ENDURANCE EVOLUTION

      No Comments on ENDURANCE EVOLUTION

Philippides got his place as a running legend tragically, but story has already been told somewhere. Long distance running has been with the human being even before we were called so, and it was of high importance in our evolution. Our closer evolutionally ancestors, the apes, are not designed to run long distances. Their bodies evolved for a forest environment, where this aerobic capability was unnecessary. For most animals the running capability specialization is based in short distances at a high speed, doing sprints, useful to escape or hunt preys. Consequently, most of mammals would be able to beat a full charged Usain Bolt at maximum speed (40km/h approx) during a short sprint. As bipedal specie we are unable to gallop, and consequently our pace is more similar to a trot, that let us run long distances, similarly to animals like horses or dogs. They are also capable of running at this trotting speed for long periods, but get tired easily at galloping speed. For distances like the marathon or longer, the human being would be able to beat any of these animals at a trotting speed.

And what makes us different?

Among these characteristics we could talk about our tendons, that work as powerful springs, storing the energy in a first instant, to release it later on. For example, the size of our Aquiles tendon is considerable bigger than the one in apes. Additionally, the biped position is more economical in energetic terms. Comparing with the chimpanzees, the closer animal species to us, they need as much as double the energy we need to cover a certain distance. There is also a redistribution of our centre of mass during the race, that is almost unused for walking, whose main duty is stabilization. Longer legs also mean less muscles need activation for every step, and the number of them needed to cover a distance. On the contrary of what could be expected the number of legs used doesn´t have any importance.

Nevertheless, there is a key factor, and is our thermoregulatory capacity. Running generates 10 times more energy, in heat form, than walking. Most of mammals must stop galloping after running a short distance because they are unable of cooling their core with quick enough to stop hyperthermia. On the other side, we are able to sweat, a highly specialized mechanism that allows us to cool quickly and run long distances. To do so we have evolutionary removed most of our body hair and increase the number of sweat glands.

Somewhere in Africa, around two million years go, and before developing tools for hunting, we had to compete in the savannah with other mammals simply for food. Lacking the physical attributes of other more powerful predators, our specialization focused on the ability to run long distances efficiently, allowing us to hunt, over running our preys, with a minimal risk.  This evolutionary advantage differentiated us of the other Homo that preceded. Where we will get from here is, at the best, only hypothetical.

Bibliography:

Economy and Endurance in Human Evolution
Pontzer H.
Current Biology 2017, R613–R621

The Evolution of Marathon Running Capabilities in Humans
Lieberman DE and Bramble DM.
Sports Med 2007; 37 (4-5): 288-290

Zurich Marathon (22/04/18 – 66)

After the last fast marathon trips, this time around the travel is further, and so I will try to combine sports and tourism. With a Friday night arrival, and a return on Tuesday morning this gives 3 full days in destination, plenty of time to run the marathon and do some extra stuff around Switzerland. A cheap flight bought well in advance is compensating the steep registration price, 120€, at the level of Berlin for example, and almost twice those of Madrid or Barcelona, but this is Switzerland. Saturday is the day chosen to pick up the number in the Saalsport Hall Sports centre, located 30 minutes walking to downtown, that gives time to check the start/finish area, located in the surroundings (Mythenquai). Strangely the number could also be picked earlier on the race day, between 6 and 8am, and then take a free shuttle bus to the start area, although being with plenty of time there is no need to add unnecessary stress just before the race. Runner expo is quite small, even when considering that with the marathon, that starts at 8.30 am, is taking also place a relay marathon starting at 8.37, and a 10k race at 8.43. There is almost full absence of other races stands, as it happens with most of the typical running brands so present in these events. To add some difficulty the information is sometimes uniquely in German, as happened with the emails after registration, but nothing you cannot get by.

With the number in my possession, I take advantage of the pasta party that was happening at that time, doing an unexpected picnic in the gardens surrounding the centre. The end of the evening is an ideal time to visit the quiet streets of Zurich and get some information for the upcoming trip to the mountains planned for Monday. 

