Man or Machine

Fact: Dan Karnazes can run forever.

Well, not quite forever. But he does have some pretty impressive feats under his belt. He completed 50 marathons on 50 consecutive days (one in each state of the US) and became the first and only man to run a marathon through the south pole (at temperatures of −25 °C).

But the real story puts those mega-super-ultra-ironmen to shame. In 2005, Dan ran 350 miles without stopping, which tots up to 80 hours and 44 minutes of pounding the tarmac without stopping for a breather. Let that sink in for a second.

For us mere mortals, our muscles would get tired and cramp would start to set in long before the end of even the first marathon. When your muscles start to run out of oxygen they begin to produce lactic acid, which builds up as a signal of fatigue. Muscle does not deal well with acidic conditions, which can result in cramp and eventually force you to stop running and rest.

Dan Karnazes doesn’t have this issue – for some reason he is far more efficient at flushing lactic acid out of his muscles, meaning that he does not experience exercise fatigue in the same way and can plough through these ridiculous distances. In fact, during his 350 mile run his biggest challenge was not physical but mental: lack of sleep was what eventually forced him to stop running.

Frustratingly, the myriad of articles online about this amazing man all simply refer vaguely to “a rare genetic condition”, which means we can’t have an interesting discussion about his unique biology and have to instead settle for traditional tabloid sensationalism and unsatisfying pseudoscience. If I find a more fulfilling conclusion to this story, you’ll be the first to know.

‘Another one of Mr Shaunak’s Little Bites of Science’
Image under Creative Commons license

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