This study says ultramarathoners have tinier brains

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Many weird things can happen to the brain and body during an ultramarathon, including partial loss of vision and terrifying hallucinations, but this has to be the weirdest: A group of German scientists claim that ultramarathoners' brains literally shrink over the course of the race, reportsNew Scientist.

Ultramarathons are imprecise things to define. A marathon is always and only 26.2 miles, but an ultra can mean anything over that distance. So a 30-mile race is technically an ultramarathon, but so is something like the Trans Europe Foot Race, a 2,800-mile, 64-day race, in which runners travel from Southern Italy all the way to Norway. The latter is what those German researchers, led by Uwe Schütz of the University Hospital of Ulm, zeroed in on for their study, which they presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America earlier this week.

In 2009, they followed 44 runners in that race, using a "portable MRI scanner" to examine various parts of their bodies throughout the race, including their brains. As the days wore on, a funny thing happened: Their brain volume shrank, by 6 percent on average. New Scientist explains what might be happening here:

The loss may simply be the result of extreme fatigue and undernourishment, but Schütz thinks it could be caused by lack of stimulation. One of the four brain regions that seems to be particularly affected is known to be involved in visual processing. That area may have been massively under-stimulated by 64 days of viewing little other than roads, he says.

Their brains returned to normal within six months of finishing the race, Schütz added. Phew?

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This study says ultramarathoners have tinier brains
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 01: Mary Keitany (R) of Kenya runs alongside third place Tigist Tufa (L) of Ethiopia after the Pro Women's division at TAG Heuer Official Timekeeper and Timepiece of 2015 TCS New York City Marathon on November 1, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Craig Barritt/Getty Images for TAG Heuer)
Residents watch from their apartments as runners pass by in the 2015 TCS New York City Marathon November 1, 2015 in New York.Kenyan Stanley Biwott won the New York Marathon on Sunday, capturing his first major marathon victory in 2hr 10min 34sec. Biwott, 29, broke away from his rivals in a leading quartet in the final two miles in Central Park to finish ahead of fellow Kenyan Geoffrey Kamworor, with Ethiopian Lelisa Desisa third. AFP PHOTO/DON EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
Marathon fans cheer for the runners in the 2015 TCS New York City Marathon November 1, 2015 in New York. Kenyan Stanley Biwott won the New York Marathon on Sunday, capturing his first major marathon victory in 2hr 10min 34sec. Biwott, 29, broke away from his rivals in a leading quartet in the final two miles in Central Park to finish ahead of fellow Kenyan Geoffrey Kamworor, with Ethiopian Lelisa Desisa third. AFP PHOTO/DON EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
Marathon fans cheer for the runners in the 2015 TCS New York City Marathon November 1, 2015 in New York. Kenyan Stanley Biwott won the New York Marathon on Sunday, capturing his first major marathon victory in 2hr 10min 34sec. Biwott, 29, broke away from his rivals in a leading quartet in the final two miles in Central Park to finish ahead of fellow Kenyan Geoffrey Kamworor, with Ethiopian Lelisa Desisa third. AFP PHOTO/DON EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 01: New York City Police Commissioner William J. Bratton (L) and Filmmaker and Grand Marshal of the New York City Marathon Spike Lee hold up the finish ribbon for the Pro Men's division at TAG Heuer Official Timekeeper and Timepiece of 2015 TCS New York City Marathon on November 1, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Craig Barritt/Getty Images for TAG Heuer)
Men's elite runners run up First Aveue in the 2015 TCS New York City Marathon November 1, 2015 in New York. Kenyan Stanley Biwott won the New York Marathon on Sunday, capturing his first major marathon victory in 2hr 10min 34sec. Biwott, 29, broke away from his rivals in a leading quartet in the final two miles in Central Park to finish ahead of fellow Kenyan Geoffrey Kamworor, with Ethiopian Lelisa Desisa third. AFP PHOTO/DON EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
Women's wheelchair division participants Tatyana McFadden United States (C) Manuela Schar Switzerland (L)Sandra Graf of Switzerland after finishing theTCS New York City Marathon in New York November 1, 2015. McFadden shattered the New York City Marathon women's wheelchair course record finishing in 1 hour, 43 minutes, 4 seconds. Schar finished second with Graf placing third. AFP PHOTO / TIMOTHY A. CLARY (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
NYPD Commisioner William J. Bratton and Director Spike Lee Men's look on as 1st place winner Stanley Biwott from Keyna crosses the finish line at the TCS New York City Marathon in New York November 1, 2015. AFP PHOTO / TIMOTHY A. CLARY (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 01: Sara Moreira of Portugal crosses the finish line in 4th place in the Pro Women's division at TAG Heuer Official Timekeeper and Timepiece of 2015 TCS New York City Marathon on November 1, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Craig Barritt/Getty Images for TAG Heuer)
Men's elite runners race in the 2015 TCS New York City Marathon November 1, 2015 in New York. Kenyan Stanley Biwott won the New York Marathon on Sunday, capturing his first major marathon victory in 2hr 10min 34sec. Biwott, 29, broke away from his rivals in a leading quartet in the final two miles in Central Park to finish ahead of fellow Kenyan Geoffrey Kamworor, with Ethiopian Lelisa Desisa third. AFP PHOTO/DON EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 01: Yuki Kawauchi of Japan falls to the ground after he crossed the finish line during the TCS New York City Marathon on November 1, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 01: Women's winner Mary Keitany of Kenya and men's winner Stanley Biwott of Kenya pose with their medals after the TCS New York City Marathon on November 1, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Geoffery Kamworor of Kenya runs around Clare Geraghty of Australia late in the 2015 TCS New York City Marathon November 1, 2015 in New York. Kamworor, the world cross country champion and world silver medallist in the 10,000 meters, finished second with a time of 2:10:48 AFP PHOTO/DON EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
Men's elite runners race in the 2015 TCS New York City Marathon November 1, 2015 in New York. Kenyan Stanley Biwott won the New York Marathon on Sunday, capturing his first major marathon victory in 2hr 10min 34sec. Biwott, 29, broke away from his rivals in a leading quartet in the final two miles in Central Park to finish ahead of fellow Kenyan Geoffrey Kamworor, with Ethiopian Lelisa Desisa third. AFP PHOTO/DON EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 01: Geoffrey Kipsang Kamworor of Kenya crosses the finish line in 2nd place in the Pro Men's division during the 2015 TCS New York City Marathon in Central Park on November 1, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Christelle Daunay from France and Sara Moreira from Portugal after finishing the TCS New York City Marathon in New York November 1, 2015. Moreira placed fourth and Daunay fifth. AFP PHOTO / TIMOTHY A. CLARY (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
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