On the race morning a small tram trip gets to the Burkiplatz area, where only a small walk gets to the start/finish area, in the left-hand side of the lake. A bit further is the clothes depot. With sunny weather and quite hot for this time of the day we start the race, heading quickly to the town centre, with the Burkiplatz area as central point, as we will run through it a few times until km 12, when we cross to the other side of the lake. From then on, we will be leaving Zurich behind, until the 25k marker, in Meilen village, when we will change direction to get back to Zurich, and later to the finish line, but there is still a lot of time before that. Previously to leaving Zurich the first runners from the relay marathon are passing ahead. Temperature is slowly rising, and probably because my lack of attention the first marker I see is the one indicating km 17. Race had been going easily, losing the time sense. I take my first delayed gel, that usually I take in km 12. From that point on I keep better track of the markers. The race is going through a wide road in residential neighbours in the outskirts of Zurich, and will be the same road we will follow to return to Zurich. There is no much public, and it is in this area when the 3.30 group goes ahead. After the km 30, the 3.45 group also gets ahead, but I cannot find energy to follow it either. The time will not be the best, although is not the most important. Once again in the Burkiplatz area, and just in the last moments of the race more people are in the street. We only must take the commercial Bahnhofstrasse street, until the train station, and head back to the finish line. Time 3.52.30, in summer conditions (even for Switzerland) in 949 place out of 1830 male finishers (and 427 women). Time to rest in the gardens around the finish line, and even to get a nap. Already halfway through the 2018 Grand Slam, it looks that the 12 marathons planned are a bit closer now.

Score: 4.5 (out of 5)

Pros: 1 lap flat course; everything accessible on foot, or with travel arrangements offered by the organisation

Cons: lack of criteria in the drinks stations (random content of glasses, from water to isotonic drinks or cola refreshments); information sometimes only in German

Extra: trip to Lucerne/Vitznau-Rigi/Rigi-Staffel/Goldau

Marathon poster
Medal
Running expo
Start box

Badajoz Marathon (18/03/18 – 65)

Back to Extremadura, after my first experience here in 2016. Cheap registration, only 15€. To get my running number is in “La Granadilla” Sports centre, located just outside town, and it doesn´t take long, as with picking the runner bag. It is a small marathon, so the lack of running expo. Considering the price, we get the usual t-shirt and running shorts also.

Race will start at 9 am, in a small park area near the river, where the finish line will also be located, for a 2 laps route. The half marathon will take place simultaneously, with a 15 minutes later start. Despite the heavy rain on Saturday evening the forecast for today is good. On the start we are there around 500 runners to burn shoes, many of them Portuguese, with a cloudy and a bit cold morning, but a runner friendly atmosphere. After last week effort I decide to go with the 3.45 group from the start, and we head towards the Portugal road, where we will do many of the race kilometres and where public is mostly absent. So early on I can see that the pacemaker is going faster than it would be expected, but everything is according to his plan to slow down in the last miles. Accordingly, we can see that the 3.30 group is only slightly ahead of ours. Nevertheless, the rhythm every kilometre is not very constant, with many accelerations and braking. For about 2 miles I decide to keep my own pace, going slightly ahead of the group, but forces are not enough and I finish getting back to the group discipline. Half marathon is covered in about 1.49, for a pack that is slowly losing units. From mile 17 onwards I start losing contact, although still able to keep the 3.45 globe in sight. Slower we head towards the town centre, and with a last effort I stop the clock in 3.46.58. With some bananas in the food stations, at least in the last stages, maybe I could have got the extra energy to reach the 3.45. Time to get the medal and a bag with some fruits and juice, and go back to the hotel for a shower and head back home.

After 4 marathons in a month, now there are 5 free weeks in front to recover and do some quality training. Next stop, if everything goes according to plan, Zurich.

Score: 4 (out of 5)

Pros: cheap registration for the usual standards; flat circuit

Cons: irregularity of the pacemaker (at least the 3.45 one); uninteresting course in the Portugal road

Before the race
Finish line, during the race

Barcelona Marathon (11/03/18 – 64)

First marathon in Catalonia. One of the last “big Spanish ones” still missing from my list. This time is running for a good cause, as my registration price was entirely towards a charity (61.5€ for Aldeas Infantiles), including a free 6 months subscription to Runners World, magazine I was already registered a few years ago, and that I stopped when time became a too precious gift.

Runners expo is huge, occupying a whole Pavilion at Barcelona Exhibition Centre, located in the Plaza de las Cortes Catalanas, that is also doing as outdoor activities exhibition. It is one of the most complete fairs I have ever seen. Luckily, I go for my number and runner bag at lunchtime, and the place is not overcrowded. The evening goes visiting Barcelona downtown, besides an unexpected storm. After dinner it is time to rest, for a 9.30 start tomorrow morning.

