The Week in Radio: A sports commentary that goes the distance

It's a fact unwisely overlooked by all those people gearing up to run Sunday's marathon that as Phidippides, the first marathon runner, hit the final ribbon in Athens he promptly dropped dead. It doesn't stop thousands doing the marathon of course, or indeed banging on about it afterwards, so it's a relief to discover that there is actually an interesting subject to talk about in the world of running. As explored in The Sub-Two-Hour Marathon: Sport's Holy Grail, it's the race to beat the current record of two hours, three minutes and 59 seconds.

A lot of sports commentary on radio consists of people being gobsmacked at sporting achievements, and Chris Dennis's breathless amazement at marathon runners was no exception. "The mind boggles!" he gasped as he slogged along on the treadmill, attempting to match the speed of the elite. But this being Radio 4 there was also a compulsion to do what shampoo adverts call "the science bit". Thus, Dr Barry Fudge from Loughborough University was brought on to explain the three variables that determine how fast you can run: "There's the VO2 max, that's your maximal rate of energy expenditure, your running economy and then your fractional utilisation of VO2 max." Now I would actually have liked this translated into English, but there was no time for that because we were off to East Africa, where the first sub-two-hour runner – or S2H as boffins might say – is probably located. "Is there something genetically specific to people from East Africa?" asked Dennis in the sort of question that is generally off limits at the BBC. But it turns out that there is, and it's a combination of high altitude, good weather and height.

Yet as we runners know, there is only so much you can say about running. Or as Paula Radcliffe opined: "You're not thinking, you're just running." Talking about sport, despite the fact that there's an entire radio channel devoted to it, can sometimes be a challenge. Even Julian Lloyd Webber, in a beguiling interview by Nick Ferrari on Classic FM, tried hard to elaborate on his obsession with Leyton Orient. He used to go along with the formidable pianist John Lill, the Lloyd Webbers' lodger, an image that made my own mind boggle. Now he attends regularly. "It's just such a different atmosphere from the concert hall," he explained, with masterly understatement. "There's no easy link from Leyton Orient to Delius," worried Nick. "Except he's scandalously out of fashion," said Julian, helpfully. As an affectionate salute for Lloyd Webber's 60th birthday, and full of his favourite work, this was utterly enjoyable and by far the most restful programme by Nick Ferrari I have ever heard.

After which it was a wake-up call to listen to Voodoo Wasps and Zombie Worms, a sheerly terrifying programme about the most successful parasite on Earth and its incredible effect on human behaviour. Up to a third of the human race is currently infected by toxoplasma gondii – hosted by cats and present in raw meat, contaminated soil and unwashed vegetables. In rats, the parasite intentionally changes behaviour to make them lose their fear of cats, and thus get eaten. But it has astonishing effects on human behaviour too, increasing risk taking and hyper activity. It's probably because the parasite affects dopamine, the neuro-modulator associated with anxiety. Tests show that men infected are more likely to behave in a reckless fashion, have car crashes and skip red lights. Curiously, women are affected in a different way, becoming more warm-hearted and easy-going. This riveting subject was the stuff of airport thrillers, but as presented by journalist and biologist Frank Swain it was also a textbook example of how to do science on radio. Boffin-free, clearly explained, easy to follow, and as they say, simply mind-boggling in its implications.

Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?