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In the throes of a pandemic, the 2023 US election has a different feel.

Last night, President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden went to head to head in an extraordinary first debate, hosted by the Cleveland Clinic and Case Western Reserve University in Ohio. Everyone in attendance (family, media, and campaign staff only) was masked up and tested for COVID-19 prior to arrival. The candidates didn’t shake hands when they took the stage, again to limit transmission of the virus.

The pandemic cropped up multiple times during the 90-minute debate—but it wasn’t the only science issue on the table. Here are five important takeaways about the candidates’ platforms and priorities in public health, the environment, and more.

The future of the Affordable Care Act looks murky.

Passed and signed by then-President Barack Obama in March of 2010, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has been subject to plenty of change in the past decade. But recent proposals to revise the law, which provides insurance coverage for at least 20 million people in the US, could be more impactful.

In July the Supreme Court of the US (SCOTUS) ruled that more companies could refuse to provide contraceptive coverage for employees on the grounds of religious freedom. SCOTUS will face another big decision regarding the ACA when it takes on a lawsuit filed by 18 states and the Trump administration this November. The case argues that the policy is unconstitutional because it forces the American people to enroll in insurance without offering necessary tax relief.

Mention of the ACA came early last night, with Biden arguing its importance during a global pandemic. “There are 100 million people who have pre-existing conditions, and [their insurance] will be taken away,” he said. Trump countered with the fact that he signed an executive order last week that protects patients with pre-existing conditions from being denied coverage. The text of the plan doesn’t outline how those protections differ from those already provided by the ACA.

Read President Trump and Biden’s full health care platforms online.

The US still needs a pandemic-response plan.

As the candidates dove deeper into the debate, they hit on the past, present, and future of the current coronavirus crisis. Last week, the US COVID-19 death toll passed 200,000, a number that the Centers for Disease and Control (CDC) estimate would be the upper limit for mortalities in the country. The daily case rate has taken a dip since the peak of the first wave in July, but epidemiologists expect another spike in the winter months ahead.

President Trump assured the public that a vaccine would be out this year, contradicting the “Operation Warpspeed” timeline set by the Centers for Disease and Control (CDC), which slates initial doses for January of 2023 at the earliest. “We could have the answer by November 1,” the president said. “We have the military logistically all set up [to distribute the drug].”

Biden noted that the back and forth between the White House and public health agencies like the CDC has seeded distrust in Americans. He cited polls showing that at least half of the country is wary of getting vaccinated for COVID-19, and also pointed out that better guidelines on mask wearing could have helped save lives earlier in the pandemic. President Trump responded that the casualty rate would have been worse if it weren’t for his international-travel ban, which mainly targeted China. The US’s first outbreaks, however, likely stemmed from Europe.

Neither candidate offered specifics when grilled on how they’d counter the virus and all its ripple effects over these next few months. Shutdowns stood out as a hot-button issue, as the two debaters went back and forth on the effectiveness of closing down schools and businesses to limit community spread. Trump also noted that he’s speaking at two large rallies this weekend in Wisconsin, but downsized the threat of viral spread because they’re being held outdoors.

The pandemic has exposed the effects of systemic racism in the US.

The event then veered into issues of race, equality, and police brutality. On the topic of how systemic social issues affect public health, Biden pointed out that Black and Latino people have suffered the toughest losses from COVID-19, largely due to imbalances in medical care and resources. “One in 500 African Americans will have been killed by COVID-19 by end of the year” if the country doesn’t take direct action, he said. Neither politician addressed the outbreaks on tribal reservations in Western states.

You can’t talk about climate change without talking about the economy.

With an entire discussion question on climate change, both Trump and Biden had plenty of time to expand on their plans to deal with carbon emissions and major storms and wildfires that have ravaged the country this year. Trump agreed that humans are responsible for global warming (in part), but he doubled down on his decision to withdraw the US from the Paris Accord. He also noted that he wants to grow billions of new trees to make the air and water cleaner for Americans—a correlation that isn’t quite scientifically sound—and give more tax incentives to electric vehicle makers and buyers.

Biden, for his part, summarized a $2 trillion proposal, which he stressed was different from the “radical” Green New Deal, to combat the climate crisis, resolve environmental justice issues, and jumpstart economic recovery. “We can get to net zero energy by 2035,” he said, referring to the benchmark for carbon-free power sources set by many other countries. To reach that goal, the US would have to rebuild much of its utility infrastructure, invest in new engineering, weatherize homes and offices, and add charging stations along every highway. This movement, Biden said, would create hundreds of thousands of new jobs, while saving the country billions in damages from storms and wildfires exacerbated by climate change. He pointed specifically to the floods that washed out cropland in South Dakota and other Midwestern states last year, costing some farmers their properties and livelihoods.

