Welcome to the Science of Sport, where we bring you the second, third, and fourth level of analysis you will not find anywhere else.

Be it doping in sport, hot topics like Caster Semenya or Oscar Pistorius, or the dehydration myth, we try to translate the science behind sports and sports performance.

Consider a donation if you like what you see here!


Did you know?
We published The Runner's Body in May 2009. With an average 4.4/5 stars on Amazon.com, it has been receiving positive reviews from runners and non-runners alike.

Available for the Kindle and also in the traditional paper back. It will make a great gift for the runners you know, and helps support our work here on The Science of Sport.



Monday, January 28, 2008

Amazing marathon video

Kayoko Fukushi's debut - an amazing video of what happens when the marathon goes wrong

In our most recent post, we looked at some really interesting stories from the indoor athletics and tennis worlds.

But here's one that I felt should be added to this, and it includes a video which I found through the Let's Run website (great source of news).

The story, and the video, come from the Osaka Marathon over the past weekend. The full story of the race can be read here.

But the real story, from our point of view, anyway, was that of a Japanese runner, Kayoko Fukushi, making her debut in the marathon event.

Fukushi is Japan's national record holder over 3000m, 5000m and the half-marathon. Considering how many brilliant female athletes Japan has produced in the marathon, when one of their runners with such speed over the shorter distances steps up to the marathon, it is bound to cause a stir.

And so, at the Osaka Marathon, Fukushi lined up for her first marathon knowing that no Japanese woman had ever run faster than her over the half-marathon - a great source of confidence, no doubt.

But too fast too soon, and the price is paid

Perhaps a little too much confidence, in hindsight, because Fukushi set out at a pace of sub-2:20, leaving the entire field behind from the very first kilometer! According to reports, she ran about 3:20/km for the first 25km - just about on pace for 2:20. But by 32km, she had slowed substantially, run 3:42 for that kilometer. The rest of the field caught and passed her at about the 35km mark - she lost a lead of about 4 minutes within about 5 km! So the wheels had really come off.

Just how much did they come off? Well, take a look at this video (available also on YouTube), and you'll see her final kilometer, complete with frantic and excitable Japanese commentary, and a very enthusiastic crowd - it's quite an entertaining package and a courageous run, which we describe a little more below. The video is just under four minutes long.




Fukushi enters the stadium, falls flat on her face, stands up and soldiers bravely on. I timed her final 300m at 2 minutes and 21 seconds - a pace of 7:50/km! That includes two falls in the final 200m.

For more insight into this pacing strategy, the graph below shows the pace per 5km interval during her race. The blue line represents her pace (in min/km), and the maroon blocks are added to give an indication of the pace - they project a 10km time based on each 5km interval.


What is interesting as an observation is that she's not showing any mental symptoms like confusion (though she is smiling, which some would possibly say is a mental sign considering her physical state!). One of the main symptoms of hypoglycemia (running out of glycogen and hence your blood sugar levels fall) is deliriousness and confusion. Fukushi is running in a straight line (albeit slowly), at least. It's quite apparent that her physiology has basically shut down - she could not pick up the pace even if she wanted to. It would be really interesting to speculate just what percentage of her total muscle she's actually using. Is she using ALL the muscle? It hardly seems like. Rather, it looks as though something has put a brake on her running speed. This "central fatigue", characterised by poor co-ordination (she falls over repeatedly) and often, confusion (not apparent here) was recognised by scientists as a key indication that the fatigue was NOT simply in the muscles, but also in the brain.

It's also an illustration of just how badly things can go wrong if the early pace is too ambitious. Having reached half-way in 1:10.32, Fukushi covered the second half in 1:30.32! That's still a pretty respectable half-marathon time for many people, no doubt! It's all relative of course...

But then Fukushi's final 7.2km took her 40:25 (pace of 5:37/km), and her final 2.2 km was run at an average of 7:06/km, and includes that section from the video above! A courageous run by Fukushi, no doubt. One really interesting thing to debate is whether this is an "intelligent" act to continue. Just how much do the final 10km take out of her? Is there a chance that this effort will affect her future marathon running performances? Of course, it's just as easy to argue that she'll be stronger for it, and back for that 2:20 some day! Again, time will tell...

The moral of the story - patience, aim rather run a negative split, especially in your first marathon, and remember, you might pay heavily for a fast early pace!

Cheers
Ross

13 Comments:

Edward said...

Hi Ross,
Amazing video, and such courage.
Could you explain the statement "fatigue was NOT simply in the muscles, but also in the brain"? Are you saying that fatigue is in part a mental barrier (that could perhaps be overcome?), or rather that fatigue also involves a mental tiring as well, and assumedly a slowing of mental processing.
Cheers, and great to see others excited about Mottram's run too!
Ed

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

HI Edward

Thanks for the question and comment!

