PHTY20280 Born to Run: The Science of Human Endurance

Academic Year 2023/2024

Our bodies have an evolutionary story: as the descendants of flat-footed apes, we are not the quickest of creatures, but we have developed a series of adaptations that make us excellent long-distance runners. Bipedalism, ambulation on two legs, is a defining characteristic of what it is to be human.

The premise of this module is that evolutionary, biological, and biomechanical perspectives can help us to better understand how we are “born to run”. First, we will examine the anatomical changes that enabled us to become specialists at long-distance running. We will also consider the biomechanics of human locomotion and the physiological determinants of long-distance running performance. These fundamental concepts will help to frame a discussion on how a training stimulus might be designed to optimise performance in long-distance events, with a focus on the marathon, and the influence of technology (e.g., shoes and wearable sensors) on human locomotion.

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Curricular information is subject to change

Learning Outcomes:

On completion of this module students should be able to:
1. Appreciate the key evolutionary adaptations of human anatomy for bipedalism.
2. Understand the main anatomical and biomechanical determinants (and limits) of long-distance running performance.
3. Consider the specific physiological demands of the marathon footrace.
4. Apply basic knowledge of anatomy and biomechanics in evaluating the potential for technology to influence running performance.
5. Recognise the opportunity offered by wearable sensors (e.g., activity trackers and GPS-enabled running watches) to garner insights into training behaviours and competitive running performance.
6. Discuss the scientific basis of online (mis-) information sources related to endurance running.

Indicative Module Content:

Week 1: Introduction to key concepts (biomechanics, anatomical reference terminology, evolutionary and anthropological principles).

Week 2: The evolution of Human form (anatomy).

Week 3: The biomechanics of human locomotion.

Week 4: The physiology of long-distance running.

Week 5: The marathon footrace as a modern test of endurance running capability.

Week 6: Online MCQ

Week 7: The determinants of marathon performance.

Week 8: The evolution of running footwear.

Week 9: Wearable sensing, ‘digital doping’ and data analytics in marathon running.

Week 10: Means and methods of marathon training (empirical evidence vs ‘expert’ advice)

Week 11: Fueling a marathon: in-race nutrition.

Week 12: Ultra-endurance: ’hitting the wall’ and the limits of human running endurance.

Student Effort Hours: 
Student Effort Type Hours


Specified Learning Activities


Autonomous Student Learning




Approaches to Teaching and Learning:
The module will be delivered exclusively online through a combination of pre-recorded multimedia content, live-lectures and autonomous learning activities. Each topic will be presented as a separate work package with distinct but related learning outcomes. These outcomes will be achieved through self-directed learning and through interaction with the course material, which will be delivered via Brightspace.
Requirements, Exclusions and Recommendations

Not applicable to this module.

Module Requisites and Incompatibles
Not applicable to this module.
Assessment Strategy  
Description Timing Open Book Exam Component Scale Must Pass Component % of Final Grade
Class Test: An online class test will be conducted in weeks 12-13. The assessment will be conducted through Brightspace Week 12 n/a Alternative linear conversion grade scale 40% No


Multiple Choice Questionnaire: This multiple choice questionnaire exam will be conducted online during week 6 and will assess content presented in online learning materials in weeks 1-5. Week 6 n/a Alternative linear conversion grade scale 40% No


Continuous Assessment: Completion of learning units (including pre-recorded multimedia content and quizzes) in the Virtual Learning Environment (Brightspace) Throughout the Trimester n/a Alternative linear conversion grade scale 40% No


Carry forward of passed components
Resit In Terminal Exam
Autumn No
Please see Student Jargon Buster for more information about remediation types and timing. 
Feedback Strategy/Strategies

• Online automated feedback

How will my Feedback be Delivered?

Students will receive general feedback on their performance during the MCQ and class tests through Brightspace.

Timetabling information is displayed only for guidance purposes, relates to the current Academic Year only and is subject to change.

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