April 27, 2010 at 9:52 am
If the Radiolab podcast were a boy, I’d be doodling its name in my notebook with little hearts around it, and whenever it spoke to me I’d break out into a frenzy of nervous giggles. I totally crush on it.
For those of you who do not know the love of my life, Radiolab is a science podcast that explores the mysteries of nature. The latest episode might be of particular interest to anyone who’s run a marathon or has felt like they’ve run a marathon when they only signed up for a 5K. It covered human limits, and the first segment in particular explored the limits of our bodies. First, it told the story of an Ironman competitor who was so determined to finish, even though her body was shutting down, that she literally crawled across the finish line. She also pooped her pants on national TV. (The way to fame can be messy.) The video is below.
They also covered The Race Across America, in which competitors bike across the country over the course of several days, only stopping for one or two hours of sleep a night. Unsurprisingly, they start to hallucinate after several days and lots of them are done in by the awful monotony of the Kansas skyline.
These stories explore the idea that your brain has an “energy governor,” a little switch in your brain that sends out pain signals to your body when you start to run low on energy. It does this so you’ll always have a reserve and never totally run out of energy a.k.a. DIE. Evidently, the energy governor is very conservative, and will tell you to stop long before you are actually out of energy.
However, there are ways to trick the governor. If you simply swish an energy drink in your mouth without swallowing it, your body notices that you’ve been given sugar. It then lets you use more energy because it can tell you’re about to get more energy. Also, if your body thinks you’re about to die, it will let you use energy to help you escape death. This was particularly helpful to one of the bicycle race participants who started hallucinating that terrorists were after him, which gave him a surge of energy during the last half of the race.
The show is fascinating and well-produced, so if you have a moment, or if you don’t have a moment but don’t want to do what you’re supposed to be doing (you slacker), you can listen to it here.