Trump also spoke to the disastrous wildfire situation on the West Coast. “We need forest management,” he said, in reference to prescribed burns and selective logging. “The floor is covered with dead trees.” Back in March, the US Forest Service put a temporary hold on prescribed burns due to the pandemic.

COVID-19 could throw voting into a tailspin.

In preparation for this virus-plagued election season, nine states have switched to mostly mail-in voting, while 36 others are allowing residents to request mail-ballots, no questions asked. The goal is to keep people’s civic rights intact, while also keeping them from flocking to tight spaces and swapping pathogens. Poll workers, who are typically 60 years of age and older, would be particularly vulnerable.

Biden conceded that tallying mail-in ballots can be difficult, especially with the US Postal Service’s strapped budget, which is causing major lag in deliveries. But he also pointed out that as long as voters drop their ballots into a mailbox on time, their choice should matter, even if the envelope arrives in local election offices after November 3. The most foolproof option, however, is to fill out and return the ballot as soon as it arrives. Early voting could be the one boon in this extremely uncertain election process.

The first vice presidential debate is on October 7 in Salt Lake City, Utah. The next presidential debate is on October 15 in Miami, Florida.

Correction: The article previously misidentified the university hosting the debate as Case Western. It is Case Western Reserve.

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Swine flu, nuclear tests, global warming—signs of impending doom abound. Should the unthinkable happen, the smart survivalist has two options: flee the planet or, for those of us who aren’t Richard Branson, stock up on gear that will meet your basic needs during Armageddon. If the world doesn’t end, you can always take your new gadgets camping.


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This phone lets you talk even when the cell network fails, because its built-in walkie-talkie can radio similar phones within six miles. A full keyboard makes it easy to search your phonebook for an emergency contact. Motorola Clutch i465 $130 plus service; chúng tôi

Scarlet Key Society Inducts 81 From Class Of 2013

Scarlet Key Society Inducts 81 from Class of 2013 Seniors awarded for scholarship, community service

Dean of Students Kenneth Elmore (SED’87) unsheathing the sword at last year’s Scarlet Key Induction Ceremony. Photo by Kalman Zabarsky

These students—Jonathan Orrala (SAR’13), Nikko Brady (CGS’11, CAS’13), and Ernesto Botello (SAR’13)—are among a select group in the Class of 2013 who will be inducted tonight into BU’s Scarlet Key Society, the University’s highest honor for student leaders. This year’s winners, who were selected from each of the University’s undergraduate schools and colleges, will join more than 1,500 Scarlet Key alumni. The ceremony is being held in the George Sherman Union Metcalf Ballroom at 6 p.m.

“These are the people who have put their time and energy into a wide range of involvement at BU,” says Kat Hasenauer Cornetta, assistant to the dean of students. “The selection committee isn’t looking for people who spent all of their time in SMG, for instance, and never took part in an extracurricular group. The Scarlet Key Society looks for those students who have impacted people all over the University.”

The Scarlet Key Society was established in 1938 by the General Alumni Association—now the Boston University Alumni Association—as an extracurricular activities honor society, and it recognized mostly juniors. The Dean of Students Office took over administration of the society nearly a decade ago, and today the award is presented to graduating seniors “who have exhibited exceptional leadership” and “excellence in University student activities and organizations, commitment to the individual’s school or college, and scholarship.”

Faculty, staff, and alumni recommend potential Scarlet Key recipients to the Dean of Students Office, which checks candidates’ GPAs and Judicial Affairs records. Nominees must then submit an application, a résumé, and a list of their extracurricular activities. Of the 99 seniors nominated this year, 81 will be awarded the Scarlet Key. The number of inductees fluctuates from year to year, with last year seeing a record high of 104.

“This is definitely an award that students aspire to,” Cornetta says. “I get juniors coming into my office all the time asking about it.”

So what kind of students are Scarlet Key material? A quick look at Orrala’s, Brady’s, and Botello’s résumés gives you some idea. In addition to serving as the chapter president of Phi Iota Alpha fraternity, Orrala worked as a student ambassador at BU’s Center for Career Development, was a coordinator on two Alternative Spring Break trips, and was an admissions ambassador.

He says being involved in so many things taught him a valuable lesson: how to say no. “I have good time-management skills, but one of the biggest lessons I learned was picking what was really important to me,” says Orrala, who plans to go on to graduate school and become a registered dietitian. “Focusing on only a few different things means you can really give your all to the activities that mean the most to you.”

Brady has been a jumper and hurdler for the Terrier women’s track and field team, and off the track was vice president of the University’s Student-Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC). “The SAAC works to uphold BU’s image as well as voicing student-athletes’ concerns,” Brady says. “It was important to me to be involved.”

After graduation she will enter Metropolitan College to earn a master’s degree in city planning. Coupled with her undergraduate degree in environmental policy, she hopes to work abroad one day with low-income housing settlements, “which lack official governance, planning, and other city infrastructures,” Brady says.

