This year, Wellesley anthropology Professor Adam Van Arsdale ran in the 2019 Boston Marathon as a member of the Museum of Science charity team. Van Arsdale studies biological anthropology, a background that he was able to incorporate into his pitch to the Museum of Science. In order to run for the museum, Van Arsdale assembled a podcast titled “Running for Science: Science for Running” on Soundcloud in which he discusses how human morphology across evolution impacts our ability to run. “It’s not what I research,” Van Arsdale said, “but I do know people in anthropology who do research that; [they] look for fossil evidence of when we might have begun to run and the prerequisites to run in our morphology. I also talk to experts who study the neurobiology of running and whether that’s an evolved adaptation.”
Though he has looked forward to cheering on the runners for the past 11 years at Wellesley, Van Arsdale said he had never considered running it himself until his friend and fellow anthropologist Jeremy DeSilva ran the marathon as a member of the Museum of Science teama few years prior. However, after his sabbatical in the fall he decided that now would be a perfect time because he is turning 40 and his daughter is one year away from going to college. Van Arsdale was a swimmer throughout high school and college, but he never enjoyed running and said that when he started training for the marathon in November, his extensive understanding of anatomy and evolutionary history made him more aware of how he was running. “In some ways, [studying biological anthropology] has been beneficial,” Van Arsdale commented. “Now that I’m further into training, I understand how my body is moving as a system in the context of running — knowing what bones are involved, what muscles are involved, and just knowing what that movement should look like and feel like has been really helpful.”
However, training to run 26.2 miles has been no easy task. “It’s been really physically tough, especially on my joints and my hips,” Van Arsdale said. “The other hard part is time. When you’re doing long training runs you have to section it off by hours, but it’s hard to find three hours between my job, and parenting and everything else. I often can’t find the four hour block to do that 20 mile run.” His training suffered a major setback in late January when he pulled a muscle in his thigh at a half marathon distance (13.1 miles). He had to stop running for six weeks and while he was cross training in the pool, he had to “start from scratch again.” Unable to run until mid March, Van Arsdale only had five weeks to get ready for race day. Despite this, Van Arsdale told The Wellesley News that he felt “ready for it” just days before the race. While he still doesn’t love running, Van Arsdale finds it “kinda fun” to participate in the long two million year evolved response to be endurance athletes. “At least that’s what I tell myself,” he joked.
Knowing the tough task ahead, Van Arsdale said he looks forward particularly to running through Wellesley. “My family will be here, students and colleagues and friends are in this area,” said Van Arsdale, “and then of course I also look forward to the end: running down Boylston and the feeling I’ll have when I get to that point.” When asked particularly about his thoughts on the Scream Tunnel — the nickname of the section of the race that passes by Wellesley College — Van Arsdale recounted hearing many runners say “if that was the entire course the whole thing would just be easy” when he was a spectator. He also believes that “any chance to publicly scream and shout in a way that’s not frowned upon and is actually encouraged is great. I’m looking forward to it.”
Professor Van Arsdale finished the marathon in 4 hours 52 minutes. Check out his podcast on SoundCloud titled “Running for Science: Science for Running” to learn more about human locomotion and energetics from experts in the field.