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1.  Regionally accentuated reversible brain grey matter reduction in ultra marathon runners detected by voxel-based morphometry 
During the 4,487 km ultra marathon TransEurope-FootRace 2009 (TEFR09), runners showed catabolism with considerable reduction of body weight as well as reversible brain volume reduction. We hypothesized that ultra marathon athletes might have developed changes to grey matter (GM) brain morphology due to the burden of extreme physical training. Using voxel-based morphometry (VBM) we undertook a cross sectional study and two longitudinal studies.
Prior to the start of the race 13 runners volunteered to participate in this study of planned brain scans before, twice during, and 8 months after the race. A group of matched controls was recruited for comparison. Twelve runners were able to participate in the scan before the start of the race and were taken into account for comparison with control persons. Because of drop-outs during the race, VBM could be performed in 10 runners covering the first 3 time points, and in 7 runners who also had the follow-up scan after 8 months. Volumetric 3D datasets were acquired using an MPRAGE sequence. A level of p < 0.05, family-wise corrected for multiple comparisons was the a priori set statistical threshold to infer significant effects from VBM.
Baseline comparison of TEFR09 participants and controls revealed no significant differences regarding GM brain volume. During the race however, VBM revealed GM volume decreases in regionally distributed brain regions. These included the bilateral posterior temporal and occipitoparietal cortices as well as the anterior cingulate and caudate nucleus. After eight months, GM normalized.
Contrary to our hypothesis, we did not observe significant differences between TEFR09 athletes and controls at baseline. If this missing difference is not due to small sample size, extreme physical training obviously does not chronically alter GM.
However, during the race GM volume decreased in brain regions normally associated with visuospatial and language tasks. The reduction of the energy intensive default mode network as a means to conserve energy during catabolism is discussed. The changes were reversible after 8 months.
Despite substantial changes to brain composition during the catabolic stress of an ultra marathon, the observed differences seem to be reversible and adaptive.
PMCID: PMC3896776  PMID: 24438692
Voxel based morphometry; VBM; Catabolism; Plasticity; Brain; Default mode network; MRI; Ultra marathon
2.  The Transeurope Footrace Project: longitudinal data acquisition in a cluster randomized mobile MRI observational cohort study on 44 endurance runners at a 64-stage 4,486km transcontinental ultramarathon 
BMC Medicine  2012;10:78.
The TransEurope FootRace 2009 (TEFR09) was one of the longest transcontinental ultramarathons with an extreme endurance physical load of running nearly 4,500 km in 64 days. The aim of this study was to assess the wide spectrum of adaptive responses in humans regarding the different tissues, organs and functional systems being exposed to such chronic physical endurance load with limited time for regeneration and resulting negative energy balance. A detailed description of the TEFR project and its implemented measuring methods in relation to the hypotheses are presented.
The most important research tool was a 1.5 Tesla magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner mounted on a mobile unit following the ultra runners from stage to stage each day. Forty-four study volunteers (67% of the participants) were cluster randomized into two groups for MRI measurements (22 subjects each) according to the project protocol with its different research modules: musculoskeletal system, brain and pain perception, cardiovascular system, body composition, and oxidative stress and inflammation. Complementary to the diverse daily mobile MR-measurements on different topics (muscle and joint MRI, T2*-mapping of cartilage, MR-spectroscopy of muscles, functional MRI of the brain, cardiac and vascular cine MRI, whole body MRI) other methods were also used: ice-water pain test, psychometric questionnaires, bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA), skinfold thickness and limb circumference measurements, daily urine samples, periodic blood samples and electrocardiograms (ECG).
Thirty volunteers (68%) reached the finish line at North Cape. The mean total race speed was 8.35 km/hour. Finishers invested 552 hours in total. The completion rate for planned MRI investigations was more than 95%: 741 MR-examinations with 2,637 MRI sequences (more than 200,000 picture data), 5,720 urine samples, 244 blood samples, 205 ECG, 1,018 BIA, 539 anthropological measurements and 150 psychological questionnaires.
This study demonstrates the feasibility of conducting a trial based centrally on mobile MR-measurements which were performed during ten weeks while crossing an entire continent. This article is the reference for contemporary result reports on the different scientific topics of the TEFR project, which may reveal additional new knowledge on the physiological and pathological processes of the functional systems on the organ, cellular and sub-cellular level at the limits of stress and strain of the human body.