Botello spent much of his time at BU volunteering at the University’s Community Service Center Student Food Rescue. At Thanksgiving, he coordinated the efforts of fellow students as they collected and distributed approximately 1,000 pounds of turkeys and another 1,000 pounds of vegetables and desserts to needy residents in the Brookline area. He was also a First-Year Student Outreach Project (FYSOP) coordinator and participated in marching band and percussion, all while working as the student manager at the Warren Tower dining hall and Marciano Commons.

“I think I was in shock when I received the email telling me I was being inducted into the Scarlet Key Society,” Botello says. “I laughed because I never thought of myself as a Scarlet Key winner. I had seen friends win it in years past, and it’s a pretty prestigious award to get.” After graduation Botello plans to spend two weeks biking from New Orleans to Dallas for Ride for the Future to highlight the work of local leaders who are dealing with the health and climate harms of fossil fuels.

At tonight’s induction ceremony, the Scarlet Key recipients will pass through three stations. First, they are tapped with a sword on each shoulder by a Scarlet Key alum.  Students next sign the Scarlet Key book—which contains the signatures of every past recipient. Finally, they receive a certificate and the Scarlet Key pin, which carries an image of a scarlet key and the BU crest.

The Honorary Scarlet Key Award, which recognizes exceptional alumni, faculty, staff, or trustees, will be given to three members of the BU community: longtime men’s hockey coach Jack Parker (SMG’68, Hon.’97), who recently announced his retirement; Kelly Walter, an associate vice president and executive director of admissions; and Diane Meuser, a College of Arts & Sciences associate professor of mathematics and statistics.

The winner of this year’s Leila Saad Award, which honors the “most scarlet of the Scarlet Key” recipients with a $1,000 prize, will be announced at the end of the ceremony.

Read a detailed history of the Scarlet Key Awards here.

The Scarlet Key Society ceremony is tonight, May 16, at 6 p.m. in the George Sherman Union Metcalf Ballroom, 775 Commonwealth Ave. All are welcome.

More information about Commencement can be found on the Commencement website.

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Readers Debate Election Fraud Allegations

I wrote in this space last weekthat chúng tôi an election-reform group, had issued a report signed by several Ph.D.s claiming there must have been vote tampering in one or more U.S. states in the 2004 presidential election.

The analysts, most of whom are professors of computer science or mathematics at such institutions as the University of Notre Dame and Southern Methodist University, made their claim after finding that exit polls, which are usually reliable, had diverged 5.5 percentage points from official vote tallies. (This disrepancy was larger than was found in one of two Ukrainian exit polls, which played key roles in overturning the December 2004 election in that nation.) Statistically significant variations between the U.S. exit polls and official results were concentrated in five states, four of which were “battlegrounds,” such as Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida.

In Defense Of The Official Tallies

Steve Weeks is an attorney in Ohio, one of the most hotly contested states in the 2004 election. Weeks argues that the exit polls and the official tallies were far apart because Bush voters felt social pressure to say they were Kerry voters. This possibility is distinct from the one I described last week that was offered in a study of the discrepancies by the National Election Pool (NEP) exit pollsters themselves. They theorize that Bush voters were less likely than Kerry voters to participate in exit polls at all (a premise that was then statistically disproved by the Ph.D. group).

“You should be old enough to remember GIGO [garbage in, garbage out],” Weeks writes. “The fanciest statistical analysis ever done is meaningless if it is based on false premises.

“The fundamental premise of any poll is that the respondents are telling the truth about the candidate they prefer (or that falsehood rates are substantially the same for all candidates). In 2004, that was manifestly not the case. Bush was vilified far beyond anything that I have seen in a Presidential campaign in my lifetime (I am 55); even when Johnson toasted Goldwater with the A-bomb ad in 1964, the personal attacks did not approach those seen this year.

“As a result, it became unacceptable in politically-correct society for ANYONE to support Bush. When cornered by exit pollsters, a few percent of Bush voters were too embarrassed to admit it. The pre-election polls were incorrectly biased in favor of Kerry for the same reason.”

I’m primarily interested in using computer technology to prevent future voting problems, not to overturn any previous election. I wholeheartedly agree that Weeks’ theory is worth testing.

A variation in the exit poll at a particular precinct from the final, official tally is called Within Precinct Error (WPE). The USCountVotes group summarizes this theory by citing NEP’s own study, saying, “the required shift toward Kerry in the exit polls must have been 6.5%. They [NEP] note that this number is greater than any WPE from past presidential elections going back more than 20 years, to a time when polling science was less sophisticated and less reliable than at present. They also note that this 6.5% WPE stands out in comparison to an average 1.9% WPE from 2004 state primaries exit polls.”

