Watching or participating in the London marathon is always an emotional experience. Achievement, suffering, pride, and the sheer weight of individual backstory makes for a naturally potent mix.
But once I became conscious, almost to distraction, of the sheer number of people crying, I wondered if there was a particular link to running itself.
According to the psychologist Janine Delaney, happy (or relieved) tears could be categorised as a runner’s high.
The runner’s high tends to be considered a form of ecstatic bliss, most akin to the high we feel when taking recreational drugs.
In a 2012 paper in the Journal of Experimental Biology, researchers found that a hard run was linked to a spike in endocannabinoid circulation. Endocannabinoids, being the chemicals in your brain that bind to the same receptors as cannabis.
However, as crying is a healthy response to stress, both unwanted and voluntary, it should also be categorized in positive terms as a runner's high.
But it’s not a purely personal act.
According to the Dutch psychologist Ad Vingerhoets, “crying is predominantly a signal to evoke support and comfort from others” and therefore only reaps benefits like “relief and mood improvement,” if people around us react positively.
This goes someway to explain why many of us don’t cry in solitude even on our hardest days, but start to cry uncontrollably around a loved one.
Add this to the fact that “extreme fatigue can disinhibit our normal emotional inhibitions” and the threshold for public tears reaches an all new low.
Vingerhoets explains that there is another layer of complexity to crying, one that resonates with runners in particular.
“There is discussion whether pure happiness can also stimulate tears. Some suggest that in such situations there is nearly always a negative situation in the background."
Whilst happy tears are considered the height of joy, they are predated by suffering and struggle, which itself tells us a story about the human condition.
Vingerhoets also undertook a revealing study to measure human empathy.
He compared normal criers to a group of people who never cried. They didn’t differ in well-being, but the criers scored better on empathy, experienced more social support and felt more connected to others.
So there it is. Suffer more, cry more, feel joy more. Memento Vivere.