Please see related articles: and
PMCID: PMC3409063  PMID: 22812450
3.  Substantial and reversible brain gray matter reduction but no acute brain lesions in ultramarathon runners: experience from the TransEurope-FootRace Project 
BMC Medicine  2012;10:170.
During the extremely challenging 4,487 km ultramarathon TransEurope-FootRace 2009, runners showed considerable reduction of body weight. The effects of this endurance run on brain volume changes but also possible formation of brain edema or new lesions were explored by repeated magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) studies.
A total of 15 runners signed an informed consent to participate in this study of planned brain scans before, twice during, and about 8 months after the race. Because of dropouts, global gray matter volume analysis could only be performed in ten runners covering three timepoints, and in seven runners who also had a follow-up scan. Scanning was performed on three identical 1.5 T Siemens MAGNETOM Avanto scanners, two of them located at our university. The third MRI scanner with identical sequence parameters was a mobile MRI unit escorting the runners. Volumetric 3D datasets were acquired using a magnetization prepared rapid acquisition gradient echo (MPRAGE) sequence. Additionally, diffusion-weighted (DWI) and fluid attenuated inversion recovery (FLAIR) imaging was performed.
Average global gray matter volume as well as body weight significantly decreased by 6% during the race. After 8 months, gray matter volume returned to baseline as well as body weight. No new brain lesions were detected by DWI or FLAIR imaging.
Physiological brain volume reduction during aging is less than 0.2% per year. Therefore a volume reduction of about 6% during the 2 months of extreme running appears to be substantial. The reconstitution in global volume measures after 8 months shows the process to be reversible. As possible mechanisms we discuss loss of protein, hypercortisolism and hyponatremia to account for both substantiality and reversibility of gray matter volume reductions. Reversible brain volume reduction during an ultramarathon suggests that extreme running might serve as a model to investigate possible mechanisms of transient brain volume changes. However, despite massive metabolic load, we found no new lesions in trained athletes participating in a multistage ultramarathon.
See related commentary
PMCID: PMC3566943  PMID: 23259507
body weight; brain volume; catabolism; DWI; lesion; MRI; ultramarathon
4.  Characteristics, changes and influence of body composition during a 4486 km transcontinental ultramarathon: results from the Transeurope Footrace mobile whole body MRI-project 
BMC Medicine  2013;11:122.
Almost nothing is known about the medical aspects of runners doing a transcontinental ultramarathon over several weeks. The results of differentiated measurements of changes in body composition during the Transeurope Footrace 2009 using a mobile whole body magnetic resonance (MR) imager are presented and the proposed influence of visceral and somatic adipose and lean tissue distribution on performance tested.
22 participants were randomly selected for the repeated MR measurements (intervals: 800 km) with a 1.5 Tesla MR scanner mounted on a mobile unit during the 64-stage 4,486 km ultramarathon. A standardized and validated MRI protocol was used: T1 weighted turbo spin echo sequence, echo time 12 ms, repetition time 490 ms, slice thickness 10 mm, slice distance 10 mm (breath holding examinations). For topographic tissue segmentation and mapping a modified fuzzy c-means algorithm was used. A semi-automatic post-processing of whole body MRI data sets allows reliable analysis of the following body tissue compartments: Total body volume (TV), total somatic (TSV) and total visceral volume (TVV), total adipose (TAT) and total lean tissue (TLT), somatic (SLT) and visceral lean tissue (VLT), somatic (SAT) and visceral adipose tissue (VAT) and somatic adipose soft tissue (SAST). Specific volume changes were tested on significance. Tests on difference and relationship regarding prerace and race performance and non-finishing were done using statistical software SPSS.
