Sunday, April 22, 2018

The Secret to Living Is Giving

Linden reels the lead runners in on Heartbreak hill
That's a famous quote by Anthony Robbins. And boy is he right!

When Sports Solutions was still at Amoy Street, I'd often notice there were some elderly people collecting used drink cans, cardboard and newspapers to sell.  I asked them how much they got for the cans and newspapers. In case you're interested, it's one dollar for a kilogram of aluminium drink cans and 20 cents for a kilogram of paper or cardboard.

One afternoon while walking back to the clinic from buying my lunch from the Amoy Street Food Centre, I saw an elderly lady struggling with some cardboard. I immediately helped her and offered her some money. She refused my offer so I offered her my lunch instead. She accepted the lunch. I remember feeling good that at least I helped her with a meal.

I'd almost forgotten about that incident until I read about Boston 2018 marathon winner Des Linden's generous act. Linden told 2017 New York marathon winner, Shalane Flanagan that chances are she may drop out (of the race) and offered to block the wind or adjust the pace for Flanagan. After Flanagan took a now famous toilet break near the halfway mark, Linden waited for her and they both then caught up with the elite pack later.

After helping Flanagan back to the pack, Linden also helped Molly Huddle. Helping Flanagan and Huddle somehow distracted Linden from her own plans to give up and she started feeling better. After realizing she was in fourth position then, she figured she probably shouldn't drop out.

Your brain releases dopamine, endorphins and serotonin when you help someone according to research (Sprouse-Blum et al 2010). All these hormones are great to have during a race. Endorphins help reduce pain, dopamine increases motivation and focus and serotonin boosts your mood.

So those surge of hormones probably helped Linden turn her race around.

In Linden's case, there may be oxytocin released too. Our brain releases oxytocin when you feel a bond with another person. This bond reminds you that you're not alone in your suffering. This may help you focus on the bigger picture, not how bad you feel at that moment. Linden later confirmed this post-race when she said, "Today was bigger than one person, it was really all of us pushing each other."

Sports psychologists will explain this as an example of disassociation which means Linden stopped thinking about how terrible she felt during the race and started to think beyond her pain. This helped reduce her perception of fatigue. An excellent example is how you suddenly feel better when your favorite song comes on when you're running. For that moment you've stopped paying attention to the pain and discomfort.

Associative thinking means you are thinking about your performance, checking your form and pace.

So how can you apply that to your own race? Try cheering on a fellow runner or team mate who's struggling or exchanging high-fives with them or even spectators along the course. This will help you feel more connected to them. That can help you boost your mood and in turn, your performance.

Capitalize on the surge of hormones to be positive for the rest of the race.

Chapeau to Linden for her selfless acts of sportsmanship, she thoroughly deserved her win.


Sprouse-Blum AS, Smith G el al (2010). Understanding Endorphins And Their Importance In Pain Management. Hawaii Med J. 69(3): 70-71.

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