One of the realities of competing in an endurance sport, like marathons and triathlons, is that it is going to hurt. In fact, it is often said that the winner of these types of events is the one who can endure the most pain. These athletes are able to push through barriers that most people cannot. A new study, conducted by researchers at Tel Aviv University, helps to explain why. The findings from the study were published in the journal Pain and were discussed in this article from October 4.
The study tested 19 triathletes and 17 non-athletes. The triathletes had all competed in at least two Iron man-distance triathlons (2.4-mile swim, 112-mile swim and 26.2-mile marathon). The non-athletes were people who regularly participated in non-competitive exercises like jogging and swimming.
The participants were put through a variety of pain tests, such as heat on one arm and a cold-water bath on the other arm. They were also given questionnaires about their attitudes towards pain.
All of the participants tested about the same in relation to identifying pain. The difference is that the triathletes perceived the pain as being less intense and did last longer with the pain. The triathletes also registered less fear and worry about pain, which researchers say may explain their higher tolerance.
The article also points out that another explanation for the triathletes higher pain tolerance is that they may have taught their bodies how to respond to the stimulus. This idea suggests that anyone, such as someone with chronic pain, may be able to learn to deal with their pain better.
The results should not come as news to anyone who participates in endurance sports. These athletes all had to start somewhere and build up their endurance to be able to compete at the longer events. They did not simply start out being tough; they got that way from training and fighting through the pain and other issues that they experienced.