To answer:

In fact, no, Fatigue is not simply a Mental Barrier. I think that Fukushi is a great example of this - she clearly tried her best to push past the pain barrier, but in the end, physiology won the day, and she was forced to slow down. No matter how hard she tried, she could not run faster. She would have kept falling over, and maybe eventually, her body would have "decided" that she should stay down! But she would have been unable to push beyond it.

The analogy I always use is that you cannot commit suicide by holding your breath, no matter how badly you want to! (apologies for the morbid analogy)

So what do I mean then?

Well, to put it simply, there is this theory in exercise science that fatigue (slowing down, failing to perform etc) happens because the muscles become competely incapable of contracting. The theory would have you believe that your muscles are simply unable to do their job.

However, when I write that "Fatigue is in the brain" i am saying that brain is overseeing ALL the physiology during exercise, and actually preventing you from doing damage through exercise. Note that this DOES NOT MEAN MENTAL - just because it's the brain, does not mean it's only psychology. As I physiologist, I'd say that most of what happens in the brain is physiology anyway!

But what we're seeing with Fukushi is an example of a whole new understanding of fatigue and physiology. This is a series that we will definitely do in the future, but basically, what it involves is that the brain is constantly monitoring all the body's systems - fuel, oxygen, blood supply, temperature etc. and then changing how much muscle we are able to activate, forcing us to slow down.

So in the case of Fukushi, I think that the video reveals that she is simply unable to speed up, and if you look at her, she's not straining. It's not as though the muscles are trying to work harder - the brain has simply decided that she's NOT going to be allowed to activate any more muscle. Key to this argument is that when you are doing your best as a runner, you're still not activating all your muscle fibers.

But anyway, this will all be discussed in a series in the not too distant future, so hopefully it becomes clear then.

Until then, the summary is that your brain is as much PHYSIOLOGY as the rest of your body, so you can't simply push passed the pain (up to a point, you can), because as I said, physiology wins in the end!

Thanks for the question!
Ross

Anonymous said...

Bill Rodgers has said: " The Marathon can humble you". It's never as simple as 2 half-marathons strung together. I believe Fukushi got the message. Still a very courageous finish and much better IMHO than a DNF in her first attempt.

George

Outdoor enthusiast said...

Well, you either get the message through learning or by experience. Experience is a powerful teacher !!
If only someone would have told her about this before the race ...

Here is another example of body shutting down - the 1982 ironman triathlon in Hawaii - Julie Moss crawling to the finish line

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

There has been such a massive response to this in all of the forums, and much debate about why she did not just retire from the race.

Pride has been suggested, as well as stereotyping her as having a "Japanese psyche," but the one thing that no one has mentioned yet is that she might have lost a substantial sum of money if she retired.

Only a naiive sponsor would not include conditions such as finishing a race in an athlete's contract. No finish, no pay, or at least substantially less if you retire early.

It would be a pity if she injured herself by hobbling in like that. The kind of deterioration of form that she demonstrated can be associated with injury, even when running as slowly as she was at the end.

Let's hope she makes a full recovery and gets it right next time.

Kind Regards,
Jonathan

Outdoor enthusiast said...

On a related note, coming back to the point of mental barrier vs physiology - is it possible for every individual to push themselves and reach the state of fatigue as Fukushi did ? In Fukushi's case, it became apparent later on in the race. But there must have been a substantial period of time before her pace dropped drastically during which she must have realized that she would not be able to hold on to the same pace through the end of the race. Is it just about paying attention to such signals your body gives you ? Coming back to the question I asked, if an individual were to decide to push themselves to the brink of physical exhaustion by pacing over a pace they know as sustainable for the anticipated duration - could they do so purely by mentally closing themselves to the signals they receive from their body - or do they have to be trained in order to do that ?

TT said...

What a great video and commentary on the marathon! At least there was no Marty Liguori commentary about "pulling the runner off the course" as he did regarding Gabrielle Anderson in the 1984 LA (first ever) Women's Olympic marathon. I totally agree that the brain is just part of the physiology of the runner. We must remember that when we deplete the stored glycogen in the working muscles(which is approximately at the 2 hour point for most trained runners) the subsequent burning of fat that is necesssary to produce ATP for continued energy expenditure results in a much higher energy cost (oxygen usage per minute)and therefore the slowed pace at the end of the race. No amount of mental will or training (or even an outside oxygen source) can then speed up the muscle contractions. If you compare this video to Julie Moss and Gabrielle Anderson's, we can see how all three athletes were reduced to contracting ANY muscle fibers that still had a bit of carbohydrate available. Crawling, side movements, and even backwards running and head bobbing are all physiological reactions to the brain's continued focus on finishing the race. Thanks. - Teri

Lem said...

