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Marathon Challenge

Program Overview


Runner NOVA assembles a team of 13 sedentary non-athletes aged 21 to 60 to face the ultimate test: Run the 26.2-mile Boston marathon.

The program:

  • reviews why the novices joined Team NOVA.

  • profiles the team that will be coaching the runners from start to finish.

  • shows the tests team members undergo at Tufts University to establish baseline fitness levels—a sophisticated body composition analysis and a maximum oxygen consumption measurement, known as VO2 max.

  • notes that runners who are at an ideal body weight may still be over-fat and under-muscled.

  • reveals through animations how VO2 max provides information on heart, blood vessel, and capillary fitness.

  • reviews the runners' 40-week training regimen.

  • notes the circulatory system improvements that occur after nine weeks of training—hearts are more efficient, arteries are more elastic, new capillaries have developed, and mitochondria have increased to aid aerobic metabolism.

  • chronicles the physical injuries and mental challenges the runners face as they carry out their training.

  • identifies the two types of muscle fibers in the human body.

  • presents the idea that humans evolved anatomically to run long distances, an advantage that would have allowed them to engage in long-distance hunts.

  • notes that most heart attacks are caused by blocked coronary arteries—often due to a poor diet and lack of exercise—rather than by a tired and stressed heart muscle.

  • retests body composition and maximum oxygen consumption in the trained runners and finds that while most have dramatically improved their VO2 scores, few weight or body composition changes occurred.

  • explains why running on its own is not particularly effective for active weight loss efforts.

  • points out that the body uses both fat and carbohydrates for fuel to run, and that while even lean people have a large reserve of fat, carbohydrates stored as glycogen in the liver can be depleted during a marathon.

  • follows Team NOVA members as they run the 2007 Boston Marathon.

Taping Rights: Can be used up to one year after program is recorded off the air.

Teacher's Guide
Marathon Challenge