Total, somatic and visceral volumes showed a significant decrease throughout the race. Adipose tissue showed a significant decrease compared to the start at all measurement times for TAT, SAST and VAT. Lean adipose tissues decreased until the end of the race, but not significantly. The mean relative volume changes of the different tissue compartments at the last measurement compared to the start were: TV −9.5% (SE 1.5%), TSV −9.4% (SE 1.5%), TVV −10.0% (SE 1.4%), TAT −41.3% (SE 2.3%), SAST −48.7% (SE 2.8%), VAT −64.5% (SE 4.6%), intraabdominal adipose tissue (IAAT) −67.3% (SE 4.3%), mediastinal adopose tissue (MAT) −41.5% (SE 7.1%), TLT −1.2% (SE 1.0%), SLT −1.4% (SE 1.1%). Before the start and during the early phase of the Transeurope Footrace 2009, the non-finisher group had a significantly higher percentage volume of TVV, TAT, SAST and VAT compared to the finisher group. VAT correlates significantly with prerace training volume and intensity one year before the race and with 50 km- and 24 hour-race records. Neither prerace body composition nor specific tissue compartment volume changes showed a significant relationship to performance in the last two thirds of the Transeurope Footrace 2009.
With this mobile MRI field study the complex changes in body composition during a multistage ultramarathon could be demonstrated in detail in a new and differentiated way. Participants lost more than half of their adipose tissue. Even lean tissue volume (mainly skeletal muscle tissue) decreased due to the unpreventable chronic negative energy balance during the race. VAT has the fastest and highest decrease compared to SAST and lean tissue compartments during the race. It seems to be the most sensitive morphometric parameter regarding the risk of non-finishing a transcontinental footrace and shows a direct relationship to prerace-performance. However, body volume or body mass and, therefore, fat volume has no correlation with total race performances of ultra-athletes finishing a 4,500 km multistage race.
PMCID: PMC3668188  PMID: 23657091
Magnetic resonance imaging; MRI; Body mass; Body volume; Body composition; Running; Marathon; Ultramarathon; Performance; Adipose tissue; Body fat; Lean tissue; Visceral; Somatic; Topography; Segmentation; Mapping
5.  Analysis of performance and age of the fastest 100-mile ultra-marathoners worldwide 
Clinics  2013;68(5):605-611.
The performance and age of peak ultra-endurance performance have been investigated in single races and single race series but not using worldwide participation data. The purpose of this study was to examine the changes in running performance and the age of peak running performance of the best 100-mile ultra-marathoners worldwide.
The race times and ages of the annual ten fastest women and men were analyzed among a total of 35,956 finishes (6,862 for women and 29,094 for men) competing between 1998 and 2011 in 100-mile ultra-marathons.
The annual top ten performances improved by 13.7% from 1,132±61.8 min in 1998 to 977.6±77.1 min in 2011 for women and by 14.5% from 959.2±36.4 min in 1998 to 820.6±25.7 min in 2011 for men. The mean ages of the annual top ten fastest runners were 39.2±6.2 years for women and 37.2±6.1 years for men. The age of peak running performance was not different between women and men (p>0.05) and showed no changes across the years.
These findings indicated that the fastest female and male 100-mile ultra-marathoners improved their race time by ∼14% across the 1998–2011 period at an age when they had to be classified as master athletes. Future studies should analyze longer running distances (>200 km) to investigate whether the age of peak performance increases with increased distance in ultra-marathon running.
PMCID: PMC3654294  PMID: 23778421
Running; Ultra-Endurance; Sex Difference; Athlete
6.  Half-Marathon and Full-Marathon Runners' Hydration Practices and Perceptions 
Journal of Athletic Training  2011;46(6):581-591.
The behaviors and beliefs of recreational runners with regard to hydration maintenance are not well elucidated.
To examine which beverages runners choose to drink and why, negative performance and health experiences related to dehydration, and methods used to assess hydration status.
Cross-sectional study.
Marathon registration site.
Patients or Other Participants:
Men (n = 146) and women (n = 130) (age = 38.3 ± 11.3 years) registered for the 2010 Little Rock Half-Marathon or Full Marathon.
A 23-item questionnaire was administered to runners when they picked up their race timing chips.
Main Outcome Measure(s):
Runners were separated into tertiles (Low, Mod, High) based on z scores derived from training volume, expected performance, and running experience. We used a 100-mm visual analog scale with anchors of 0 (never) and 100 (always). Total sample responses and comparisons between tertile groups for questionnaire items are presented.
