The Body and (Extra Tough) Mind of an Ultramarathoner
Study shows how highest-mileage athletes differ from the rest of us
While intuition may tell you that it takes a special breed of runner to sign up for a 100-mile race through the wilderness, a study now proves it.
An article published in the journal Pain Practice shows that personality and pain tolerance differ between ultramarathoners and other individuals.
Although the study was small, it’s still insightful. German scientists administered pain tolerance and personality tests to 11 people of the same age, sex and ethnicity as ultrarunners, but who lacked any marathon experience in the previous five years.
Researchers used a cold pressor test, in which subjects put their hand in ice water, to determine pain tolerance. Subjects were asked to report when they felt pain and when the pain became unbearable. At that point, the subjects took their hands out of the ice bath. Based on the findings, ultramarathoners had a significantly greater pain tolerance than the control group.
Two personality tests were also used. A general self-efficacy test measured each subject’s ability to deal with problems that came up while doing another activity showed no significant difference.
However a second test revealed that ultrarunners were much more individualistic, less cooperative, and had less reward-dependence than the control group.
That level of self-determination and drive might help explain how ultramarathoners complete grueling races from Death Valley to Antarctica.