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A few years ago I spent a week cycling in the Italian and French Alps. The group’s selling point was the electrical stimulation of the brain before and after the ride. The protocol builds on what the Bahrain Merida Cycling Team was trying to do at the time, zapping neurons to enhance performance and recovery. I wanted to know if the technique worked, but I was also working on a more vague question: Better?

If I was one of the Bahrain-Merida riders at that summer’s Tour de France, the answer would be clear. But any competitive advantage is short-lived. “When effective technology is adopted into sport, it becomes tyrannical,” said philosopher Thomas Murray, who studies sports ethics, after the trip. “You are Have to use it. So what’s the point of electrical brain stimulation if everyone else has it? It will be.

This is, in a nutshell, the Red Queen effect.The idea originated in evolutionary biology by Lee Van Valen in his 1973 paper on interspecies competition, and the name is given to Lewis Carroll’s Through the looking glass: “Look, look, you have to run as hard as you can to stay in the same place,” the Red Queen says to Alice. If the rabbit gets faster, her fox will follow suit. If some sequoias grow 300 feet tall, so should all redwoods.According to anthropologist Thomas Hyland Eriksen’s paper published last year in the journal frontier of sports and active living, This is the logic that increasingly colors our relationship with performance.

Eriksen is Norwegian, so he started with cross-country skiing. The transition from wood to fiberglass to his skis, the constant refinement of his waxing technique, and the breakthrough he made in the 1980s when Bill Koch popularized his ski technique in skating. The treadmill spins on a social level as well. Teams chase limited talent pools to try to outpend their league rivals. Sports compete for our attention, getting faster and bigger. Countries are lavishing their Olympians with the latest technology in pursuit of an edge that will never last. For example, the Vikersund ski jump in Eriksen’s native Norway has been repeatedly improved over the decades to maintain its bragging rights over Slovenian main rival Planica. . Both countries continue to pour more resources into building bigger hills to produce longer jumps. “

Eriksen proves to be a bit skeptical of the Olympic logic of faster, higher and stronger.. So do I — surprisingly. I began writing about sports science over 15 years ago, eagerly searching for new technologies, training methods, supplements, and gear to increase my speed. I’ve grown a little tired of each one. However, something has changed in the last few years. I think it was the shoes.

If the rabbit gets faster, the fox will follow suit. If some sequoias grow 300 feet tall, so should all redwoods.

Marathons and athletics these days have been a strange experience, and we’re not talking about a pandemic.9 of the 10 fastest marathons ever run for both men and women since the Nike Vaporfly was introduced in 2016. case is being executed. The Nike Vaporfly is the first in a new generation of shoes with embedded carbon fiber plates, shown to reduce energy needs. maintain a steady pace. Even on the track, the shoes improved and the times went down. Between 1964 and his 2017 he had 10 high school boys run less than 4 minutes away from him. This year alone he has achieved five (and countless more). It’s exciting to see so many records lost, but until it’s gone. Jeff Burns, a biomechanics researcher at the University of Michigan, told Irish journalists: “It’s great right now, but I’m afraid it’s going to make us feel terrible in the long run.”

But what surprised me most was how popular Vaporfly and its competitors are among recreational runners. Unique thick-soled shoes are popular not only in the front line, but also in big road races. Spending $250 in hopes of shaving a few minutes off your marathon time might make sense for an aspiring pro, like stimulation to a cyclist’s brain, but outside benchmarks It doesn’t seem appealing to others unless you’re measuring yourself against.Two minutes can be the difference between pain and ecstasy if you’re chasing the Boston qualifier. But when everyone is striving for the same dominance, the Red Queen effect occurs. Boston’s qualifying times are five minutes faster across the board in 2020.

Anyway, watching all this play got me thinking about what I’m trying to get out of my training and racing. Got a review pair. to my former self. Using outside aid to get faster seemed no different than taking shortcuts on the course. Then training he found that all his partners were wearing the next-gen shoes during their workouts as well. I’ve also noticed a slowdown despite my efforts to avoid time effects. Now, every time I race, I pull a pair of old reviews out of my closet.

Is there an escape from the Red Queen? “Well, the short answer is no. I don’t think so,” Eriksen told me when I emailed him for advice. “The desire to excel and the competitiveness that drives sporting activity will always prevail, with a few notable exceptions.” Just as they disagree, the Boston qualifiers are unlikely to reach a global consensus to forego advanced shoe technology. I believe that However, he does not believe they will succeed in stopping the treadmill. What they can do is keep it from spinning too fast. Think Nascar he not F1. Or consider the example of Olympic sailing. Laser class competitors will be issued the same boat upon arrival at the regatta.

For most of us, fighting the Red Queen is personal. Some routes to run 2% faster give you a sense of accomplishment, a feeling that you are better than you were before. Others leave you in the same place you started, even if the numbers on the clock have changed. If it’s in a bottle, requires batteries, or is protected by a portfolio of patents, treat it with care. Unlike trees that seek sunlight, Eriksen concludes:

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