The High group (58±31) reported greater consumption of sport beverages in exercise environments than the Low (42 ± 35 mm) and Mod (39 ± 32 mm) groups (P < .05) and perceived sport beverages to be superior to water in meeting hydration needs (P < .05) and improving performance during runs greater than 1 hour (P < .05). Seventy percent of runners experienced 1 or more incidents in which they believed dehydration resulted in a major performance decrement, and 45% perceived dehydration to have resulted in adverse health effects. Twenty percent of runners reported monitoring their hydration status. Urine color was the method most often reported (7%), whereas only 2% reported measuring changes in body weight.
Greater attention should be paid to informing runners of valid techniques to monitor hydration status and developing an appropriate individualized hydration strategy.
PMCID: PMC3418934  PMID: 22488182
dehydration; sport beverages; hydration monitoring
7.  Prevalence of Hyponatremia, Renal Dysfunction, and Other Electrolyte Abnormalities Among Runners Before and After Completing a Marathon or Half Marathon 
Sports Health  2011;3(2):145-151.
Prior reports on metabolic derangements observed in distance running frequently have small sample sizes, lack prerace laboratory measures, and report sodium as the sole measure.
Metabolic abnormalities—hyponatremia, hypokalemia, renal dysfunction, hemoconcentration—are frequent after completing a full or half marathon. Clinically significant changes occur in these laboratory values after race completion.
Study Design:
Observational, cross-sectional study.
Consenting marathon and half marathon racers completed a survey as well as finger stick blood sampling on race day of the National Marathon to Fight Breast Cancer (Jacksonville, Florida, February 2008). Parallel blood measures were obtained before and after race completion (prerace, n = 161; postrace, n = 195).
The prevalence of prerace and postrace hyponatremia was 8 of 161 (5.0%) and 16 of 195 (8.2%), respectively. Hypokalemia was not present prerace but was present in 1 runner postrace (1 of 195). Renal dysfunction occurred prerace in 14 of 161 (8.7%) and postrace in 83 of 195 (42.6%). Among those with postrace renal dysfunction, 45.8% (38 of 83) were classified as moderate or severe. Hemoconcentration was present in 2 of 161 (1.2%) prerace and 6 of 195 (3.1%) postrace. The mean changes in laboratory values were (postrace minus prerace): sodium, 1.6 mmol/L; potassium, −0.2 mmol/L; blood urea nitrogen, 2.8 mg/dL; creatinine, 0.2 mg/dL; and hemoglobin, 0.3 g/dL for 149 pairs (except blood urea nitrogen, n = 147 pairs). Changes were significant for all comparisons (P < 0.01) except potassium (P = 0.08) and hemoglobin (P = 0.01).
Metabolic abnormalities are common among endurance racers, and they may be present prerace, including hyponatremia. The clinical significance of these findings is unknown.
Clinical relevance:
It is unclear which runners are at risk for developing clinically important metabolic derangements. Participating in prolonged endurance exercise appears to be safe in the majority of racers.
PMCID: PMC3445140  PMID: 23016001
marathon; hyponatremia; renal dysfunction; running; endurance sports
8.  Leg skinfold thicknesses and race performance in male 24-hour ultra-marathoners 
The association of skinfold thicknesses with race performance has been investigated in runners competing over distances of ≤50 km. This study investigated a potential relation between skinfold thicknesses and race performance in male ultra-marathoners completing >50 km in 24 hours. Variables of anthropometry, training, and previous performance were related to race performance in 63 male ultra-marathoners aged 46.9 (standard deviation [SD] 10.3) years, standing 1.78 (SD 0.07) m in height, and weighing 73.3 (SD 7.6) kg. The runners clocked 146.1 (SD 43.1) km during the 24 hours. In the bivariate analysis, several variables were associated with race performance: body mass (r = −0.25); skinfold thickness at axilla (r = −0.37), subscapula (r = −0.28), abdomen (r = −0.31), and suprailiaca (r = −0.30); the sum of skinfold thicknesses (r = −0.32); percentage body fat (r = −0.32); weekly kilometers run (r = 0.31); personal best time in a marathon (r = −0.58); personal best time in a 100-km ultra-run (r = −0.31); and personal best performance in a 24-hour run (r = 0.46). In the multivariate analysis, no anthropometric or training variable was related to race performance. In conclusion, in contrast to runners up to distances of 50 km, skinfold thicknesses of the lower limbs were not related to race performance in 24-hour ultra-marathoners.
