The world governing body of free diving, AIDA, states that, “Anyone who has held their breath underwater has free dived.” But those of us who’ve touched the bottom of our local swimming pool have nothing on the seemingly fearless free divers who’ve plunged as far as 214-meters (702-feet) below the ocean’s surface on a single breath.
Women’s no-limits (or, weight assisted) record holder Tanya Streeter says that during a descent, “the brain signals to shut down oxygenated supply of blood to organs that don’t need it,” and at the bottom of a free dive, a diver’s heart rate drops to just 12 to 15 beats per minute. Amongst adventure sports, only BASE jumping is more fatal than free diving. Out of the estimated 5,000 divers in the sport, nearly 100 die yearly.
It's not all about the numbers. These ten sports may not, technically, be the most lethal, but they certainly will make you feel like death is just around the corner—which is what really counts. Because driving your car to the volcano may be—by the numbers—more dangerous than surfing down it, but is there really any question about which is quicker to get your heart pounding?
The Olympic 10,000-meter champion Mo Farah has challenged Usain Bolt to a 600-meter race for charity. If this race actually goes off, who'll be the favorite and how fast might the winning time be?
The Distance There is no “official” world record for 600-meters, but the race is contested from time to time and the world best is 1:12.81 set by Johnny Gray of the U.S., set in the middle 1980s. Gray was a superb 800-meters runner who had a very long career and still holds the U.S. record at 1:42.6. Looking at the current crop of runners, the 800-meter world record holder, David Rudisha (1:40.91), had a 600-meter split of about 1:14.3 on the way to his 800-meter world record in 2012.
Rudisha’s personal best in the 400-meter is 45.15. When I use the outstanding point tables from the classic book Computerized Running Training Programs to estimate how fast Rudisha might go for 600-meter it comes out to perhaps 1:12:00 or a bit faster. (This incredible book was published in 1970 and the tables are for 660 yards so I had to convert a bit, 600 meters is about 4 meters shorter than 660 yards.)
What About Bolt? Bolt is obviously the world’s fastest human by a sizable margin and he was a superb 400-meter runner as a teenager. In fact, because of his height, he was encouraged to focus on that distance at one time. In that distance, his current personal best is 45.28 set in 2007, the year before he stole the show at the Bejing Olympics.
So the question for Bolt is can he “cruise” 400 meters in 48 or 49 seconds and then hang on for another 200 meters? He has also gotten bigger over the last few years—which is detrimental to performance in longer events—and is listed at 94kg, which I assume is 5-10 kg more than when he ran the 45:28 in 2007.
What About Farah? Farah is best known for his success at 5,000- and 10,000-meter events. However, he just ran a 3:28.81 1,500-meter, which is one of the fastest times ever for that distance. Based on all sorts of “rules of thumbs,” this means he should be able to run close to 1:45 for 800-meters—or perhaps faster. People who can go that fast for 800-meters can usually break 47 seconds for 400-meters. So the question for Farah is can he go out in 49 or 50 seconds and essentially slow down less than Bolt over the final 200-meters.
Modeling Their Times When I plug Bolt’s personal best for the 400-meter and my estimate for Farah’s 800-meter “potential time” into the tables, they both score about 1,000 or 1,010 points, equivalent to about 1:14.9 for 600-meters.
If This Were the 1960s or 70s Prior to the advent of professionalism in track and field, Bolt would have routinely run 400-meter legs as part of 1,600-meter relay teams and perhaps been more ready for a longer race. I have no idea what his training program consists of, but my guess is that he rarely runs over 300 meters fast. However, I am quite sure that Farah routinely runs nearly all out efforts at distances between 400 and 600 meters. My other guess is that he does longer repeats followed by some very fast 200- or 300-meter sprints. So Farah will not be in uncharted physical or mental territory if this race comes off. Bolt might be.
Farah the Favorite Other hings to think about include how the race will be structured. Will they run the first 200 meters in lanes? What will Bolt do to avoid going out too fast? That having been said, I would give a slight edge to Farah, and I think 600-meters is a fair test.