The Ph.D.s behind the latest analysis have called on NEP to release the raw, precinct-level data that were used to calculate the 2004 exit poll figures. As of this date, the raw data that would allow testing of the WPE theory have not been made available.

How Vote Tallies Might Have Been Changed

Maribeth McIntyre believes the NEP exit polls may show a pattern of vote tampering. This wouldn’t require a massive army of crooked election workers, she writes, but only a hidden routine in the vote-counting software:

“As an IT professional with 25+ years of experience (and, yes, a very partisan Democrat), I have been concerned about the ease with which election fraud can occur with the voting technology in place today,” says McIntyre. “It would not require anything like a large conspiracy; one or two programmers for the voting software companies could easily pull it off.

“After studying both the Edison/Mitofsky report and the chúng tôi analysis, I am completely convinced that the 2004 Presidential election was stolen. In addition to good old-fashioned voter suppression (lack of sufficient machines in predominately Democratic precincts but an overabundance of them in Republican precincts, among other tactics), there were numerous reports of vote-hopping on touch-screen machines — a vote for Kerry records as a vote for Bush, but never the other way around.”

The provision of extra voting machines in Republican areas of Ohio and “vote hopping” that affected some machines was reported in a Washington Post article last December. An interview with an election equipment worker who indicated that very few people would be required to pull off vote tampering on some of today’s machines was published by Christopher Hitchens, no Kerry fan himself, in a March 2005 Vanity Fair article.

Solutions For Future Elections

Finally, reader Lance Franklin (my choice to represent Independent voters) proposes printed records as a way to ensure that vote counts are tamper-proof:

“My solution would have been a device that would have been placed between the voting machine and the printer generating the paper trail,” Franklin writes.

“In essence, the device would have displayed the vote that was going to the printer, asked the voter to verify their vote, and then passed the OK/Revote response back to the voting machine, for it to either save the vote or reacquire a new vote.”

This sounds like a decent requirement for all elections. In fact, groups seeking reform of the U.S. election process consistently call for a “voter-verified paper ballot.” How citizens have voted should be clearly visible to them on their own paper ballots, which should comprose the official tally of an election, regardless of what any “quick-count” electronic devices may say.

The problem, according to chúng tôi is that approximately 30% of America’s votes are now cast on equipment that has no paper trail and can’t be audited in any way, shape or form.

In my opinion, Americans can either go through this trauma every election (“The count was fair!” “No, the count was hacked!”) or they can demand that all election equipment maintain auditable paper ballots. Computer experts, especially those who are asked to work on vote-counting systems, should insist on this. It won’t by itself eliminate all vote fraud — history has shown that ballot-stuffing is all too common — but it should prevent any partisan programmer from single-handedly goosing the results.

For information on the electoral studies at the heart of the matter, see the March 31 chúng tôi analysis and the Jan. 19 Edison/Mitofsky report on the exit-poll discrepancies. (These PDF documents require the free Adobe Reader.)

The Five Ps Of Marketing For 2024

How data, technology and changing consumer expectations are shaping the marketing mix

All of these technologies have the potential to give marketers new opportunities to meet and surpass consumer expectations. However, this is only possible if marketers can keep their skill-sets up to date and look at ways to integrate new ways of working into existing processes, for example through an effective digital transformation agenda.

Many businesses are struggling to keep up and it’s therefore interesting to take note of the innovations making the biggest impact. In an excellent article for the CIM, David Benady  recently outlined how these innovations fall into categories that form what he refers to as the new ‘Five Ps’ of marketing:

– Payments

– Products

– Promotion

– Place

– People

It’s worth reviewing each of these in turn and the different implications and opportunities for marketers:


As frictionless commerce continues to grow and transform the shopping experience, Apple Pay, Amazon, Google’s Android Pay and many other platforms will provide more opportunities for consumers to make mobile payments in ways that reflect their needs and lifestyles.

Google’s ‘Hands free’ app will potentially offer further, more transformative opportunities for consumers, whilst overall the trend is clear that mobile payments will only continue to grow. More and more payments are taking place on smartphones and tablets as they become increasingly ubiquitous in our daily lives.

Source: A.T. Kearney 2024

Opportunities for marketers Promotion

The data already indicates that consumers are using messenger apps more than social networks and chatbots may give brands an opportunity to create more meaningful content to engage and connect with consumers within these channels and make commerce more interactive.

Creating more personalised, one-to-one experiences is one way to create more relevant connections and the key platforms for marketers to be aware of include WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Skype, Google Hangouts and Viber.

It’s also worth reflecting that the days of creating a half-hearted brand profile on a social network that simply broadcasts mass messages to users may be coming to an end. Chatbots, by contrast, have the ability to use natural language processing and AI to learn from conversations and therefore enable brands to offer exclusive new deals and promotions that are tailored to specific customer groups and followers.

