The Science of Marathon Running

[MUSIC] In 490 BC a Greek messenger named Pheidippides
ran from the Greek town of Marathon to the capital Athens to deliver a message that the
Greek army had just beaten back the Persians, and the distance
between those two towns is 26.2 miles, and that’s the origin of the modern sporting
event that we call the marathon. You might know that story, but what they don’t always
tell you is that when he got to Athens after those 26.2 miles, Pheidippides died. So why on Earth would anyone want to run one
of those for fun? How are our bodies even able to? I decided to find out, so I ran one.
In the process, I discovered a lot about what I’m made of,
in more ways than one. You guys ready to run the marathon? My training started millions
of years before I ever got to the starting line. The first step to becoming a runner is, well,
standing up, and bipedalism is only seen in a handful of animals, except for a few species
of birds walking on two legs is only uses a temporary form of transportation. Our ancestors
first stood up over three million years ago, and well we were running probably not long
after that, were made for it. You could say that humans are built for
long distance running but the truth is, long distance running build us the most four on
the floor quadrupeds could easily beat me in a sprint, but humans are medal contenders
in nature’s distance running events. Even the cheetah, the most perfectly crafted running
machine on Earth could only run for maybe a mile and a half before it overheats. Today’s
fastest Olympic marathoners, they would only be beaten by a handful of Earth’s animals
in that long distance. One theory of human evolution says
that our adaptations for distance running work feast or hunting success like we talked
about in my episode “Why Do We Cook?”, bigger, richer meals mean that we could evolve,
well, bigger, richer brains. There’s a whole list of ways that we are made to run. In large
tubes in our skulls help us balance while we’re running, reflexes in our eyes keep
our heads steady as we move up and down. It’s short arms and thin ankles that take us less
effort to swing. Wide shoulders, a thin waist, and a pretty narrow pelvis help us counter
the rotation of our moving legs. We have sweat glands, and less body hair, and tall thin
bodies that let us disperse more heat. Better blood flow away from the brain to keep it
cool, your big gluteus maximus muscles to stabilize our upper body, high surface area
knee, ankle, and hip joints for shock absorption, and most importantly, our lower legs are built
like rubber bands. This is by far our coolest running adaptation.
Every time my body hits the ground, it delivers up to 8 times the force of my body weight.
That’s over 1400 pounds! In order to keep that up for 26.2 miles, my foot expands and
spreads like a shock absorber. This is the most important part of a running human: the
Achilles tendon. Though my foot hits the ground, my calf muscles flexed, but even then the
muscles and tendons are still a little bit elastic, and then my ankle joint acts as a
lever, which transfers as much as 50 percent of that energy into the next step. By using
stored kinetic energy, instead of chemical energy, we’re able to go farther with less
work. You can’t run a marathon with just rubber
bands though. You need power that humans are run on gasoline your car ATP. This is an image
of a striated muscle, the same type we have in our arms, in our legs, and basically everywhere
that we move. Each row of stripes contains a string of proteins called actin, next to
another string of proteins called myosin. And the head of that myosin protein, well,
it acts like a ratchet, pulling along the string of actin, shortening our contracting
the muscle. That myosin machine is powered by ATP. The thing is, our bodies only have
a couple seconds worth of ATP stored up at any moment, so instead, we’re constantly
replenishing it, thanks to our mitochondria and their little ATP factories. Just picture
me as a giant ship with trillions of mitochondria at the oars. My body cycled through something
like 75 kilograms of ATP during the marathon. That’s almost my entire body weight! It
just shows you how good our bodies are at recycling energy. Now that’s 75 kilograms
of ATP broken down release the same amount of free energy as a kilogram of TNT. My body
gets ATP in a couple of different ways. If I was running full speed the entire time,
my cells would be forced to use an inefficient process called glycolysis, but by running
slightly slower for the whole race, I let my mitochondria use a much more efficient
method called the Krebs cycle and the electron transport chain. I can burn lots of fuel and
make that ATP, like fat or protein, but my muscles prefer glucose, which is stored in
long chains like glycogen for quick access, but even they don’t keep that much just
lying around. So instead, I topped off my glycogen tank before the race by doing
something called carb loading. Look at all these waffles I have to eat. But
even eating all that before the race, my body can’t hold all the glycogen it needs to
get through a marathon, so I had to eat and drink more during the race, or else I would
hit the dreaded wall. Hitting the wall is just a big scary name
for fatigue. And there’s lots of reasons why it can happen. If you run out of glycogen,
then your muscles can run out of ATP, and that protein ratchet will get stuck in the
lock position. It’s actually why something, well, gets kinda stiff when it dies. If your
cells don’t have enough salt, then your nerves and muscles won’t have the sodium,
potassium, and calcium that they need to pass electrical signals. The main reason that people
hit the wall is because of this. See, your brain is competing with your muscles for blood
sugar, and if those levels dip too low, well, you’ll feel dizzy and loopy. “I think I’m gonna die. I’m gonna die.
” “You’ll be okay.” Your brain is actually preventing your muscles
from firing goad for some emergency power save mode. I’ve never run a marathon before
and I discovered it’s not like any other sporting event I’ve ever taken part in.
You’re not battling an opponent; you’re only battling yourself. All those feelings
of joy, and fatigue, and pain, they only exist in your mind. That mind is connected to the
physical muscles and chemical power plants and proteins doing work. I’ve never understood
more about my body, or my biology, and when I push them to the limit, and in the process,
I discovered that it wasn’t a limit after all. That was the most fun I’d never want
to have again. Like halfway through, it was like the hardest thing
I’ve ever done, and the entire second half was just pure willpower, like a competition
against yourself, and I-I won. I beat- I beat my own mind. That was awesome. Thank you,
everybody. We’re not the only social animals that sit
down to eat together, but we are the only ones who cook. Cultural anthropologist Claude
Levi-Strauss is above all cooking establishes the difference between animals and people,
although I’d think he’d agree that pants make a big difference, too.