As in other occasions early wake up, but luckily the hotel is in Gran Via, only about 20 minutes walking from the race start, in the same spot of the running expo. Because of my PB I am going to be in the red box, with the 3.15 group, although those times are actually beyond my reach nowadays. With the excitement in the air, able to give me goose bumps after so many starts, I am able to cross the start line in less than a minute, not bad considering the approximately 15000 runners. With an ideal weather for running, sunny but with storms in the forecast around midday, I go for running vest and a cap, and obviously the always in place (for me) sunglasses.

Liquid and food stations are frequent, every 2.5k, always with water, isotonic drink and fruit, and the markers are even coming in miles. After the 5k I am left behind by the 3.15 group. It looks that my pace was quite good till this point. Previous marathons are not heavy on my legs yet, although I keep in mind my next week marathon, trying not to punish myself too much. Course is only one lap, with most of the tourist sights on it. I get to the half marathon in 1.47.44, only to be surpassed also by 3.30 group. Between the km 25 and 30 my pace suffers considerably, although I cross the wall without further complications, and start deducting kms with the hope of keeping the 3.45 group behind me. Crowds are impressive in the whole circuit, but overall in the last stages of the race. Finally, 3.44.26, for a perfectly organised marathon, to the level of the best I have run. A short walk to the nearby hotel is convenient to stretch my legs, and with no time left for tourism, only a quick shower and light lunch, before heading to the airport. Next stop Badajoz, in 7 days.

Score: 5 (out of 5)

Pros: one lap circuit through main Barcelona attractions; crowds supporting the race; the complete drink/food stations; excellent running expo

Cons: showers located far from the finish line (but shuttle provided); medal design could be improved; isolated individual attempts to turn a sports event into a political one

 

Numbers pick up area
Race course
Start/finish area
View from start

Ghost of Roadrunner Marathon (24/02/18 – 63)

Deal, in the English East Coast, Kent county, two hours away by train from London. Six days after the Dirty Running Marathon, and with Siberian cold in the forecast, I go for the last UK marathon, probably in a long time. The marathon´s name comes from a race that took place in the same premises between 2013 and 2016, the Kent Roadrunner Marathon, in which I run already in 2014. The organisation of today´s race bought the remaining medals from those years and decided to add the “ghost” to the race title, and make a good use of the medals excess. Each runner will be able to choose the medal among the available ones. Registration price was £30.

With a very strong wind and a 9.30 start, an Uber gets me to the start area, in the Betteshanger Country Park, about 3 miles from the town centre. It is a cycling track, closed to the traffic, that has been totally rented for the event. Its outline is sinuous, but flat, with the tarmac in perfect conditions and 2 miles in length. 12.96 laps will make for a whole marathon. It is a pity that the visitor centre is under renovation, but there is a small coffee shop with toilets nearby to get changed just a short walk from the start line. With around 2°C, gusty winds and no many chances of improvement along the day, I go for long tights, and a long-sleeved t-shirt with a vest on top, and obviously gloves. And we go for it… Laps start going by, but they don´t feel repetitive as in last weekend race. The track is circular, instead of going out and back following the same route, and there are different areas, one with trees, one with curves and so on. Not boring at all. As the laps start falling I start lapping runners, but I am lapped also (to get an idea I got lapped twice by the winner). Laps control is done with a plastic card, that is holed every time we cross the start line, where it is located the food station, that is well supplied. Getting to the last lap we get an English flag to make the honour lap. With no time keeping during the race I finish just shy of the 4 hours limit, in 3.59.41, for a 16th place out of 77 finishers, in the coldest conditions I remember from all my marathons.

The medal, one of the identity signals of this marathon before, is enormous. I go for the 2016 one. Without much time left before heading back to the airport, and no shower facilities, I go back to Deal, eat a pizza to recover some energy and get onto the train. I will need 4 hours, 3 train changes and 2 buses to get from Deal to my hotel just in Gatwick airport. I almost had forgotten about the maintenance works during the weekends. Luckily it is my last stop before heading back home tomorrow morning. If I had wanted a “double”, there was still another marathon in the same track tomorrow, but it would have been more difficult to get back home on time to work on Monday. Despite this, satisfied with getting 2 marathons under my belt in just under a week during my short travel to British soil.

