Smiling through pain

It’s a thing.

If you smile while running a marathon, you will feel better.

No, no, I’m not talking about the finish line photos, even though obviously they’re nicer with a “YESSS!!! I did it” smile, rather than a grimace of pain.

My 2017 Mumbai photos, as I tottered across the finish line, are a picture of misery.  It was either grimace or throw up, not to put too fine a point on it.

This year, however, I smiled and was happy and hugged the lovely man who chivvied me across the finish line.

But the psychology of smiling is more than just a photo op, of course.

There is a science behind it, as a fascinating article in today’s Times explains.

Here are the salient bit from the article, sent to me by sister dearest.

The underlining is mine:

“Last year Eliud Kipchoge, the fastest marathon runner on the planet, came within 26 seconds of covering the distance in two hours.

With each passing mile, something uncanny would happen to Kipchoge’s face: a broad grin, conceived in a deliberate effort to smile away the pain.

A study by British sport psychologists suggests that this tactic makes physical exertion measurably more efficient, boosting a runner’s economy by at least 2 per cent. The effect appears to be down to the way that acting out an emotion — even by simply rearranging your expression — can change your mood and even your physiology…

…For the study, published in the journal Psychology of Sport and Exercise, they asked 24 club-level distance runners to run for four six-minute stretches at 80 to 85 per cent of their maximum heart rate, about the intensity at which they would compete in a marathon.

In some of the bursts the runners were asked to form a “real” smile; in others they were instructed to frown, to try to relax their upper bodies by imagining that they were carrying crisps between their fingers, or to think about what they would normally contemplate during a training session.

The scientists calculated the economy of each participant’s running by measuring the volume of oxygen they breathed out, which closely tracks the amount of energy expended. They were surprised to find that merely asking people to relax had no effect on their efficiency, but smiling did.

Now how fascinating is this?
A 2% boost to one’s running economy, just because you smile.  Sounds like a total win-win situation to me.
And so, as I count down the days to my next marathon on the 25th February (2 marathons in 5 weeks is a bit crazy, agreed) I’m going to practise that 2%-economy-winning-smile 🙂

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