Posts Tagged ‘Sports’

Chilean Miner to Compete in Marathon

02 Nov

Edison Pena, one of the Chilean miners who was trapped underground for 69 days, was known to the media as “the runner” because he ran long distances underground to keep physically fit. On Sunday, he’s going to compete in the New York City Marathon, according to Mary Wittenberg, the President of the New York City Road Runners Club:

Edison Pena, 34, was originally invited by the club, which organizes the annual marathon, to attend the event as a spectator. But Pena insisted on running in the 26.2-mile marathon, Wittenberg said.[...]

“To be out there whether running or walking is such an affirmation of the human spirit,” she said of the marathon.

Wittenberg said Pena will be traveling to New York with his wife.

The 12th miner to be rescued, Pena is a diehard Elvis Presley fan who, despite speaking little English, knows most of the words to Elvis classics and led the trapped miners in sing-alongs during their 69-day ordeal underground.

Link via MArooned | Image: iClipart


Marathon Math: How Not to Hit the Wall

21 Oct

A marathoner’s worst nightmare — hitting “the wall” — may be completely avoidable if athletes adhere to personalized pace limits proposed by a biomedical engineer and runner. Benjamin Rapoport’s mathematical formula, published online Oct. 21 in PLoS Computational Biology, shows the speediest pace any marathoner can sustain for the entire race.

sciencenews“A 10-second difference in pace per mile could make the difference between success and a dramatic failure,” says Rapoport, of Harvard Medical School and MIT, who experienced his own traumatic wall splat in the 2005 New York City Marathon. He started out pushing too hard, he says, and was out of steam by the last few miles. Rapoport finished, but with a slower time than he wanted.

To avoid this scenario, a runner has to maintain a pace that conserves carbohydrates, the body’s main source of quick-burn energy, all the way to mile 26.2. Rapoport calculates the ideal pace from a measure of aerobic capacity called VO2max, along with a few other variables. VO2max indicates how efficiently a body consumes oxygen.

“This is a unique area that hadn’t been addressed in the medical literature in any substantial way,” says Mark Cucuzzella, a physician and running coach based in Harpers Ferry, W.Va. “He’s lending some hard numbers to what experienced runners and coaches have been doing.”

A man with a VO2max of 60 — which, after training, is attainable by only the top 10 percent of male runners — can achieve a 3:10 marathon finish time, according to the model. This time happens to be the cutoff for 18- to 34-year-old men to qualify for the Boston Marathon.

Elite male marathoners clock in with a VO2max in the high 70s. The average untrained young man’s number is in the 40s. (Incidentally, Rapoport, who has run 18 marathons, has a VO2max above 70 and breezes through marathons in less than three hours.)

VO2max is usually measured with specialized equipment while someone exercises at maximum exertion, but the value can also be estimated by measuring heart rate while running at a constant pace.

Rapoport’s model also shows that a slightly faster pace can be maintained by consuming a midrace snack.

This carb-eating strategy can help, but it can’t win races, since the body can store only so much fuel, says Cucuzzella, chief medical consultant for the Air Force Marathon and a marathoner himself. “It’s not about how much sugar or spaghetti you eat the night before a race,” he says. “There’s a critical pace.”

Rapoport plans to put an easy-to-use version of his formula on the Internet to help runners calculate their ideal pace. “My primary goal is to give any marathon runner a qualitative plan for their training,” he says.

Image: Flickr/Stijn Bokhove

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Nike Unveils New iPhone App Just for Runners

06 Sep

Nike has just rolled out a new iPhone app for runners, available for download now [iTunes link].

The Nike+ GPS App for iPhone will pull in data from the device’s accelerometer and GPS to give runners an effective, accurate and useful tool for getting in shape and staying motivated. So far, it’s available in English only and sells for $1.99.

Although fitness apps abound in the App Store, few carry the street cred or instant name recognition of Nike.

The app will allow runners to visually map and track every run, indoor and outdoor, “free range” or treadmill. Nike says the app even works when a GPS signal is unavailable. Mapped routes show a breakdown of the runner’s pace at various points during the run, as well. You can track your distance, time and number of calories burned.

One interesting aspect of the app is the “Challenge Me” feature. It helps runners challenge themselves to run greater distances, longer times or quicker paces than their previous runs. Aside from giving challenges, the app also provides in-run, on-demand motivational messages from pro athletes and celebrities.

And of course the app carries the now-obligatory social sharing features. Through integration with, runners can save each run to their online profiles and share the run through the site, Twitter and Facebook.

We have no word so far on when to expect Android, BlackBerry or other apps, but Nike says the app will work for iPod touch (second, third and fourth generations), iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4. The company makes no promises about how the app will function on an iPad; then again, if you’re running with your iPad, you might need less motivation to run faster and more motivation to give the tech gadgets a rest.