100 thoughts on “The Science of Marathon Running

  1. 1st of all heartiest congratulations on completing Marathon 🙏❤️🇮🇳

  2. Kudos to your marathon effort. I completed my first marathon in Sydney 2011 at the same time; 3.39.38. Thanks for the heads up. wj

  3. 4:55 Just to make it clear, when you run fast your cells use both of these processes to produce ATP, while 2 ATP is small compared to 38, its still something, so your cells do both of these, this happens because the krebs cycle needs oxygen, and there's only so much oxygen your blood can provide in a given time, so your cells use an extra process (glyclolysis), but this leaves "Left overs", which will be stored in the muscles, and thats what causes the pain in the next few days while your body removes all that waste

  4. If you were adapted to lipometabolism, you woulden't need to carb load or eat on the way to avoid hitting the wall.


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  7. Hitting a wall isn’t extreme fatigue. It is as you then said; running out of glucose. Paula Newby Fraser did not hit the wall. PNF won the Ironman world Championships 8 times and in 1995 almost died from hyponatremia.

  8. I hear many marathon runners are going with a ketogenic diet because the wall doesn't exist when glucose wasn't the main fuel source to deplete.

  9. damn i did 35km on 6 hours by walking and i though i did something smh

  10. Hey man, love the channel. But the Cheetah over heating research was done in an indoor environment with cheetah strapped to a stationary machine. Also the claim of humans over running horses are only in the condition of hot plains of Africa. In most of our modern colder environment, horeses and dogs easily outrun humans in long distance – and that’s why we have been using them. Please research into some of these myth and update this video!!!

  11. evolution is not true or there would be something in between humans and monkeys… much respect.

  12. Humans are the best runners. Almost all species that run are just to get away from the hunter ans the hunter just needs a litter bit more endurance than that therefore they're sprinters. We cna go the distance because of what our ancestors needed to do to live; move around, hunt, survive, etc.

  13. You talked about evolution, then said we are "made" for it. Well if we are made for it, who made us?

  14. Talking about running long distances, I usually space out whenever I run and everything goes by so fast! Now if I had an injury it would ruin the trans and I wouldn’t be able to do that.

  15. Love running, but this evolution tie-in is garbage. Remember, it is ONLY a theory; it's not fact.

  16. Do some more research. Being Fat Adapted and in Ketosis is the perfect way to run endurance races, NOT carb loading. Carb loaded and using glycogen as a fuel source for endurance runs is not the right thing to do. Like you mentioned, the body can only store up to 2500kcal of energy for glycogen burning fuel but when you are fat adapted, even the most lean athletes (8% body fat) have 40,000kcal of stored energy. No carb loading and better fuel source! Carbs are the worse way to run endurance races.

