Running a marathon vs a marathon cleaning session – a case of recency bias and duration neglect

Many hours into yesterday’s cleaning slugfest, R asked me if it was harder than the marathon the previous weekend.

I was squatting on the floor, scrubbing the shelves clean while a knee and the back hurt. My instant answer was ‘yeah’.

It was a case of recency bias – I was still suffering the pain from the cleaning (I was 4 hours in by then). The marathon1 had been a week ago. System 1 distinctly felt the current pain while forgetting the one in the past.

It was also a clear case of duration neglect. At times the cleaning was harder, nastier, and maybe even more painful than the marathon. However those painful periods were few. Most of the time it was just mildly irritating and dirty.

The marathon had been, in the latter half, nearly 90 mins of fighting biting physical pain and mental fatigue. Those final 90 mins were harder than anything I’ve done in a long time. I had to use all my willpower and focus training (thanks meditation & Calm) to keep myself going.

Yet, there were no ‘peak’ incidents of pain or suffering during the marathon – just a long period of struggle. So the brain, using system 1, ranked the marathon below yesterday’s cleaning session in effort. Duration neglect + peak-end rule!

My (self) training on biases kicked in quickly. Almost immediately after I answered ‘yeah’, I corrected myself ‘this is not even close’.


  1. Since the marathon post isn’t up yet: I ran the London marathon last Sunday. I’m still recovering. 

It’s 2 minutes past midnight, and everyone has already been asleep for a while. Except me.

I had a productive day. Say down to work after breakfast, and except for a late lunch, and to pick up lil R from the station, didn’t move till dinner.

Gorda and Chewie had a good day though. They went for what looked like a happy walk in the sunshine. He got to play with his neighbourhood friend, Soham, in the evening. She got to do stuff she likes to do -clean and arrange stuff, and then chat with lil R.

I was in front of a monitor almost all this time.

Now all three are deep asleep, while I plot tomorrow’s actions. Tail runner at the Guildford parkrun in the morning. Hopefully, some Eggs Benedict for breakfast later, then a few hours of work, and maybe another run in the evening.

Given that Gorda let me work in peace all day today, it seems quite likely that I’ll get none of the above tomorrow, other than the park run. Wouldn’t be a bad day either way ☺


P.S.: just about a week remaining to Brighton Marathon, for which I’m woefully under prepared. Trying to drown myself in work, love, fights and TV to keep my mind off it 😦