Thursday, July 09, 2009

Run Time

John Branch has an article in the NYT today, about a long distance runner with a partial right temporal lobectomy, obtained due to a long-term seizure disorder. As a result, she's lost her awareness of time and her ability to read maps.
She used to run away from epileptic seizures. Since brain surgery, she just runs, uninhibited by the drudgery of time and distance, undeterred by an inability to remember exactly where she is going or how to get back.

“It used to be, call for help if Mom’s not back in five hours,” Van Deren said. She laughed. “That rule has been stretched. I’ve got a 24-hour window now. Isn’t that sad?”

Van Deren, 49, had a lobectomy in 1997. She has become one of the world’s great ultra-runners, competing in races of attrition measuring 100 miles or more.

...Van Deren “can go hours and hours and have no idea how long it’s been.” Her mind carries little dread for how far she is from the finish. She does not track her pace, even in training. Her gauge is the sound of her feet on the trail.

“It’s a kinesthetic melody that she hits,” Gerber said. “And when she hits it, she knows she’s running well.”
So, it isn't time that she's lost. She can still sequence and maintain rhythm. Those capabilities are served by areas of the cerebellum, thalamus and hypothalamus, among others. It's the awareness and comparison of the passage of time or space that's missing, the cortical and limbic internal maps that have gone awry.

Jonah Lehrer makes a very perceptive comment: on the one hand, she seems like someone who has an idealized flow, but it's a flow without end or control, so it comes at a tremendous price.

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