a stronger runner. If that can translate into a longer distance, then it’s possible that Around the Bay will be a stronger race for me in 2019 than in 2015. I guess we’ll see.

Meanwhile, I agree that we should focus on the positive after a race. But I don’t think that necessarily means the pain is forgotten. It’s more than we decide that, in the end, it’s worth it.

What do you think? Do you need to forget the pain of a difficult endurance experience to sign up again, or is it something that you think of as part of what makes the experience feel like a true sense of accomplishment (perhaps worth doing again)?

2 thoughts on “Defying the evidence: I DO remember the pain of my one and only marathon

  1. A few years ago a friend introduced me to the concept of “Type 2” fun. Whereas “Type 1” fun might be going to the zoo/out dancing with friends/eating ice cream/reading in bed with hot chocolate, “Type 2 fun” is the optional, recreational stuff we do BECAUSE it’s hard and challenging, like a marathon or a long, hard hike or taking a challenging course or class for personal development. We do it for the experience and the accomplishment. So, it’s fun, but not fun in the way that sitting around eating ice cream with friends is fun. I think sometimes people think of “fun” and “100% pleasant” as synonymous but they don’t necessarily have to be.

  2. This really resonates with me, Tracy. My experience of the pain of long rides is that there is a moment, generally, where it subsides because the endorphins take over, and generate feelings of calm, satisfaction, and anticipation (usually of the end, and of all the things I will then eat). The memories of the endorphin-moment stay, while the memories of other, harder sensory experiences fall away.

    When I get set to go out on a long ride I am very aware of the painful parts about to come, but that awareness is intellectual rather than affective. I pull on my gear with the anticipation of joy – and of course IN the ride I’m like, oh right, now I’m feeling pain in my quads and exhaustion keeping up with the peloton and why didn’t I remember this earlier? – but the joy returns along with the pleasure of post-ride fatigue after.

    So basically, I guess, I’m wondering about the hormonal component of what you’re describing.

    Catherine Womack: if you read this, can you share some of the science behind it?

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