Opportunities for marketers

Although it’s a valid strategy to create a presence across multiple channels, we’re seeing today that customers are using fewer apps more regularly. Of these, messaging apps are some of the most popular and therefore one of the big opportunities for brands will be to create services and content within these apps to reach consumers in the places that matter.

As part of KPCB’s internet trends briefing, Mary Meeker called voice “the most efficient form of computing input”. After all, we can speak 150 words per minute compared to typing just 40. Voice interfaces can learn about us and therefore improve their understanding and prediction of our intent. 


One way of connecting with consumers is by becoming smarter through the use of different forms of data. For example, biometric heart data from a wearable wristband or piece of clothing could provide feedback on an ad or product on a website, which can then be tailored or adjusted accordingly depending on the signals.

The trend away from ownership with the rise of the sharing economy is another factor that is influencing people’s relationship with products:

Millennials in particular are more likely to use Uber or Airbnb to get around and stay somewhere respectively. We can also see this in the demand for streaming television, films and music via Netflix, iTunes or Amazon rather than owning DVDs or CDs.

It will be interesting to see how this trend develops and we could one day see this spread to other areas of life, including household appliances, furniture and technology.

Opportunities for marketers

Wearable tech gives marketers the opportunity to create new and extended brand experiences. Wearables are devices we use nearly all the time, everyday, and therefore loyalty is an area that could be explored further. The technology that wearables use also enables links and connections to other apps and services, providing real-time consumer behaviour data that could be harnessed (in a responsible and ethical way) by partner brands to develop more integrated customer experiences.

The sharing economy is another area of huge potential, with peer-to-peer finance, online staffing, accommodation, car sharing and video streaming all continuing to disrupt traditional markets and savvy marketers should learn from how these new disruptors are challenging the status quo and communicating the benefits to consumers.


Place will become an increasingly important element of the marketing mix as people look for context and convenience. Location is a major indicator of purchase intent and it’s unsurprising that consumers are increasingly using ‘near me’ when searching for shops or services.

Beacon technology allows brands to connect with consumers when they enter a particular location and to target them in more meaningful ways. A few years ago Google published research around ‘Micro-moments’ that encouraged marketers to consider how mobile has shaped changing consumer behaviours. The demand for relevance is a key facet of this research and something location can help marketers to use as they develop more meaningful propositions.

Opportunities for marketers

As programmatic marketing becomes more sophisticated, marketers will find greater opportunities to target the right people, at the right moments, in the right context. With the right balance, consumers will experience better relevance and brands will realise better results.


Customer relationship management (CRM) is no longer about storing just basic customer data and keeping track of emails. CRM technology is beginning to impact the entire organisation, from managing communication internally between employees to building a detailed picture of the customer through multiple datapoints.

Technology has transformed customer expectations. With all the data companies have, customers expect more from the marketing they receive, particularly in terms of the frequency and relevancy of messaging:

Brands must therefore listen to and communicate across multiple channels, including websites, apps, email and social media, to build a truly 3600 view of the customer.

Marketers are now entering the boardroom and becoming a vital part of the sales process through the customer insights they’re able to obtain. It’s therefore likely that the role of the marketer will change, becoming more strategic by identifying ways to connect with consumers via multiple touchpoints.

Opportunities for marketers

CRM gives brands the opportunity to engage with consumers across multiple touchpoints and become more responsive and agile to market demands. Marketers must identify ways to use data and insight to build a more detailed and nuanced picture of the customer and map the customer journey accordingly.

However CRM isn’t just about connecting with customers. There are now opportunities for multiple departments, from finance to HR and client services, to use CRM to build deeper relationships with internal teams and in the process improve collaboration, processes and new ways of working.

Science Helped Me Run My First Marathon In 3 Hours And 21 Minutes

UNTIL JUNE 2023, I HAD NEVER RUN more than 14 miles at once. I jogged often, and had completed a couple of half-marathons, but nothing more. As such, doubling that distance seemed far out of my reach.

But shortly after, I was given the opportunity to gain a spot reserved for media to run the 2023 Chicago Marathon in October (through Nike, one of the marathon’s official sponsors). With access to top-level coaching and gear, I had an opportunity to see how elite athletes set themselves up for success—and I wanted to find out what the average human can learn from their tricks. I set out to understand how evolution, technology, and know-how can come together to propel the human body across 26.2 miles. Here’s what I learned, and how it can help you run a marathon of your own.

00.00 miles

At first glance, nothing in my background suggested I could run such a long course. I participated in a few sports in high school, but not track or cross country. My dad jogs strictly for health reasons, my mother abhors the suggestion, and I don’t have any sprinters hiding up my family tree. But many scientists and anthropologists maintain that you don’t need to be from a long line of elites; the skill is in our DNA. Christopher McDougall argues in the runner’s cult classic Born to Run that evolution hard-wired the human body for jogging. The hypothesis goes that back when Homo sapiens and Neanderthals shared hunting territory, our super power as a species was our ability to chase down prey by steadily trotting behind it until the animal collapsed from exhaustion—what anthropologists call persistence hunting. Small pockets of modern hunter-gatherer societies, such as the Kalahari Bushman of southern Africa and the Tarahumara (or Rarámuri) people of Mexico’s Chihuahua region, still use this method, albeit far more infrequently.

