My running mate Thomas sent me a link to the abstract of an article in German weekly Der Spiegel. It’s about a study (only the methodological description…) of the physiological effects of “extreme” running: 44 participants of the 2009 TransEurope FootRace 2009 (TEFR09), one of the longest transcontinental ultramarathons ever with an extreme endurance physical load of running nearly 4,500 km in 64 days, underwent extensive tests, at various stages of the race, including MRIs.
One of the many results, the one that Der Spiegel focused on, is of particular interest to runners like Thomas and myself: after 4000 kilometers on the road grey matter had on average diminished by 6%. When you need food to keep the body running, you need food. We seem to metabolize even brain tissue if need be. Sounds worse (?) than it is: brain cells don’t die, they just shrink. Eight months later the brain is back at normal size.
Does make you think doesn’t?
Before I continue, this kinda running is beyond, way beyond my imagination of what I would be able to do. I’m just arm chair running here. But that’s something I regularly indulge in, so it’s a fancy in itself. I intend to reflect on where that comes in another post.
Anyway, I assume it makes you think, but does it make you think the right thoughts?
The normal way of looking at these kinds of studies is through the perspective of human ability to adapt to serious levels of endurance load. I want to take it a bit more literal, this brain size shrinking. Fasting can be good for you, no? Getting rid of all the build up rubbish. Any reason to expect the brain is different? I’m kidding, but there’s lots out there about the body-mind connection and some of that is about what extreme physical disciplines do with and to the mind. I’m not talking no pain no gain here, I’m talking release, enlightenment, I’m talking about what cannot be captured by talk. Let me share a link with you that documents one such discipline.