Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Ultra runners may have "Traumatic Brain Injury"

The following is an exert from an article in on the Wasatch 100 website.  All I can say is that almost everyone, except other ultrarunners, tells me I am crazy when I try to explain to them about running 100 mile races.  Maybe they knew something I didn't!   (I added the "bold Italic")

Aharon D. Shulimson, Ph.D., M.S.C.P.

In 1997 my fiancée and I (we got married two weeks later) became the rest stop captains for the Big Mountain rest stop. The 2011 Wasatch 100 was our fifteenth race. It has been great fun for us and our volunteers. As a psychologist I often pondered the question of what goes on in the brain of an ultramarathon runner that makes it possible to run 100 miles. There had to be something that separated ultramarathon runners from ordinary human beings.
Two years ago, I began to try to answer this question by recruiting Wasatch 100 runners who were willing to be tested using a quantitative electroencephalogram (QEEG). The minimum requirement to be accepted into the study was finishing one 100 mile race. Nine runners, many with extensive ultramarathon experience, came to my office to have their EEGs recorded.
Quantitative EEG is a standardized test of brain electrical activity. The EEG is recorded and then analyzed by a database that compares an individual’s EEG to what is statistically average for one’s age group. QEEG is often used as part of the evaluation process for persons with ADHD, traumatic brain injury, anxiety disorders and learning disabilities. Go to the link at the bottom of this page for a more detailed description of QEEG and to download sample brain maps.
The test results showed that the brains of the runners that I studied are different from the brains of average people in several ways. All of them had elevated levels of slow brain wave activity, elevated levels of fast wave activity, or a combination of the two. In the clinical setting, elevated levels of slow wave activity are often seen in persons with ADD/ADHD and traumatic brain injury as well as other conditions. High amplitude fast wave activity is a common finding in patients with anxiety disorders and alcohol abuse.
How does it help an ultramarathon runner to have elevated levels of slow wave activity, fast wave activity, or both? I have posed this question to several sports psychologists who use QEEG in their practices. They suggested the following: 1) The slow wave activity probably makes it easier for runners to go into "the zone" where they are running but are not fully aware of their surroundings; 2) The fast wave activity probably helps with maintaining energy and motivation over a 100 mile race course.
Thanks again to the runners who participated in this study. Anyone who has questions about the project or wants to share their thoughts about my conclusions can contact me through Facebook, email me at aharon@xmission.com or call me at 801-671-4048.

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