  17. Why did you only show videos of women hitting "the wall"? I sure hope this was unintentional.

  18. Pretty respectable time! More effort put into this video than 99.9% of YouTube content. Thumbs up.

  19. So this Greek “professional” messenger ran 26.2 miles and died, but today thousands of average joes do it every year and live to tell the tale? Wrong profession, IMO 🙂

  20. I thought the Greek guy ran 26 miles and then in first London Olympics they moved the Marathon race finish line a further 0.2 mile to where the Royals were sitting?

  21. It started out being 25 miles, then (like Jon Scovell below said) some royalty wanted to add the extra distance around his castle. And it became 26 miles 385 yards. 385 yards is 7/32 of a mile. That's 42.2 kilometers. A mile is 1609.3 meters.

    30 years ago, most marathons were challenges for those wanting to athletically train for a test. Nowadays, in nearly all cases, each of those races is merely a business to get funds, as they charge 2.5-to-4 times more now than they used to.

    But tramps like us, baby, we were born to run. Come find me in Idaho and we'll do some trails.

  22. What a run for a first time marathon. Science definitely helped you I guess!!

  23. pheidippides looks muscular and ripped, for a career runner he wouldn’t be that big haha

  24. Hey if anyone would like to be able to run a marathon I know of a great program that can help you. just click the link:

  25. 5:49 guys help i need to know what he sayin! "if your cells don't have enough salt"??

  26. You may be a scientist but you, my friend, are no historian. A couple of points.

    1) Pheidippides was a day runner, referred to as hemerodrome, in Ancient Greek, by the Athenian military. These ancient couriers were responsible for running for days at a time in order to give important messages. They were designed to move swiftly and to arrive with their messages in a timely manner. They trained extensively, and they were capable of running great distances. Pheidippides was on duty the day of the fabled Battle of Marathon, which pitted the Athenian army against the Persian army. However, before the invasion, it was Pheidippides responsibility to run the 240 kilometer (150 miles) distance from Athens to Sparta to ask Sparta for their help. Sparta said they’d help but since they were in the middle of a religious festival, they were unable to leave right away. He made the journey from Athens to Sparta in about 35 hours. After he gave his message to the Spartans requesting their help, he rested for just a couple of hours and then turned around and ran the distance from Sparta to Athens to let them know that the Spartans wouldn’t be able to fight right away. They would only be able to engage in battle if the moon was full, which unfortunately wouldn’t be for another 6 days or so. Ultimately, by the time Sparta would have been ready, the outcome of the Battle of Marathon was already complete. Although the Persian army far outnumbered the Athenian army, (10,000 Athenians to the Persians some 60,000) Athens proved to have a better battle strategy and more sophisticated fighting techniques. Athens won the battle, but now it was up to Pheidippides to make the run from Marathon to Athens, a distance of 40 kilometers or a little under 25 miles. Also need I remind you this all took place is late August/early September so it was incredibly hot and he was running in full armor after just fighting in the battle. He arrived in Athens in a little under 3 hours and he gave the message explaining that Athens was victorious and then he collapsed and died from the combined exertion of that run and the 300 miles that he ran from Athens to Sparta and back.

    2) The distance from Marathon to Athens is about 40 km or roughly 24.8 miles. So the olympic marathon was 24 miles that is until 1908 when the royal family wanted to see the end of the race so they added another 2.2 miles making the total 26.2 miles. Good job on trying to educate people but please educate people with all of the correct information. So long story short, no Pheidippides did not die after running 24 miles in under 3 hours. He died after running about 325 miles in a matter of about 4 days AND fighting in a battle, in the middle of Greece, in the middle of August/September. Summers in Greece back then were hot and very dry. In Northern Greece it would generally be in the 80s or 90s Fahrenheit (about 30 degrees Celsius), but in Southern Greece (Sparta area) it could get up over 100 pretty often (over 40 degrees Celsius). So imagine running 325 miles in about 4 days (on about 4 hours of sleep) in anywhere between 80-100+ heat 25 of which you’re running in full suit of armor in less than 3 hours. I might die just thinking about it. And to think if he hadn’t made that journey to Sparta so fast the Battle of Marathon could’ve gone to the Persians, thus possibly changing history and life as we know it drastically. Poor Pheidippides is all I gotta say. He drew the short stick in all of this.

