A lot of folks are real excited today about marathoner Ben I. Rapoport (right).
Rapoport, who is both a Harvard MD and MIT Ph.D candidate (the latter degree is in electrical engineering) produced a paper in PLoS Computational Biology with what he calls a formula for doing your best marathon time. (The picture is from Ben's MIT page.)
Many marathoners "hit a wall" or "bonk" in a race's latter stages because they don't have enough carbohydrates in their system to provide ready energy, he writes. Once you start trying to burn fat, you are no longer capable of the high energy output a difficult endurance event requires.
He put this online in an endurance calculator. From your age, your weight, and your resting pulse, the calculator tells you the energy you will need to run a marathon in your targeted time, how much you will have to eat beforehand, and even whether your target time is attainable.
A better estimate of your true capacity is your VO2Max -- your maximum ability to process oxygen -- which is calculated from a treadmill test, he writes.
The present system just estimates that figure. (It calculated mine at 27.) You can make that estimate yourself by comparing your resting heart rate to your maximum rate, which is usually 220 beats minus your age. Or see how far you can go on a treadmill in 12 minutes.
It's an important paper. And it wouldn't take much to turn this simple calculator into a valuable product, and its software into a basic component of athletic training technology.
I've done a half-marathon and once even completed a bicycle marathon of 112 miles. But my best endurance days are behind me. These days I'm happy with a 10 km Peachtree Road Race in the summer and maybe a 37 mile ride down the Silver Comet Trail in the fall.
But amateur athletes can get hit the wall just like elite ones do. I hit it a few years ago when I tried to go both ways on the Silver Comet, a total of 74 miles, on a 95 degree day. My dear wife had to come get me.
Proper training toward a goal, and hands-on data concerning game day nutrition, would have prevented that. Rapoport's calculator offers it. All that you need do is estimate the energy requirements of any endurance event, then plug it in.
Rapaport thinks that with proper training I could possibly run a 4:52 marathon if I put away 4,090 calories beforehand. That's a bit more than 4 regular servings of spaghetti with meatballs and tomato sauce.
Cool. But this can go much further.
I can easily see this turned into a hand held device, or a SaaS service, that will let you plug in the type of endurance contest you want to do, follow your training, and then give you your final meal instructions at the end of the process.
The people who run large events like the Peachtree or San Francisco's Bay to Breakers could offer this service to runners and save on medical costs. I once saw someone have a heart attack during a Peachtree run -- it was not pretty.
I know MIT and Harvard are expensive, but a little birdie tells me Ben's tuition bills can be paid for.