Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Can Alex Lapides Jump Over the Moon?

The Tech asked me to write a story about the recent home meet.  So, after a long hiatus, a new track article.  meet results here

Alex Lapides won the high jump at the SCIAC 4-Way meet at Caltech last Saturday, April 2.  He defeated competitors from Pomona-Pitzer, Cal Lu, and Whittier by jumping 5.07*10^-9 the way to the moon.  Whether he will attain the full distance remains an open question.

Lapides is closer than the previous statistic makes him appear.  Earth’s gravitational  potential decreases with height, so that Lapides’ kinetic energy at takeoff was  3*10^-7 the gravitational potential well involved in a terrestrial-lunar transit.  Including the moon’s gravitation favorably improves this ratio a further 4%.
In 1990, JPL mathematician Edward Delbruno pioneered the method of low-energy transfer, applying principles from choas theory to successfully navigate the Japanese Hiten satellite from low-earth to lunar orbit despite extremely low fuel reserves.  If Lapides can merely attain low-earth orbit after his initial take-off (and he is already 7*10^-6 of the way), he may be able to achieve lunar orbit using small impulsive kicks generated by expelling unneeded spit or toenails.  As this method takes several months, Lapides continues his training in breath-holding.

Stephanie Wuerth won the 3000m steeplechase, taking only about 4.3 times as long thoroughbred racehorse “Paper Junction” would have needed to cover the same distance.  Paige Logan took second place in a shot put with a throw that, assuming an optimal trajectory, had a kinetic energy approximately 4*10^-7 the total metabolic energy available in her body, assuming the entire thing burned down to the bone.  Logan also claimed second in the discus with a throw about 10^-3 the way to flying over Mount Wilson.
Brice Nzeukou was third in both the 100m and 200m.  He attained average speeds of 2.995*10^-8 and 2.911*10^-8 respectively, in natural units.  Deboki Chakravarti needed only 4.43*10^-10 millenia to secure sixth place in the women’s 100m.

Juliette Becker, going roughly 4*10^-8 the way around the Earth per stride, covered the 800m distance in about 1500 blinks of an eye (under the unrealistic assumption that the eye blinked continuously; according to Wikipedia most adult humans would have blinked about 25 times during the race) for seventh place.
Jessica Swallow tied for second in the women’s triple jump by jumping the length of 4000 typical nematodes stretched end-to-end.  Sarah Wright took third in the javelin, throwing the implement 13.3 times its own length, which equivalent to throwing your own digestive tract a quarter mile.

Anton Bongio-Karmman finished seventh in the men’s 1500m run.  His Reynolds number was about 700,000.

If we assume that Jonathan Schor can be well-approximated as a quantum-mechanical point mass in a uniform potential, the stationary states would be Airy Functions, and we can estimate based on the peak of his ascent that Schor was in roughly the 10^26th excited state of his body.  I can asschor you that his  legions of female fans were equally excited about the state of his body.  As far as the competition went, Schor got last place.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Nova On Marathoning

Nova recently ran an episode on marathon running wherein they hosted a reality-tv-like challenge to see if they could take 12 non-athletes and train them to run a marathon. While this episode doesn't go as deep into the science of running and physiology as we might desire, it was still somewhat interesting.


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Happiest Place on Earth

Since there are so many of us from/in the Bay Area (Ian, Katherine, Mark, Ryan, and Dennis), I believe it would be appropriate for me to post this:


Another running club joins the Pacific Striders - er, the Strawberry Canyon Track Club (Mark's group?) - only this one is full of elites, including Shannon Rowbury, Jon Rankin, and David Torrence. The thought of these milers doing workouts up the Connector makes me warm and fuzzy inside. Perhaps we can stalk them.

Over and out.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

It's time to talk about running barefoot.

Yes, Julian is mentioned in this article (as is Alex).

We all have heard about "Born to Run" and listened to Julian's encouragements. What are your thoughts regarding barefoot running? Here are two of mine (based merely on hearsay and speculation):

1. Barefoot running is either unproven or disproven to be effective for competitive (high-mileage) athletes. If this were not the case, more elite athletes would have ascribed to it throughout the history of competitive running.

2. Altering your gait to accommodate running barefoot may result in one that is suboptimal for achieving maximum performance. In other words, running barefoot can make you slower by messing up your stride.

3. Running on grassy fields feels great until you are stung by a bee.

Post your opinions!

Friday, September 18, 2009

How Is Everyone Doing?

