The Science of Sprints and Marathons

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Jamaica’s Usain Bolt has run the 100 meters in just 9.59 seconds. Kenya’s Dennis Kimetto has run the 26.2 miles of a marathon in 2 hours 2 minutes 57 seconds. How does Bolt achieve so much speed so quickly? How does Kimetto sustain that grueling pace for so long?

It’s a combination of evolution and maximizing what athletes possess in the present. PBS‘ “It’s Okay to Be Smart” finds that over millions of years humans have become uniquely equipped to handle distance running. Other animals achieve speeds in short bursts we can’t, but our bodies have evolved in countless ways to allow us to maintain speed for great distances, from our skulls helping us balance while running to our sweat glands letting us better disperse heat.

Of course, not all human runners are created equal, particularly when it comes to sprinting. Biomechanics experts at Southern Methodist University studied a top sprinter Mike Rodgers to determine just how he generates so much pace with each stride.

Watch the video below from “It’s Okay to Be Smart” on marathons and the video at the bottom for Scientific American‘s examination of sprinting.

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