The INEOS 1:59 Challenge: Are Humans on the Verge of Outrunning Cars?

by Robert Gitau about a year ago in culture

With Kipchoge's speed of 13.1 mph or 5.833 meters per second, is it logical to argue that humans are on the verge of outrunning cars?

The INEOS 1:59 Challenge: Are Humans on the Verge of Outrunning Cars?

The ancient debate on whether or not man will ever be able to outrun cars has been rekindled after Eliud Kipchoge’s INEOS 1:59 history-making victory. The celebrated, record-breaking marathoner is now the first man to finish a 42 kilometers (26.2 miles) marathon race in less than two hours. That translates to an average speed of approximately 21 kilometers per hour (13.1 mph or 5.833 meters per second). So, are humans on the verge of outrunning cars?

Well, this question can only be answered using both logic and science. Scientifically speaking, we need to understand how Kipchoge’s velocity was changing with time (acceleration), then compare that with the average rate of acceleration of most ordinary cars (which is actually somewhere between three and four meters/sec/sec). Logically speaking, we must appreciate the fact that it is almost impossible for humans to compete with machines (in our case cars) over long distances.

With that in mind, let’s now jump right into the meat and potatoes. Shall we?

Eliud Kipchoge vs Car:

Recorded statistics from the INEOS 1:59 challenge show that Kipchoge accelerated steadily for the first four seconds before attaining a constant speed of 5.8 meters per second. His initial velocity in this case was zero, and his final velocity was 5.8m/s, which means that his rate of acceleration was (5.8 – 0)/4 or 1.45 meters per second per second.

Using the Newton’s equations of motion, when the initial velocity of a moving object is zero, the distance it accelerates (S) is related to the acceleration time (t) and the rate of acceleration (a) by the equation S = at2/2. Within the first 6 seconds, therefore, Kipchoge had covered (1.45 * 62)/2 meters, which translates to 26.1 meters. If a car was to race against him for six seconds with an acceleration of 3 meters per second per second, it will have covered (3 * 62)/2 or 54 meters. Clearly, an ordinary car will outrun Kipchoge. He can, however, outrun a heavy-load truck over a short distance.

But what if we had a hybrid of Kipchoge and Usain Bolt?

Bolt, the fastest human to have ever walked on this planet, can accelerate for up to 10 meters per second per second over a distance of 20 meters, and then run at a constant speed for another 200 meters. Using the equation of motion V2 = 2aS when initial velocity is zero, we can deduce that Bolt has the ability to attain a top speed of approximately 20 meters per second.

For the first 200 meters, Bolt will easily outrun a car that accelerated at a rate of three meters per second per second within the first 54 meters and then attained a constant speed of 18 meters per second. He will actually be about 20 meters ahead of the car before he starts to decelerate. Considering that a car will probably take several microseconds before it starts to accelerate, the gap could be bigger.

Now imagine a hybrid of Kipchoge and Bolt: A man who has the acceleration and top speed of Usain Bolt as well as the endurance, technique, and lungs of Eliud Kipchoge. All things being equal, that man can easily outrun an ordinary car in a 42 kilometer race.

With some minor modifications to the human nostrils, heart, and lungs, this hypothesis would be even more realistic. That would help him breathe in enough oxygen and circulate air efficiently throughout the body as he runs at top speed. And because we are living in an era of tech revolution, I don’t see why this would be impossible.

Lastly, humans will need to find a solution to the energy-draining and time-wasting contact that the human foot has with the ground during a race. The foot-ground contact time (from the ground, up to the butt, back to the ground, and then up again) limits how fast we sprint. Perhaps we can overcome this limitation by developing running shoes that have foolproof cushioning mechanism.

Note that Kipchoge wore the sufficiently-cushioned Nike Vaporfly Next% running shoes and they improved his running efficiency by about 8 percent. If we ever have a shoe that increases runners’ efficiency by 20-30 percent, then our dream of outrunning cars will be within reach. Indeed, no human is limited.

Robert Gitau
Robert Gitau
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