Those who pick Bolt might want to think about Ashton Eaton, the world record holder and Olympic Champion in the decathlon. Eaton is not quite as big as Bolt and can run 400 meters in 45.6 seconds, but his 1,000-meter personal best is “only” 2:32.6. So something dramatic happens as the distance goes up for big and fast guys like Eaton and Bolt.
These drops might be exaggerated for Eaton because the performances come at the end of multi-event competitions where fatigue is a factor. However, Eaton is in great shape and almost has to be better trained than Bolt for a longer race. My take is that he would struggle to beat Farah and so will Bolt.
Michael J. Joyner, M.D., is a physiologist and anesthesiologist at the Mayo Clinic and a leading voice in the world of exercise physiology. Over the last 25+ years, he's published 100s of studies many of which have focused on how humans respond to exercise. Dr. Joyner also writes at Human Limits. The views expressed in this post are his own and do not reflect those of his employer.
Since the Tough Mudder and Spartan Race series debuted in 2010, more than three million Americans have leaped over fire, swum through muck, and crawled beneath barbed wire to cross the finish line of an obstacle-course race. That’s 1.5 million more OCR participants than marathon finishers in the same time span.
“It’s about having this great sense of accomplishment,” says two-time World’s Toughest Mudder winner Junyong Pak about OCR. “You think you’d be miserable, because you’re so tired and dirty, but you’re smiling.” Margaret Schlachter, the first woman to go pro in the sport, says that “it speaks to a primal urge within us. It’s like being a kid again.”
Of course, the rise in popularity has created some issues. There are so many OCR events today, an estimated 150 in the U.S. alone, that it’s difficult to know which are set up properly and which are cheap knockoffs. Many competitors still jump into the fray without the focused training that marathoners and triathletes endure, and some are injured as a result.
To do these races well and safely, you’ll need stamina, upper-body strength, and good muscle coordination. Plus, most obstacles take a bit of strategy to get over smoothly. All of which means that training for an event, whether it’s your first or fifteenth, is essential. Here’s where to start.
Pick Your Battle
Obstacle races are popping up everywhere, but how do you know which one is right for you? We break down the big four, Toug Mudder, Alpha Warrior, Spartan Race, and Warrior Dash. Read more...
The Ultimate Training Plan
Want to get in shape for your first obstacle race? We've got a quick and easy eight-week training plan that will have you ready to roll with the veterans. Read more...
Tips from the Pros
Top obstacle athletes Hobie Call, Junyong Park, and Margaret Schlachter tell you how to get past some of the most difficult obstacles on the adventure circuit, from rope walls to electrified wire. Read more...
Avoid the Most Common Injuries
Injuries are common on most obstacle courses but plenty of them can be avoided by keeping your eyes in front of you and following a few of these simple safety tips. Read more...
Cody Moat's Spartan Secrets
Cody Moat burst onto the obstacle racing scene last year with a surprise sweep of the Spartan Race World Championships. He sat down with us to reveal a few of his training methods. Read more...
Fuel the Fire
Who doesn't love a good smoothie? Obstacle champ Hobie Call shares the secret recipe for his world-beating wheatgrass super smoothie. Read more...
If you're planning on joining the obstacle racing circuit, you'll want to make sure you grab the right gear before you hit the ropes. Check out some of our favorites. Read more...
Hotels are hard to get. The streets are slam-packed with humanity. Stores are closed because it’s Sunday. But it is worth every inconvenience and hassle to make it to Paris and watch the final sprint live down the Champs Élysées. For one, it’s virtually the only time the Tour takes in a circuit, meaning you get to see the racers screeching down the cobbled streets and leafy avenues time after time. Find your way close to the finish line, as we did, and the jockeying and rough roads and blazing high speeds will literally make you smack your head in disbelief. It’s a hell of a show—a far cry from what you witness on TV—and, if you’re lucky, at the requisite post-race bar crawl, a few tired riders might even wander in. Buy them a round if you can. They’ve just punctuated your best holiday ever.