Getting your body ready for a marathon means ensuring your muscles will be able to perform for 26.2 miles. That’s where proper training comes in—which enables you to run faster and for longer before your muscles fail you. Stan Horaczek

While humans aren’t as fast as some sprinters in the animal kingdom, we rule at endurance because of a key physiological difference. To cool off, other mammals expel extra heat by panting. It’s a great method—until they start running and all of a sudden their bodies need deep breaths of oxygen to keep going. Unable to pant and breathe at the same time, they ultimately overheat and collapse. Humans have a marvelous workaround: Because we sweat through pores in our skin, we’re able to keep our respiration steady as we trot. Our species’ history means that most healthy humans should be able to jog a marathon.

03.10 miles

Like running a marathon itself, training for one is most fun at the start. But fMRI studies show that our brains react to novel experiences by releasing the feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine. Surprised by the resulting happiness, we seek out the reward again and again. That scientific insight certainly applied to me: I had never trained rigorously for a race before this one, so each workout was an entirely new experience. That’s my first takeaway: You shouldn’t assume the process will be miserable or grueling. It’s going to be difficult, but the fact that it’s new will make it kind of addictive.

RELATED: Humans are natural runners—and this ancient gene mutation might have helped

The exact amount of time it takes for someone to train varies. Elite or professional runners who already have a high level of conditioning, or physical strength, might need as little as 12 weeks, whereas someone with little or no experience might require 6 months or more. I had recently run a half-marathon, and hadn’t lost much of my conditioning. My heart, lungs, and muscles still worked together efficiently as I ran. My coach, a Nike-affiliated trainer named Jes Woods, decided to give me a 14-week training plan.

Getting your body ready for a marathon means ensuring your muscles will be able to perform for 26.2 miles. That ability, and how fast you can complete the distance in, depends on a multitude of factors including weight, sex, genetics (to a certain extend), and the energy efficiency of our form. Even tiny things that are almost unnoticeable can make a difference. For instance, Woods pointed out that I tend to cross my arms in front of me, which is inefficient. Some runners tend to strike the ground heel first, also not optimal. Your performance also depends on what shape or condition you are in, what many people colloquially call fitness. That’s where proper training comes in—which enables you to run faster and for longer before your muscles fail you.

Ambitiously, I told Woods that I wanted to run the race somewhere in the range of three hours and 40 minutes—fast but not crazy-fast. For reference, qualifying times for the Boston Marathon are, as of 2023, three hours and thirty minutes for women in my age group (18-34) and three hours flat for men of my same cohort. The Boston Marathon is unique in that you must qualify to compete, whereas others, like my race, the Chicago Marathon, is lottery-based. I chose my goal time based on how I did in my most recent half-marathon. Running at about an 8-minute-mile pace, I remembered being tired but not exhausted, and I recovered quickly; there was definitely room for improvement. Woods conservatively said we’d start with that goal and see how I did. Fitness builds up slowly. It’s hard to predict how someone without years of experience will react to an increase in mileage.

For both long runs and total weekly mileage, the number of miles ebbed and flowed, with “down” weeks with less miles and “up” weeks with more. Keeping track of this process with a running watch or simply pen and paper can be a key tool. Stan Horaczek

Luckily for me, Woods is an expert. Whatever query I had, she always had the answer. And I had many: How long is the break between these two sets? What actually is a progression run? Should I get one of those belt things that holds your hydration gels?

Her quick, detailed, and accurate answers were vital, but even more valuable was the security I gained from them. A runner’s coach erects an athlete’s confidence like a brick wall: Each tailored workout, question answered, and shared training session slowly builds a sturdy base of self-assurance and a barrier between the runner and any misgivings. A coach is by no means necessary. But if you’ve got the resources to hire one, it’s definitely helpful.

My curated plan included four different phases (or “blocks”) of workouts: base (with paces that matched my current fitness state), initial, transition, and final (with paces that were a bit faster than my goal for the marathon). The first three phases lasted a month each, and the last one two weeks.

I followed the same workout pattern throughout: Mondays I cross-trained (almost exclusively by swimming, a sport I’d competed in through high school). Tuesdays I usually did some type of track workout focused on speed rather than endurance. On Wednesdays I always did a recovery run, a less-demanding pace that encourage muscle growth. Thursdays meant either hill repeats (just as it sounds: You run up a hill and then back down, just so you can tackle the beast again) or a sustained speed run. These runs are faster than a marathon pace but are performed for a shorter period of time. An ideal example is a tempo run, which is a steady clip that’s just below your maximum effort. Woods explained it to me as a speed you could handle for an hour (if necessary). Fridays were a rest day. Saturdays were reserved for crucial long runs, and on Sundays I could choose between a recovery run and a rest day, though I almost always chose to run.

