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Radiolab: Limits

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.

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Jen • April 27, 2010 at 10:04 am

I have been listening to RadioLab for a long time and loved every episode, but this was a particularly good one. I was in tears during that IronMan segment.


kat • April 27, 2010 at 10:13 am

I just recently found them. The story on Memories. How they are constantly being recreated. Just incredible.


Jennifer • April 27, 2010 at 10:42 am

Oh wow. I just watched the video. How absolutely heartbreaking but also SO inspiring.


Sacha Brady • April 27, 2010 at 11:04 am

I can’t recommend Radiolab enough to anyone who will listen to me talk about podcasts. Someone told me last week that they heard it on the radio (I think it comes on WFYI Thursdays at 7 or 8 PM) and I nearly squealed with delight. Such good stuff.

I listened to the Limits episode a second time since I spaced out during some of the stories the first time and I wanted to catch every last detail. Wow.


Shelley B • April 27, 2010 at 12:34 pm

Wow, what an amazing video – I just came back in from a little run and now feel like I should have pushed myself a bit more!

Interesting about the energy drink swish – I might have to give that a try!


Alison • April 27, 2010 at 1:16 pm

Sorry – OT – I just saw you in an article on msnbc.com! Way to go!


emjay • April 27, 2010 at 1:22 pm

Jennette – this has nothing to do with your post. Just thought I’d tell you I caught the article on the msnbc.com site with your pic and was like, hey, I “know” that girl! Pasta Queen you did it again! Seriously though – even though the article was more about finding out that weight loss doesn’t solve everything, as someone who has lost a total of 144 lbs to date, it’s pretty darn nice the things that do happen. Like mmm, being able to cross my legs and not knock the person next to me out of their chair comes to mind. And hate to say it, but people seem to be nicer when I feel I haven’t changed one bit. Among other things :) Way to go Jennette!


PastaQueen • April 27, 2010 at 1:55 pm

@emjay – @Alison – Thanks guys! I didn’t expect to be on the home page!


Jenny • April 27, 2010 at 2:35 pm

I heard that one too and it was incredible! It really shows how much we can force our brain to override our body past where we think we can go!


Natalie • April 27, 2010 at 9:27 pm

Um, I didn’t find that video inspiring at all. It was scary, how she was forcing herself to keep going when her body was shutting down. Just to win a race. Stupidly endangering her health and her life to win a race. Sad and scary.


msmezzo • April 28, 2010 at 12:00 pm

I just wept thru that video. Not inspiring at all, heartbreaking. Why would you do such a thing? Body shutting down? STOP!!

Oh, and I love Radio lab.


Sarah • April 28, 2010 at 9:54 pm

Funny, I was listening to that episode as I was walking 6 miles on the Monon trail. I felt like such a baby because I was aching to stop! Thanks for posting the video, I forgot to look it up when I got home.


Mom Taxi Julie • April 29, 2010 at 1:51 pm

Sheesh that’s crazy!! I can see though how if you set that goal for yourself you’d just keep pushing.


Kathleen • September 11, 2010 at 5:55 pm

I concur with your love for Radiolab. If I weren’t already married, I would marry Radiolab. Words might be the best podcast yet.


Leslie Tatum • February 29, 2016 at 10:52 am

One question about that energy drink/placebo swishing study… Energy drinks are supplemented with vitamin B-12 (the cell “energy” vitamin). B-12 is best absorbed by the capillaries under the tongue — so swishing with B-12 will give you a real and measurable surge in energy.


Comments are now closed on all PastaQueen entries. The blog is an archive only so I don't have to deal with spammers. For fresh discussions please visit my new blog at JennetteFulda.com.

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Jennette Fulda tells stories to the Internet about her life as a smartass, writer, weight-loss inspiration, chronic headache sufferer, and overall nice person (who is silently judging you). She does this at JennetteFulda.com now, but you can still have fun perusing her past here.

Disclaimer: I am not responsible for keyboards ruined by coffee spit-takes or forehead wrinkles caused by deep thought.

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