Here’s a video sent to us by Nike showing some of the ins and outs of the app:

What do you think of Nike’s app so far? Is this something you’d use for your running routine, or will you stick to the free apps already available?

Reviews: Android, App Store, Facebook, Twitter

More About: App, fitness, iphone app, Nike, Nike+GPS, runner, runners, running, sport

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Home Swimmer Makes Tethered Swimming A Reality

18 Sep

Home Swimmer (Images courtesy HomeSwimmer)
By Andrew Liszewski

As someone who speaks fluent Simpsons, when I first saw this Home Swimmer device I immediately thought of the episode where Bart is forced to join ballet after missing out on signing up for all of the popular sports, including ‘T.S.’

Skinner: [over PA] Attention, students. It’s time once again to choose a gym class for the coming term so let’s all prove how adult we can be by filing to the gym in a calm and orderly manner…even though it’s first come, first serve, and the most popular sports fill up fast.
[A mass hysteria takes over as everyone rushes to the gym]
Willy: [getting trampled] Aah! Too many wee ones.
Richard: This gets uglier every year! Any sign of Bart and Milhouse?
Lewis: No…and if they don’t get here soon, it’ll be T.S. for them.
Ralph: [at "tethered swimming"] I don’t feel right.

And I can’t say for sure if the Home Swimmer was inspired by the sight of Ralph thrashing around in the Springfield Elementary pool while tethered to the edge, but deep down I’d like to think it was. Basically it’s another take on the ‘endless pool’ concept which allows you to swim for hours without ever hitting the edge and having to stop to turn around. While it might seem a little embarrassing to use in public, for home use it’s cheaper than installing an actual endless pool which uses a constantly running current of water to keep you stationary, and considerably cheaper than installing an Olympic sized pool in your backyard. The Home Swimmer system comes with all of the poles, straps and connectors you’ll need in addition to the belt that keeps you in place, and is available from the company’s website for $89.99.

[ Home Swimmer ] VIA [ Popgadget ]

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Bolt Is Freaky Fast, But Nowhere Near Human Limits

25 Aug

As astonishing as Usain Bolt’s record-breaking 100-meter sprint was, his time of 9.69 seconds is nowhere near what biostatisticians predict is the natural limit for the human body.

But because he broke the mathematical model that had fit 100-meter record data for almost a century, Bolt’s incredible performance could reset how fast researchers believe humans ultimately can run.

"This trend seems to defy simple curve fitting," wrote Tatsuo Tabata, director of the Institute for Data Evaluation and Analysis in Japan.

Statisticians have used a lower limit for 100-meter times of about 9.45 seconds, according to Tabata and other researchers. The exponential curve seen above — which is drawn from an equation calculated to fit the world record data — had been quite successful at predicting the steady progress of faster and faster 100-meter times. But Bolt’s recent string of world records was
clearly not an expected event: The model didn’t predict a
9.69 until almost 2030.

Though no statistician we spoke with had recalculated their numbers, the new world record is likely to rejigger the equations they use to calculate the maximum human speed.   

"With this new data, [the predicted fastest 100-meter time] would probably go down a little bit," said Reza Noubary, a mathematician at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania and author of a textbook on statistics and sports. He had previously calculated an "ultimate record" of 9.44 seconds for the 100 meter.

Mathematicians like Noubary don’t use the body’s physiology to assess human physical limits. They were merely working with data that suggested that human speed increases were decelerating and would eventually stop completely. Indeed, in some events, like the long jump, the pace of record-setting has slowed nearly to a stop. That record has only been broken twice since 1968.

But it could just be that mathematicians have been modeling the pace of progress wrong all along.

Several years ago, Jonas Mureika, a physicist at Loyola
Marymount University in Los Angeles, developed a model using techniques drawn from seismology that
predicted a Bolt-like time by 2009. But, he didn’t believe his own
numbers and decided not to publish the work.

"The record then was about 9.79 and [the model] predicted these crazy
times, that by 2009 it'd be down in the high 9.6s," Mureika said. "I
thought that's crazy, it's not going to progress that fast. Every day
that I think about that, I kick myself. That's my penitence for
doubting the numbers."

Despite the success of Mureika’s model, Peter Weyand, a physiologist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas who focuses on the biomechanics of running, said that mathematical
models could never predict how fast humans might eventually run.

"Predicting it is fine for the sake of kicks, but it's not a
scientifically valid approach," Weyand said. "You have to assume that
everything that has happened in the past will continue in the future." 

