Fifteen endurance-trained runners, average age 27, ran three kilometers (1.8 miles) 1.2% faster after injecting themselves with a placebo than they did after taking no injections (Med Sci Sports Exerc, published online Nov 19, 2014).
The runners were initially evaluated with a 1.8 mile time trial. Then they were randomly distributed to either:
• take no drugs for seven straight days and run the 1.8 mile time trial, or
• inject themselves for seven straight days underneath their skin with a fluid that they were told contained ‘OxyRBX’, a compound that is similar to recombinant human erythropoietin (r-HuEPO) that raises red blood cell counts and has been shown to make runners, cyclists and other athletes race much faster than they could without it. Actually they were injecting a saline solution that contained only salt and water. So each runner ran three time trials, first a baseline one, and then was randomly selected to run first after injections and then after no injection or vice versa.
The runners ran 9.73 seconds faster after injecting placebo than they did originally. They ran 1.82 seconds faster after injecting nothing. That is a very significant difference that could result in either winning a race or coming in with the pack.
Why Did The Placebo Improve Their Times?
How fast you can run or cycle over distance is determined by how long it takes for you to run low on oxygen. This causes lactic acid to build up in your muscles which makes them acidic and the acid makes them burn and hurt, and you gasp for breath to increase your oxygen supply. Eventually you slow down because you are suffering. People are willing to suffer more after being given a placebo than they are after receiving no advantage or help at all. The athletes believed that they had been given an advantage through the worthless injections, which provided a psychological edge. This is known as the placebo effect and is tremendously powerful.
Your body talks to you and tells you when you are reaching your limits in endurance. If you ignore the warning signs of impending exhaustion and keep pushing yourself, you can pass out and even die. Remember the story about Pheidippides dying after the first marathon? For the sequence of symptoms of impending doom that I experienced in a race, read my report on Heat Stroke. I am a physician and I wasn’t any smarter than Pheidippides.