Out There: Confessions Of A Nerd

Need more proof science puts the “fun” in “functional”? Check out these recent studies.

I admit it: I’m a research nerd. In college, I was probably the only person in my class who actually liked poring over scholarly journals and data. If a professor assigned a research paper, I’d giggle excitedly and say “thank you.” Yeah, I was “that girl” — the one who sat in the front row, asked obnoxious questions, and volunteered for every extra credit opportunity available. I was unapologetically a teacher’s pet.

Even after graduation, I kept up with my bookish ways. Believe it or not, staying on top of the latest research allows me to be a better runner. Our sport contains a lot of gimmicks and hype — sometimes really, really expensive gimmicks and hype. With data, I can sort out fact from crap before I drop my hard-earned Benjamins on the latest spring-loaded shoe or nutritional silver bullet.

But what I really love about research is just how ridiculous it is — and no, I’m not kidding. I would have loved to be a fly on the wall when scientists said, “HEY! I got an idea! Let’s put a bunch of anxious people on a treadmill and have them throw darts.” I’m also curious about the lab setup for the study analyzing the velocity of female runners’ boobs.

Need more proof science puts the “fun” in “functional”? Check out these recent studies:

— According to a study published in the journal PLOS One, a post-workout beer impairs your body’s ability to synthesize protein, an important element of recovery. A post-workout bender also may cause you drunk-text your coach, exaggerate your mile splits on Facebook, and peruse race websites while thinking, “Ah, 3,000 feet of hills? Doesn’t sound that bad. Sign me up.”

— Australian researchers have found that aerobic exercise can increase a person’s pain tolerance in just six weeks. It doesn’t change the pain threshold — that is, how much pain a person feels — but exercise simply trains you to sustain discomfort for longer. That sound you hear right now? That’s the maniacal laughter of your coach as he writes next week’s tempo workout.

— You already knew the stars of track and field are full of beautiful people, but now science confirms this. A study out of the University of Zurich has found a relationship between attractiveness and success in endurance sports. This is said to have evolutionary roots, as a caveman with high endurance was thought to be a better provider — an attractive quality for the cavewoman population. I wrote something else about “high endurance” here, but my editor cut it out, mumbling something about this being a family publication.

— We “smell” with our eyes, says a study from psychology researchers in Montreal. Different odors were presented to study subjects, each with a positive or negative label: geraniol was presented as “Fresh Flowers” or “Cheap Perfume”; cumin was “Indian Food” or “Dirty Clothes”; and parmesan cheese either “cheese” or “dried vomit.” All participants rated the scents positively when labeled with the pleasant-sounding description, and vice-versa. This may explain why runners enthusiastically down gels named “Chocolate Craze” and “Berry Blast,” even though everything tastes like dirty clothes and dried vomit at mile 21 of a marathon.

— In spite of the health benefits contained within, 28 percent of Americans fear green juice. Yes, that’s the actual word used: “fear.” Of green juice. In other news of the day, barefoot children in Kenya outran a hungry lion on their way to school this morning.

See what I mean? Forget the “nerdy” label. Science is awesome.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to conduct some field observation of those attractive fast runners. Because, you know, science.

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About The Author:

Susan Lacke does 5Ks, Ironman Triathlons, and everything in between to justify her love for cupcakes (yes, she eats that many). In addition to writing for Competitor, she serves as Resident Triathlete for No Meat Athlete, a website dedicated to vegetarian endurance athletes. Susan lives and trains in Phoenix, Arizona with three animals: A labrador, a cattle dog, and a freakishly tall triathlete boyfriend. She claims to be of sound mind, though this has yet to be substantiated by a medical expert. Follow her on Twitter: @SusanLacke

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