Science for Marathon Monday

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Update: On Monday afternoon at 2:56pm, two explosions occurred near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. In light of these events, PLOS ONE would like to express our deepest sympathies for the victims and families affected by this tragedy.

 

Still procrastinating on those tax returns? If you have finally filed and are looking to blow off some steam, maybe a 26.2 mile run will do the trick! Today on April 15th, over 27 thousand people will lace up their sneakers, warm up their muscles and prepare for one of the world’s oldest races, the Boston Marathon.

Vasque Mindbenders after a muddy trail run in the hills of Griffith Park.  (c) 2011 Geoff CordnerThe very first Boston Marathon was held in 1897 and was then known as the B.A.A. Road Race. Originally 24.5 miles in length, the race was extended to 26.2 miles in 1924 to conform to the Olympic standard. Since that first race day which featured 15 runners, the marathon has grown immensely, with 26 thousand people participating last year.

In honor of the 117th marathon or whatever race you may be running today, here are some recently published articles featuring the sport:

In a paper published this February, researchers have determined the cause of runners fatigue during a marathon in warm weather. These authors recruited 40 amateur runners to test their fatigue and measure their pace during the race. Through their analysis, the authors found that participants who felt the greatest fatigue had elevated levels of blood markers of muscle breakdown. There is still further research to be done to find if this muscle damage is due to mechanistic or metabolic factors.

But what effect does warm weather have on a marathon? In another recent article, authors investigated whether climate change has affected the winning times of the Boston Marathon.  The authors found the temperatures between 1933 and 2004 did not consistently slow winning times on race day. However, the analysis also indicated that if temperatures warmed by 0.058°C a year, we would have a 95% chance of detecting a slowing of winning marathon times by 2100. And if average race day temperatures had warmed by 0.028°C a year (a mid-range estimate) we would have a 64% chance of detecting a decline in winning timings by 2100.

This analysis gives us some insight on how running may change in the future, but have you ever wondered what the sport was like 30,000 years ago? Unlike current shoe wearing athletes, our ancestors were barefoot runners and so are other modern human populations, including the Daasanach. In an article published this year, researchers have investigated the foot strike patterns among barefoot runners in northern Kenya. Data was collected from 38 adults, who ran at their own speed and distance. The authors found that not all the barefoot runners landed on their fore- or mid foot, but the majority landed on their heels first. This observation dismisses the original hypothesis that the barefoot runners would land on the fore-or mid foot, and suggests that there may be a number of other factors which influence foot strike patterns.

Whether you are ready to take your mark, or getting set to file those taxes, visit our site here for more papers on the topic.

 

Citations:

Citation: Del Coso J, Fernández D, Abián-Vicen J, Salinero JJ, González-Millán C, et al. (2013) Running Pace Decrease during a Marathon Is Positively Related to Blood Markers of Muscle Damage. PLoS ONE 8(2): e57602. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0057602

Citation: Miller-Rushing AJ, Primack RB, Phillips N, Kaufmann RK (2012) Effects of Warming Temperatures on Winning Times in the Boston Marathon. PLoS ONE 7(9): e43579. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0043579

Citation: Hatala KG, Dingwall HL, Wunderlich RE, Richmond BG (2013) Variation in Foot Strike Patterns during Running among Habitually Barefoot Populations. PLoS ONE 8(1): e52548. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0052548

Image: on Flickr by geoff cordner

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