I'm not too sure the shutdown of muscle activation is a response to glycogen depletion. Is it this chemical balance/imbalance the signal that the brain picks up? From what I understand of the Central Theory of Fatigue, it is a form of neural inhibition to prevent further damage to the muscle fibers. How the brain senses this or decides when enough is enough is an interesting question. For example, I am sure Fukushi had done marathon length runs before, or quite close to it or even longer in her preparation. What is it in a fast pace that sends red flags in your brain? It must have something to do with contraction speeds, and impact forces (eccentric stresses).

If this is true, then does this mean that if you do something slow enough, fatigue might be induced by other causes (e.g. glycogen depletion, sleep deprivation)?

Finally, in an attempt to answer the question from outdoor enthusiast, I don't think you can close your "brain" to these signals (physiological), whatever they are. You can probably close your "mind" to it (psychological) and hence reach that brink of exhaustion. That's a place I'd rather not see, although I suspect that anyone can reach that brink, if it were a matter of survival.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Lem,

Thanks as always for joining us here and contributing to the discussion.

You wrote, ". . . don't think you can close your "brain" to these signals (physiological), whatever they are. You can probably close your "mind" to it (psychological) and hence reach that brink of exhaustion. That's a place I'd rather not see, although I suspect that anyone can reach that brink, if it were a matter of survival."

There was a big marathon conference in 1976, and some sports psychologists attempted to analyze the elite US marathoners of the day. Their hypothesis was that the well-trained runners listened very closely to their bodies, and were very in tune with the signals their bodies sent them.

They compared this to novice runners whom they suspected were not in touch with their bodies and did not pay close enough attention to the signals.

The consequence of these two types of behaviours was that the elites would make small adjustments in pace and strategy according to how they felt. In other words, if they were aiming for a 2:15 marathon, but after 10 km felt that they could hold the pace for the entire distance, they would make changes (slow down) and still finish as close as possible to their goal.

The novice runner, on the other hand, follows a different approach. He/she runs until they totally bomb, then slows down massively, probably walks and recovers for some minutes, feels better and then starts running again. Repeat until they crawl across the line some hours later!

This hypothesis suggests not so much that novices "close" their brains purposely, but that they are in tune with the signals coming from their bodies.

The elite runners, however, know exactly what is going on and make small changes in pace all the time in accordance with these signals.

So what on earth happened to Fukushi? Perhaps her CHO ingestion was wrong, perhaps she did not do enough long runs, but perhaps she ignored the early signals? The result is what we saw in the video.

In any case, this does make a really interesting case study, and hopefully someone interviews her and we find out, in her own words, what went wrong.

Thanks again for the comment!

Kind Regards,
Jonathan

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Lem

Just to add to the answer to your question - the Regulation model for exercise involves the brain monitoring various physiological systems during exercise:
pH, temperature, muscle glycogen, mechanical strain/eccentric loading, cytokines and other inflammatory molecules, osmolality, arterial oxygen saturation, rate of heat storage, and so on.

Under different circumstances, different signals take priority - on a hot, 40 degree day, running at a fairly slow pace, pH and metabolic accumulation is probably insignificant, but body temperature is key. I believe in Fukushi's case that muscle glycogen or liver glycogen depletion (and hence hypoglycemia) was responsible for the slowing of pace.

Remember, it's not physiologically possible to become "Depleted" of glycogen - exhaustion (the point where exercise stops voluntarily) happens even though glycogen is still present. So it's not like running a petrol tank dry - rather, the signal to stop comes in advance of this "failure" because if you did run out glycogen completely, you'd be in trouble!

But it doesn't make sense for the brain to 'wake up' only once the muscle is 'running on empty' if you're doing a race like a 42km. Here, what we believe happens is that the signal to slow down happens long in advance of the 'failure point', and yes, it's role is protection. But in this particular instance, I do believe that the primary factors were likely energy depletion (though again, it's not depletion as much as running lower) and mechanical strain on the legs.

Regards
Ross

Lem said...

Hi, Ross and Jonathan. Thanks for giving me a better handle on central fatigue.

I realize now that my idea of central fatigue has been one-sided, when in fact the opposite is true!

I had limited the brain's role to protecting against "mechanical strain" and that any exhaustion caused by glycogen depletion is another category: "metabolic". That is, I thought that you simply can't go on or go any faster because you don't have any fuel left. (The funny thing is, I know that we don't run dry of glucose or glycogen, so that means that we simply can't access what's still there. And I have never really given any thought as to WHAT keeps us from accessing those sugars.)

Now I know that both mechanical and metabolic fatigue factors fall under the central fatigue model.

Thanks,

Lem

Anonymous said...

Interesting to see this after reading the preview on the IAAF site where it said...

"Fukushi’s training was based not on the long run but on the runs around 20km. That may not be a concern, for before she made her half marathon debut in 2006, Fukushi never ran 20km. On the other hand, transition to the marathon is quite different from transition to the half marathon for track runners."

http://www.iaaf.org/news/Kind=2/newsId=43006.html

So it makes you wonder what sort of training program she was using.
Lex

torasham said...

hi there...
your video is no longer available.
thanks.