Running a marathon in space sounds like a really trippy VR experience

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In December, European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Tim Peake will head to the International Space Station (ISS) for a six-month long mission. During his time there he'll likely do some science experiments, perform station maintenance, eat some space food, and generally float around. In April, he'll also run the Virgin Money London Marathon.


Peake explained his decision in a video posted to the Virgin Money YouTube page Friday. "The London Marathon is a worldwide event. Let's take it out of this world," he said.

Running in space means going without the adrenaline you get from running in a crowd. "The atmosphere at the London marathon is just outstanding," says Peak in the video.


To capture some of that atmosphere, he'll be running while watching a London marathon from a few years back, and moving through the route according to his pace. "I'll be running it on the iPad. I'll actually be watching myself running through the streets of London whilst orbiting the Earth at 400k above the surface." Virgin Money offers more details on how that will work:

The route was filmed in HD video during the 2013 and 2014 Virgin Money London Marathons and has been converted into an interactive ‘mixed reality’ video, which runners watch as they run on a treadmill. The video playback matches the running speed and runners can also see, and run with, virtual reality avatars of runners from around the world who are also using the download. A special avatar has been created for Peake, showing the astronaut running in his ESA flight suit.

Non-astronauts won't get their own avatars, but can buy the video through the RunSocial app.

Peake has run the marathon once before, in 1999. And he's generally active, as one has to be to go to space: astronauts exercise for around 2.5 hours every day to keep their bones strong.


Still, running a marathon in space won't be easy. Peake plans on running the 26.2 miles on the ISS' treadmill, and just staying on that treadmill will be a challenge. Peake explains that "in microgravity I would float if I didn't strap myself down to the treadmill. So I have to wear a harness system. It's a bit similar to a rucksack. After about 40 minutes to an hour that gets very uncomfortable to run in."

Peake isn't the first to run a marathon in space. NASA's Sunita Williams ran the Boston Marathon in 200–conditions on Earth where so rainy and windy for that event, Williams' may have had a slight advantage by running on the climate-controlled station. She explained at the time that she hoped the feat would inspire lazy Earth children to exercise, saying, "I think the idea came up because I'm a big proponent of physical fitness and I just wanted to make kids aware that it is a necessary part of your life."


This year's London marathon director, Hugh Brasher, also said he thinks an astronaut run will be good for kids. “Tim’s mission will undoubtedly inspire a generation of children to explore science and space," Brasher said in a statement. "We hope that this extraordinary marathon run in space will also inspire that generation to run.”

Seems more likely that they'll just download that running app.

Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.

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