The March/April 1998 issue of Marathon & Beyond magazine came into my hands via the local library's used-book sale many months ago. It sank, ignored, into the sea of unread material on my bedroom floor.
Late last week, maybe in recognition of my first ultra experience (HAT Run 2004), the 'zine surfaced. I flipped it open and chanced to read Jeff Hagen's article "Masters of the Ultra" about older (i.e., my age!) runners and how they can do surprisingly well based on experience, patience, smart pacing, and other factors.
At the end of his essay Jeff presents a conjecture that could well explain my newly-discovered affinity for long trail jogging:
One hypothesis, which probably came from some fledgling runner who was humiliated by one or more old fogies during an ultramarathon, is the "Dead Brain Cell Theory." The gist is that as people run more and more ultramarathons, the shortage of oxygen that they experience for hours on end kills a bunch of their brain cells. If they run at altitude or in extreme cold or heat, such as in 100-mile trail races, even more brain cells are lost. The "Catch-22" part of this theory is that the more brain cells these ultrarunners lose, the more they want to run ultras, because they no longer have enough sense not to run them.
This becomes a vicious cycle, progressing from more ultras to fewer brain cells to more ultras. By the time these pour souls become masters runners, all they want to do is run ultras, and they get pretty good at it. I guess this is similar to the "you don't have to be crazy to run ultramarathons, but it sure helps" school of thought.