An example of one week’s schedule, week 9, which was midway through training. Most weeks followed this same routine, with different workouts and varying long run miles. Having a routine—and sticking to it—helped keep me focused and accountable. Infographic by Sara Chodosh

With each new phase, my marathon pace (the time per mile that I could run steadily) would improve, and as Woods slowly increased my mileage and the speed, the times within the phases increased as well. For both long runs and total weekly mileage, the number of miles ebbed and flowed, with “down” weeks with less miles and “up” weeks with more. This allows your body to further recover throughout the process. Woods also tried to keep my longest runs slow, but, as it turns out, I hate a good slow jog, so she set a limit of no faster than an 8:30 minute per mile pace for any recovery, easy, or long run—no exceptions. For ideal training, though, long runs should be at a pace that is about 60 to 90 seconds slower than your goal speed for the marathon.

13.1 miles

Somewhat counterintuitively, the hardest workouts for me to nail were the Wednesday recovery runs. Running slowly—knowing you are physically capable of going much faster—is a mental struggle. However, as Woods routinely pointed out, recovery runs are crucial. Prior to this training, I’d prepared for all road races the same way: Run at the same pace for an increasing number of miles. Sadly, I was way behind on the evidence-based best practices. Seriously: If you want to get faster, sometimes you gotta go slow.

Recovery runs, which indeed sound like an oxymoron, are an important counterpart to speed workouts. The latter ever so slightly breaks down the muscles, causing tiny tears that heal over with more muscle cells: a net gain. But this can happen only if you give the muscles a chance to recover. You have to have rest days if you want to put on muscle, and if you’re training for a marathon, you have to spend some days running at a maddeningly slow pace.

You also have to get used to running for long periods of time. Each week, I logged more miles, starting at 8 and culminating with two 20-mile runs six weeks and four weeks before the race. This is crucial for training the mind to handle marathon day. The more runs you do, the more familiar you become with them. And though they don’t actually get shorter, you’ll get better at tuning out the passage of time and focusing on your body’s machinations.

Marathon training includes “down” weeks with less miles and “up” weeks with more. This allows your body to further recover throughout the process. But overall, the weekly and long run miles steadily increased in the weeks of training leading to the race. Infographic by Sara Chodosh

18 miles

As I was puffing up the same slope for the fifth time one morning—my last hill workout, just a few weeks before the race—I found myself falling off pace by a second or two with each additional climb. I remember wondering if a fancier shoe might give me the boost I needed to keep up my speed. That wasn’t total fantasy: What you put on your body—and especially your feet—makes a difference. Items such as a properly fitting bra, for example, can make all the difference.

The brunt of running research has gone into sneaker tech, and running shoes have come a long way. Designers have modified for better comfort, support, grip, and tread. The focus these days is on the shoe’s energy return and weight: More of the former and the less of the latter means a faster performance. With each stride, muscles generate energy. Some of that power transfers down to the shoes. Energy return, then, is the percent of that energy a shoe gives back as a runner lifts up the foot—and it comes largely from the foam inside the midsole. It should be both compliant (to stretch and hold that energy) and resilient (to give it back). Researchers started experimenting with this concept in the 1980s, but it was Adidas’ 2013 launch of its Energy Boost shoes that reignited the trend. Since then, companies including Brooks, Nike, Reebok, and Saucony have followed suit with their own models.

The Vaporfly 4 percent, so named because they’re meant to make the average runner 4 percent more efficient, are Nike’s fastest racing shoes (kicks meant for race day as opposed to training) and the ones I used for my race. They’re ultralight: Biomechanical studies show that, on average, every 100 grams of added mass per shoe increases the metabolic cost of running by 1 percent. They have a new proprietary foam called ZoomX, and boast a somewhat-controversial carbon-fiber plate that propels a runner forward. In a marathon, researchers say, a 4 percent improvement could make a huge difference.

Tests at the University of Colorado Boulder and at Grand Valley State University came to the same conclusion: The shoes have got speed. So much so that some coaches and exercise scientists have questioned whether they should be banned. But not every runner who toes the line in the racing shoes consistently experiences the same improvement. In fact, some study participants got more than a 4 percent boost while others saw far less. That inconsistency makes sense, because no one is quite sure how the shoes provide such a good return. Some think it’s all about the notorious carbon-fiber plate, while others suspect the boost is all in the super-responsive ZoomX foam.