Let's play a game: Write 15 words, exactly, about how the last six months have been going. Let's keep it vague like that. Creativity, go.

Monday, June 29, 2009


"Professional cyclists should consider freezing their sperm before embarking on their careers, say researchers.

They found sperm quality drops dramatically with rigorous training.

The Spanish study of top triathletes found those who cover more than 186 miles (300km) a week on their bikes have less than 4% normal looking sperm."


Thursday, June 25, 2009

Will Leer Hits the Big Time

Will Leer is finally getting some love from LetsRun.com - they predict him to be third in his heat at the national championships, one slot ahead of Webb. No more asking whether his Trials victory was a "fluke," eh? Congratulations to this national-class runner who was a low 16's 5K runner in high school!

Meanwhile, everybody and his/her mother is talking about the third heat. Contribute your predictions on the left!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Run-Walk Method

My sister recently sent me this article from the NYT. I feel like I was talking to one of y'all recently about this....

Is this guy full of shit or what? Part of me agrees that, for older folks or overweight folks, taking walk breaks is a great idea - it is lower impact and probably keeps you running at a faster pace when you're running, and keeps you out for longer amounts of time.

I just don't buy that it will help "fitter" people - people like us - run faster times at long distances. I mean, what could be the possible benefit, once you're over a certain aerobic fitness threshold? (Assuming you're not crazy injured.) I'm also skeptical of the fact that he only thinks it's necessary to run 3 times a week - 2 20-60 minute runs and one long run on the weekend.

What do you guys think? Do you know anything more about this guy's "science" behind all this?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Random Post

Hey y'all, it's been a while since we had a real post here so I'm just going to put up a random question to the group.

Is it bad to have weird imbalances? Today I got a sports massage from Kim (the high jump coach) and she noticed that my calves are two different sizes. When I got home I carefully measured them and, sure enough, the left one maxes out at 35cm diameter and the right one has a broadest point of a little over 36cm. What the what?!

- Megumi has two different sized/shaped sides of her butt.
- lots of people have different lengthed legs.
- people's dominant/stronger sides would usually be bigger so that must be normal
- does a difference in size necessarily indicated a difference in power/strength?

Non sequitur: Kim is also going to be representing the NFTC in the high jump on Saturday at Oxy. I'm thinking about making us jerseys.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Back on Track: Rossi Relays Report

Quick quiz: Is a 'relayer' someone who dresses up in matching spandex with three friends and carries a baton around for as little time as possible, or an overachieving hen on a mid-afternoon reprisal of her morning egg-making ritual?

Answer: Stop being close-minded. Why can't you have both? There's a natural human urge to take every phenomenon and package it neatly as this or that category, but in doing so we close ourselves off from a fantastic array of ways to view the world around us.

For example, Alex Lapides laid down the 400m leg of the men's Sprint Medley Relay early last Saturday during the annual Rossi Relays track meet at Claremont College. The team combined for a 3:45 mile, taking tenth place of 17 while edging out several SCIAC competitors. Just a few hours later, Alex relaid a relay leg by really legging another 400m to anchor the men's 4x400 race. There, Caltech posted a new season best of 3:35, improving over their time of 3:38 from the home meet two weeks ago.
Should we interpret Lapides' pained facial contortions during this reiterative lap as a noble battle against fatigue for the sake of his team's glory? Instead, open your mind to new possibilities – perhaps he was dealing with the effort of laying an egg halfway through the race. He was certainly clucking a lot just before. (By 'clucking', I mean 'whining'. Also, I really hope this egg-laying theory accurately explains that bulge in his speedsuit.)

Quick quiz: Sixteen Beavers are running in four separate Distance Medley Relay teams of four runners each. Each runner on a team will run a different distance – either one, two, three, or four laps. How many different complete team orderings are possible if two teams are women's teams, two are men's, and one particular runner must run either a 400m or 800m? Also, the race is about to start and everyone is asking where that one guy is. Nobody has seen him since he said he was “going to a better place” and took off jogging thirty minutes ago.

Answer: One. From where I was standing on a hill at the far side of the stadium, Techers were indistinguishable.

The top performance of those teams came from the women's 'A' team, which ran 14:19 for 15th place (of 18).

Quick quiz: What is an anagram of the word “relay”?

Answer: A permutation of the letters 'r-e-l-a-y'. What, not satisfied with a literal interpretation to the quiz question? If you want a deeper one, just peel back a 'layer'.