He suggested that it’s impossible for mathematicians to predict the
magnitude of the freakiness of athletic talent at the extreme margins
of humanity. Bolt, it turns out, is a perfect example.

Weyand, who has conducted research on the body types of the top 45 100-meter sprinters
in the last 15 years, said that almost all elite runners conform to the
body norms for their race length, except for the most-recent Olympic

"Bolt is an outlier. He's enormous," Weyand said. "Typically when you get someone that big, they can't start."

That’s because muscle speed in animals is generally tied to
their size. For example, rodents, being much smaller than
elephants, can move their muscles much faster. The
same holds true for human beings. Sprinters are short and have more
fast-twitch muscle fibers, allowing them to accelerate quickly, but
compromising their ability to run longer distances. Four hundred-meter runners,
almost always taller, have the reverse composition of muscle fibers.

Bolt, though, combines the mechanical advantages of taller men’s bodies with the fast-twitch fibers of smaller men.

"We don't really know what the best form is and maybe Bolt is redefining that and showing us we missed something," said biomechanicist John Hutchinson of the Royal Veterinary College at the University of London, who studies how animals move. 

Hutchinson also agreed with Weyand that the human speed limit will remain impossible to predict with any confidence.

For him, it’s the International Olympic Committee and other regulatory
authorities that will determine how fast athletes will be able to run
by limiting the amount of advanced biotechnologies sprinters can use.

"The limits will be largely set by the rules of the IOC," Hutchinson
said. "It's kind of an arms race with the regulators of the sport and
the people trying to push the technology to the limits. At some point
here there must be a détente where technology can't push us any further
and the rules will restrict it."

With techniques for gene therapy likely to become available at some
point in the not-too-distant future, Weyand said that its use by
athletes was "inevitable."

"You could see really freakish things and we probably will," he warned.

See Also:

WiSci 2.0: Alexis Madrigal’s Twitter , Google Reader feed, and webpage; Wired Science on Facebook.

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Your Shoes Are Killing Your Feet

23 Apr

Your shoes are destroying your feet. More specifically, they’re messing up the perfectly-balanced, coordinated bipedal gait that our species evolved over millions of years.

That’s the argument touted by a lengthy article in New York magazine this week, You Walk Wrong. Its starting point is a number of podiatric studies showing that going barefoot is better for your feet than wearing shoes: unshod Zulus have healthier feet than shoe-wearing Europeans, and prehistoric humans appear to have had the healthiest feet of all. And if you must wear shoes, it turns out that the less shoe you wear, the better, because expensive running shoes are no better than cheap ones, and wearing expensive running shoes actually increases your odds of getting injured by 123%.

But first, New York wants you to know all about Galahad Clark, the scion of a British shoe-manufacturing family, who got into the un-shoe business after hanging out with the Wu-Tang Clan, Rem Koolhaas, and a young tennis-playing industrial designer named Tim Brennan.  Eventually Clark came up with the Vivo Barefoot, a $160 un-shoe that is as close to going barefoot as you can get while still providing some protection against the dog shit, hypodermic needles and broken glass that clog the streets of New York (and San Francisco, for that matter).

The authors of the "shod vs. unshod" study (.pdf), Bernard Zipfel and Lee Berger of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, argue that going barefoot is the optimal condition for humans. It makes a certain intuitive sense, because the human foot evolved over millennia in the absence of shoes, during which time humans walked just fine, thank you very much. Modern shoes significantly change the way the foot works: Their stiffness prevents the foot from flexing as it normally would, and their big, cushioned heels absorb so much shock that they actually encourage you to drive your heel into the ground much more firmly than you would if you were barefoot.

A barefoot walking or running gait is much gentler and smoother, in which your foot placement is flatter (rather than heel-first) and the arches of your feet deflect more to absorb the load. And it turns out that this might be better for your knees as well as your feet, because even though those thick soles are absorbing the immediate shock to your foot, your steps while wearing shoes still transmit more shock to your knees than your barefoot steps do.

In light of this, it should come as no surprise that there are many advocates of the barefoot lifestyle and barefoot running on the internet, and there’s even a barefoot marathon-running Christian minister.

There are a couple of problems with the "let's just kick off our shoes" line: People have been wearing shoes for 30,000 years, and prehistoric humans tended to get killed off by disease, starvation or predators at a much younger age, meaning they had a lot less time to wreck their feet through ordinary use. And there are a lot of places where you really don’t want to go barefoot, or even really wear a thin un-shoe: Like in the snow, or at work, or when trying to hail a cab.

Still, I’m predisposed to like the anti-shoe argument, because I enjoy going barefoot, and, heck, it’s Spring. What about you?

Image: What shoes can do your feet. Source: University of the Witwatersrand

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