We need more data—and more varieties of foam and carbon-fiber plates to test—to know for sure. They might be on the way. Professional distance runner Des Linden, who’s sponsored by Brooks Running, ran the 2023 Boston and New York City marathons in a Brooks’ prototype shoe believed to have a plate—and other companies are rumored to be developing similar tech.

But it’s not merely tech that makes us faster. Another runner with me on my hill workout day told me he’s “old-school” and thinks high-tech-shoe claims miss a big point: For most non-elite runners, anyone can run a faster marathon on any given day, regardless of what’s on their feet, given they put in the proper training. And studies back him up, as there are so many variables that affect performance. According to Wouter Hoogkamer and Rodger Kram, physiologists and biomechanics who study running economy and shoe technology at the University of Colorado Boulder, the bulk of the work still comes from the runner. Even if a shoe were to give 100 percent energy return, that’s paltry compared with the power that muscles provide with each stride. Training status, Hoogkamer told me, is by far the most important parameter.

The bottom line: Some shoes will give you a shot at running faster, but you still need to be in damn good shape to run your fastest marathon. For me, that meant finishing those hills.

Running slowly—knowing you are physically capable of going much faster—is a mental struggle. However, as recovery runs are crucial. If you want to get faster, sometimes you gotta go slow. Stan Horaczek

24 miles

I ran the Chicago Marathon as if riding a train fueled by adrenaline—until I was just about to hit mile 24. Suddenly I had an extreme desire to stop. All runners experience this at some point late in the race, I’d been told. And while there are a million and one tactics you can use to get yourself through, working out my mind helped the most.

Paces, mileage, and physiological numbers such as VO2 max (the upper limit of oxygen consumption used during exertion) or lactate threshold can dictate how well someone will do. But it’s nearly impossible to crunch those numbers into a perfect prediction of someone’s finish time, which I found fascinating. No matter how well you prepare physically, your brain can still do a lot to help or hurt you on race day.

In his latest book, Endure, Alex Hutchinson defines endurance as “the struggle to continue against a mounting desire to stop.” Because the body wants to conserve energy, and distance running uses so much, your mind is going to tell you to stop moving far sooner than your body will actually break of exhaustion. You can usually keep going for a bit after you begin to feel certain that you can’t.

Scientists have done multiple studies of this phenomenon, but perhaps my favorite involved the tactic I remember as the swish and spit. To prevent themselves from running out of available energy, marathoners swallow gels—single-portion packets of easy-to-digest carbohydrates—throughout the race. Once I’d hit 16 miles in my training, I knew I had to start practicing with them to make it through the length of a marathon. I’d been dreading this. Not to get too much into the details, but every time I’d tried to use them in the past, I’d throw them right back up. I blame a super sensitive stomach, not enough blood flow to the gut while running, and the strange texture of the products themselves (you’ll know once you try ’em).

Searching for a workaround sent me down a PubMed-fueled research spiral on how to take in carbohydrates, and I came across a 2010 paper entitled “Mouth rinse but not ingestion of a carbohydrate solution improves 1-h cycle time trial performance.” Boom. Exactly what I was looking for: I don’t need to actually swallow the stuff, I can just rinse and spit.

The study found that during a 60-minute cycling session, participants who swished a sports drink containing carbohydrates and spat it out performed better than those who did the same with a non-carbohydrate containing placebo (meant to taste like a sports drink). That’s because our mouths contain carbohydrate sensors linked to the brain—detectors that tell our bodies it’s okay to keep going because fuel is on the way. With just the knowledge of energy coming, sans any actual food, participants in the study cycled faster than those who swished the placebo, which didn’t trigger the same brain signals.

26.2 miles

I crossed the finish line of the Chicago Marathon in 3 hours, 21 minutes, 55 seconds—about eight minutes faster than the qualifying standard for the Boston Marathon, and almost 20 minutes faster than the time I initially had planned.

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It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what made me surpass my initial goals. I imagine a battery of tests would help: looking at genes related to running economy, gait analysis, even a breakdown of my gut microbiome. But I bet that we’ll never be able to predict anyone’s marathon time with 100 percent accuracy, which, to me, is the fun of it all.

Perhaps the best takeaway I can share is that as soon as it was over, I forgot almost instantly both the mental and muscular struggle I’d just endured. Some psychological studies have shown this to be a common phenomenon in distance runners. In one study, runners were asked how painful the marathon was directly after the race and then three and six months later. On average, all subjects remembered less pain overall in the months following the marathon compared to the day of the event.

Forcing yourself to the finish line takes time, support, and patience. But the end result is worth the effort. Ask anyone who’s run a marathon how many they’ve completed. Chances are, it’s more than one. If you’re ready to run a marathon, trust that your body is designed to go the distance, and consider using the latest technology for a slight speed boost. Just remember: You have to put in the work. But my end result surprised me—and yours could, too. We’re all runners, after all.

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