Could you swim half a mile, jump on a bike for 12 miles, and then hit the ground to run three miles? Most of us couldn’t but this is considered a short course for a triathlon. The Ironman course includes a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike race and 26.2-mile run.

How do triathletes do it?

Researchers at Tel Aviv University think triathletes’ super athletic powers could be down to their tendency to feel less pain than casual exercisers.

“In our study, triathletes rated pain lower in intensity, tolerated it longer, and inhibited it better than individuals in a control group,” says Prof. Ruth Defrin.”We think both physiological and psychological factors underlie these differences and help explain how triathletes are able to perform at such a high level.”

For this study, triathletes identified pain just as well as nonathletes, but they perceived it as less intense and were able to withstand it longer.

“The triathletes also showed a better ability to inhibit pain than nonathletes, as measured by conditioned pain modulation–the degree to which the body eases one pain in response to another,” a press release noted. “The researchers say psychology may be a factor here too. The triathletes with less fear of pain tended to exhibit better pain regulation.”

The researchers plan to do further research to determine whether triathletes participate in their sport because they feel less pain or feel less pain because they participate in their sport.

The findings were published in the journal Pain in August.

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