Score: 4.5 (out of 5)

Pros: closed tarmac track; medal

Cons: no public transport from Deal to Betteshanger Country Park; the ongoing renovation works in the visitor centre

Medal
Check point

Dirty Running Marathon (18/02/18 – 62)

Again running a marathon in UK, almost 4 years after my last one, with the main goal of celebrating my 42 years and 195 days. Registration priced at £40, for a race near London, that will take place in the Thames Riverside. For changing facilities and locker facilities we have the Elmbridge Xcel Leisure Centre available, only 5 minutes walking from the race start/finish tent, where we are directed after a brief informative talk 15 minutes before the 9.30 start. The race is going to take place in a closed loop of about 3.3 miles, open to the public, and available for running as many laps as desired in a total time of 6 h. Nevertheless, as seen later, most of the participants will go for the marathon distance, that will require 8 completed laps. At 9.30 and with a temperature of 8-9°C, that will remain constant, and a sunny start, around 100 runners start the race. The circuit is mainly flat, besides a small bridge, short in distance but with a steep climb. The drinks station is in the start area, although easily could have been another one in the turnaround point, at halfway. Track is mainly tarmac-free, and muddy in the most proximal area to the start, although easily skipped by almost every runner from the first lap on, thanks to a parallel road. The scenery is very idyllic, and the laps start going down quickly, without having a look to the time until I finish the fourth lap, with nearly 2h, and when I realise that the pace is not as fast as I was expecting. The last laps start feeling monotonous, with the section running against the wind feeling cold, and warmer the section we run with the wind in favour.

8 laps, and I rang the bell, for a 4.05.48 time. Winner finishes in 3.32, for a demanding circuit, as my hips can confirm. In the goodie bag, a big medal. For the high registration price, and because of the absence of a complicated organization effort, you would expect a bit more for your money, but the overall experience was good and the installations excellent.

Score: 3.5 (out of 5)

Pros: facilities near the start/finish area; scenery

Cons: 8 laps in a closed loop circuit, means 16 times the same sights; goodie bag could take a bit mo

Elmbridge Xcel Leisure Complex
Medal

Gran Canaria Marathon (20/01/18 – 61)

For the third time I get to this marathon, after 2013 and 2014 editions, and conveniently organised in Gran Canaria at the end of January, in a time with no many marathons around because of the weather. Probably it is why is becoming so popular, with more than 60% of runners coming from abroad.

The marathon takes place simultaneously with a half marathon and a 10k run, with an 8.30 start for the first two races, and a later 11.30 for the 10k. Being the finish line in the same location for the three of them ensures that at least in the last part of the route will be a lot of animation

Registration was priced at 30€, in combination with another race that took place at the end of the previous year. As a novelty this year the course will be 1 lap only, with start and finish in the Alfredo Kraus auditorium, just in Las Canteras beach, and cloakrooms, changing room and shower facilities in the nearby Las Canteras commercial centre. Runner bag includes the typical T-shirt and some snacks. My flight arrives to Gran Canaria on Saturday, just with enough time to pick the number and organise stuff. It will be an “express marathon”: arrive, run and come back, without tourism time.

We get to the start with a temperature around 10-12°C, and what looks like sunny conditions. In the km 3 we take the maritime road, where we will be in a way out and back, until km 22. Running on the seaside makes the kilometres go easy, in an otherwise public free area, as the Sun goes up, and the temperatures with it. Shortly after the half marathon point we enter the downtown streets, and the historical old town, with more public, until getting to km 39. At that point we get to the las Canteras beach sidewalk, from where we can see the Alfredo Kraus auditorium, where the finish line is located. The heat is already taking its toll on my feet, maybe because I didn´t attach my trainers properly, or an inadequate combination of old trainers and high tarmac temperature. Nevertheless, the last effort gets me through the last 3 kms, to get into a net finish time of 3.49.50. My worst time in Gran Canaria, from 3 visits, although with a different route, and considering the high temperature, lack of proper training and sleep (a hostel night in a shared room is not the best way to get a proper night sleep) you can´t ask for more.

First marathon in 2018, when we will try to complete a “Grand Slam”, 12 marathons in a calendar year, for the second time after the achievement of 2014.

Score: 4.5 (out of 5)

Pros: 1 lap circuit; start/finish facilities; seaside running scenery

Cons: maybe too much street running; lack of animation in some sections

Runners Expo
Start line
Finish line area (Auditorio Alfredo Kraus)
"Las Canteras" beach