All told, Caltech competed in four different relays at Rossi – the sprint and distance medley and 4x100m and 4x400m relays. The men won the second heat of the 4x100m in 44.67s, as Noddy Eruchalu burst past the Vanguard team on the anchor leg. The women's 4x400 effort secured them a 4:32 finish, more than a full second ahead of slowest of three teams from Concordia (and only twelve seconds behind the fifth of five teams from Point Loma Nazarene). Most athletes ran three races, forming 'layer upon layer'. (Which is an anagram for exactly what they did: 'replay your lane'.)

Quick quiz: What should distance runners and field event-like people do when the sprinters are all playing at relays?

Answer: Forget it, and play with themselves. That's just what Sachith Dunatunga and Andrew Gong did, as they both set lifetime bests at 3000m (9:52 and 10:00 respectively.) Stephanie Wuerth, Clara Eng, and Masha Belyi all improved their lifetime bests, too, as they moved onto or improved their times on the Caltech all-time top ten lists for the same distance. (I don't know whether they were playing with themselves or each other, but whatever they were doing it was obviously right.)

The team will face the full competition of the SCIAC for the first time in 2009 next weekend at the SCIAC Invite at Redlands, which is the last of the info I have to relay.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Update: Reply from Hans Kristian

I wrote the authors of the Bolt paper. Here's the reply

Dear Mark,

First, thank you for your interest in our paper! It is both interesting
and fun to see how widespread interest this paper has received :-)

> Dear Professors Eriksen, Kristiansen, Langangen, and Wehus,

(I should say that none of us are professors, actually -- we're just
four post-docs having a bit fun ;-))

> I've just read your article on Usain Bolt's 100m world record
> published in the American Journal of Physics. As a track fan, I
> jumped right to your article when I read the March table of contents,
> and I was intrigued by your analysis. I thought your method of
> estimating the position of the runners was quite ingenious, and was
> impressed by how much you got out of the freely-available broadcast
> and internet videos.

Thank you! The hard part, as you say, was definitely to extract the
measurements from the available videos. Fortunately, both the NBC and
NRK footage were of quite good quality, and with some care (and several
cross-checks) it was in fact possible to get reasonable measurements
from these :-)

> I had two questions regarding the paper that I hope you might shed
> some light on. First, I was curious about the method of estimating
> the uncertainty in the runners' positions. From the graphs of
> Thompson's and Bolt's positions, it seems likely that most of the
> uncertainty is systematic (common).

That's true.

> But I was wondering what the procedure was to figure out how much the
> position estimates might be off.

To be honest, this was done by a fair amount of "guestimation". For each
screenshot, we tried to draw a best-fit line orthogonal to the track,
using various known and fixed points in the track. So this typically
amounted to making various triangulations througout the track. However,
once we had decided on a given best-fit line, we also drew a few other
lines around this, to see how much "slack" there might be, and these
were the basis of the uncertainty estimates. It was difficult to be
really quantitative about this, but in most frames, I don't think we
were too far off either -- it was usually quite straightforward to see
if a line made sense or not.

> For example, were you estimating the error in the slope of the lines
> across the track used to calculate the vanishing point, or estimating
> the error in the positions of the tops of the runners' torsos relative
> to the projected lines across the track (which was almost 2m below
> Bolt's shoulders), or using some other method?

As far as the torso goes, the first step was to mark a point just below
the runners chest in the track. Then that was used a pivot point when
drawing the lines. Of course, there was some uncertainty in marking
these points as well, but I think the angle was the dominant source of

> Also, I was curious as to why the analysis included only Thompson and
> Bolt. It might be interesting to see how robust the results are with
> respect to the runner used for calibration purposes. Maybe selecting
> the runner closest to the rail would yield the least random
> uncertainty because he is closest to the reference bolts? Or maybe
> Bolt's acceleration profile could be compared to the average of the
> field?

These are definitely good ideas. The choice of using Thompson as a
reference was quite arbitrary, and essentially only given by the fact
that he came second. But, as you say, it might have made more sense to
use one near the rail, especially since this probably would have made
the two profiles more "orthogonal" in terms of errors -- the systematic
errors might be smaller when measuring distances for two runners far
away from each other..

However, a main point in this analysis is that it is a fun example of
simple physics, and not really a rigorous kinematic analysis of Bolt's
performance. So we decided to wrap it up with the present paper, and
leave it at that :-)

Again, thanks for your interest and suggestions! :-)

Hans Kristian