  27. Incredible time for a first marathon, I hope you took up running 🤘🏼

  28. 1:38 see that human trash. How many trash you can get from single event like this

  29. I run 30 miles runs without eating a singe time, and without having eaten anything in 20 hours. I have a low carb diet a do inttermitent fasting, so my body is very efficient on running on it's own fat. It's a virtually illimited source of energy compared to carbs. The "Wall" is the effect of depending on a quick energy source (carbs) that are not vital to our bodys. The proof is that I litteraly don't need to eat anything in 20 hours to run a full 30 miles ultra-marathon. On the other hand, I'm not sure that it's the best fuel to run fast (I don't know yet) and I think carbs could be better, your marathon time is amazing.

  30. We can run long distances. But we are definately not built for that purpose.

  31. I'm gonna run a charity marathon a few hours from now and this just came up to my YouTube recs

  32. Science of marathon running…hahaha…there is only one thing….train….train…train…I started running for the first time in my life when I was 27…could not run 500meters without walking…Ran my first Full marathon about two years later in 2hrs55min.I completed 42 marathons…one for every kilometer..that is how I remember it… between 3hrs10 and 2hrs27min.That was the days before the internet…we just went out and train like a group of mad men….Forget about science…lot of bullshit…do whats best….Go out and run !!

  33. There is so much wrong at the start. First off he only ran 25 miles and it was later changed to 26.2. Also he died because just before that, he ran 300 miles.

  34. Pheidippides ran 25 miles. The extra 1.2mile was put on to accommodate the finish line for the royal family in the 1908 London olympics. The science of marathon starts on a lie 🙄😆

  35. Their is absolutely no science in running a marathon…
    The word is….TRAIN…If you cant go the distance…you cant run a marathon….if you cant run the distance fast…you will settle for a slow time…simple as that…First train for distance…then for speed…whalla !!!

  36. It's my dream to get into shape to run a marathon one day. So far I can only consistently run 3 miles so I have a long way to go

  37. Bro after explaining so much of how our bodies are so well built to run how do you think our creation was an accident?

  38. ehhh we aren’t designed for running. We can do it but i guess evolution hasn’t taken away most of the physical traits. Like in our tibias there is a protrusion at the top that pokes into our knee joint.

  39. I was able to prepare for my half marathon training making use of this marathon training courses “Zοrοtοn Axy” (Google it). I ran a PR even if I just only used Six weeks of the given schedule! I am currently utilizing it for my marathon training program, and am running much better training runs as compared to previous marathon training courses. During my marathon training, I had been able to run another half and set another PR. .

  40. Some have bushy body hair. And some have receding hair lines even bald. So that would make that person not a good runner?

  41. phidippides ran 150 miles to sparta then 150 miles back then fought in the battle then ran 26 miles to athens that's why he died

  42. We didn’t evolve from primates. If we did, why are there still primates..and with that I’m out.! Good day sir

  43. fun fact: prehistorical humans (i think all species) ran the speed of olympic sprinters on sand, on bare feet, in (probably) hot weather. That’s it.

  44. 2:57
    1) He said 8x his bodyweight? So he weighs 175? Wow I thought he'd be lighter lol

    2) That is a false mathematic equation, 8X BODYWEIGHT???? Usain Bolt hit 5.75x Bodyweight in the 100m Final in Berlin FOR ONLY LIKE 2 SECONDS = 27.9 MPH! Usain Bolt delivered 1,190 lbs totals

    3) If he delivered 1,400 lbs that would mean for 26.2 MILES he was going 17.241 m/s (38.79 mph or 62 km/h) so his Marathon time would've been 40-41 minutes. Yeah no dude 😂. You were probably exerting less than 400 lbs of force tbh which is more likely

    Note: I love this video, I'm not trying to hate I was just blown by the 1400 lbs

  45. I just started long distance uphill(around 20 inclination) running a distance 6 km and my legs pain so much just at 3k though😣

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