Wednesday, February 27, 2013

"Just My Imagination Running Away"

You've seen the image, probably on Facebook, that has two computer drawn brains and the caption reads something along the lines of, "This is your brain before you run, and your brain immediately after you run."
There are some very distinct red, yellow, green, and blue blobs on the runner's brain. Naturally, without any idea of what you're looking at you decide it's a good thing to have a rainbow brain. After all, Lucky Charms, Gay Pride Flags, and the Care Bears have rainbows, so a runner's brain with rainbows is definitely a good thing.

The image that you're seeing is from an Electroencephalography (EEG). Put simply, the subject wears a clear shower cap with funny looking suction cups and is asked to perform some kind of task. The brain's responses are recorded based the electrical activity produced. The image of the two brains is from one of Dr. Charles H. Hillman's research experiments at the Neurocognitive Kinesiology Lab at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Fascinating stuff, right?

So, recntly while driving down the interstate I was listening to Radiolab. As described on their website, "Radiolab is a show about curiosity. Where sound illuminates ideas, and the boundaries blur between science, philosophy, and human experience." It's a thought-provoking hour of radio. This particular episode, After Life, is about the never-ending, mostly unanswerable question, "When someone is officially dead?"

One of the articles reports on the findings of Dr. Adrian Owen, a British neuroscientist. The study, "Bedside detection of awareness in the vegetative state: a cohort study." To summarize, Dr. Owen found that when a person in a vegetative state is given a verbal command to imagine playing a sport, in this case tennis, the EEG is almost identical to a person actively playing tennis. The study is, I think, to determine if people that are diagnosed as "brain dead" are actually brain dead. But, that's not very useful for me, as a non-neuroscientist runner. Or is it?

If the electrical output of imagination produces almost an identical electrical output as actually performing an activity should we be thinking about running a lot more? Assuming we want to get better, that is. The study sheds light on the actual effectiveness of gymnast, divers, and other athletes that do a few mental performance runs before they step-up to actually attempt it their event. Lets apply this to running. If anything, it can't hurt. For the next few runs take a few minutes to warm-up your brain by imagining yourself running. Run the route, run with your form, and take note of how you feel before, during, and after. Send me an email with your results, Include: Imagination. as the email's subject line. I'll keep your name, and email completely anonymous when I publish the results. We'll end the project on March 6th. Get your friends, family, and co-workers involved, too.