Why You Won't Die If You Run a Marathon

The science behind long distance running

If you’re among the brave and bold group of athletes who’s ever tackled a marathon, whether during training or the actual event, I’m sure at least once you’ve found yourself thinking: “How will I possibly finish this race?”

Of course, that was just the skeptical side of your brain talking; in your heart you knew you’d finish no matter what.

Have you ever actually wondered how it’s possible for the human body to finish a marathon, though? After all, if Pheidippides (the original marathon runner) died after running the distance, how is it possible that in modern times hordes of runners successfully finish marathon races year after year?

PBS host Joe Hanson decided to run a marathon in order to find out. In his latest episode of It’s OK to Be Smart he investigates all of the biological adaptations and processes that make it possible for humans to endure such long distances.

“My training started millions of years before I ever got to the starting line,” says Hanson as he takes viewers back 3 million years to the point in time when our ancestors first stood up on two feet. “The first step to becoming a runner is standing up,” Hanson explains. We bet you never thought about the sport on such simple terms before, right?

Of course, there are many more complicated biological aspects involved when it comes to moving our bodies and in his video Hanson explains them in interesting and easy to understand terms.

Although Hanson signed up for the race in the name of science, the greatest lesson he ends up learning was much less objective than all of the facts and figures he uncovered along the way.

“It’s unlike any other sporting event I’ve ever taken part in. You’re not battling an opponent. You’re battling yourself. Those feelings of joy and fatigue and pain, they only exist in your mind,” he says. “That was the most fun I never want to have again.”


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