PMCID: PMC3069518  PMID: 21566757
9.  The elite marathon runner: problems during and after competition. 
Two questionnaires were given to the participants of the Danish national marathon championship to obtain information on health, training habits, previous injuries and the medical problems sustained during and after the competition. All 60 participants replied to both questionnaires. The elite runner is training between 90-150 km per week, using one daily training session. He is generally careful about stretching and warming up and down. Forty-three per cent of runners sustained injuries in the last year that prevented them from training, but only 3% needed to stay off work. The most common reasons for not completing the race were exhaustion and injuries to the lower extremities. Sixty-one per cent of the runners who did not drink at all refreshment stations dropped out, whereas only 27% of those who did dropped out. There was no difference in relation to results or medical problems between the group who used a special diet before the run and those who did not. The major medical problems were gastrointestinal disturbances, skin lesions and pain or cramps in the lower extremities. No serious injuries were reported.
PMCID: PMC1478503  PMID: 3370397
10.  Rate of cardiac arrhythmias and silent brain lesions in experienced marathon runners: rationale, design and baseline data of the Berlin Beat of Running study 
Regular exercise is beneficial for cardiovascular health but a recent meta-analysis indicated a relationship between extensive endurance sport and a higher risk of atrial fibrillation, an independent risk factor for stroke. However, data on the frequency of cardiac arrhythmias or (clinically silent) brain lesions during and after marathon running are missing.
Methods/ Design
In the prospective observational “Berlin Beat of Running” study experienced endurance athletes underwent clinical examination (CE), 3 Tesla brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), carotid ultrasound imaging (CUI) and serial blood sampling (BS) within 2-3 days prior (CE, MRI, CUI, BS), directly after (CE, BS) and within 2 days after (CE, MRI, BS) the 38th BMW BERLIN-MARATHON 2011. All participants wore a portable electrocardiogram (ECG)-recorder throughout the 4 to 5 days baseline study period. Participants with pathological MRI findings after the marathon, troponin elevations or detected cardiac arrhythmias will be asked to undergo cardiac MRI to rule out structural abnormalities. A follow-up is scheduled after one year.
Here we report the baseline data of the enrolled 110 athletes aged 36-61 years. Their mean age was 48.8 ± 6.0 years, 24.5% were female, 8.2% had hypertension and 2.7% had hyperlipidaemia. Participants have attended a mean of 7.5 ± 6.6 marathon races within the last 5 years and a mean of 16 ± 36 marathon races in total. Their weekly running distance prior to the 38th BMW BERLIN-MARATHON was 65 ± 17 km. Finally, 108 (98.2%) Berlin Beat-Study participants successfully completed the 38th BMW BERLIN-MARATHON 2011.
Findings from the “Berlin Beats of Running” study will help to balance the benefits and risks of extensive endurance sport. ECG-recording during the marathon might contribute to identify athletes at risk for cardiovascular events. MRI results will give new insights into the link between physical stress and brain damage.
Trial registration NCT01428778
PMCID: PMC3458995  PMID: 22938148
Marathon running; ECG-recording; Magnetic resonance imaging; Blood sampling; Cardiac arrhythmia
11.  Water and sodium intake habits and status of ultra-endurance runners during a multi-stage ultra-marathon conducted in a hot ambient environment: an observational field based study 
Nutrition Journal  2013;12:13.
Anecdotal evidence suggests ultra-runners may not be consuming sufficient water through foods and fluids to maintenance euhydration, and present sub-optimal sodium intakes, throughout multi-stage ultra-marathon (MSUM) competitions in the heat. Subsequently, the aims were primarily to assess water and sodium intake habits of recreational ultra-runners during a five stage 225 km semi self-sufficient MSUM conducted in a hot ambient environment (Tmax range: 32°C to 40°C); simultaneously to monitor serum sodium concentration, and hydration status using multiple hydration assessment techniques.
Total daily, pre-stage, during running, and post-stage water and sodium ingestion of ultra-endurance runners (UER, n = 74) and control (CON, n = 12) through foods and fluids were recorded on Stages 1 to 4 by trained dietetic researchers using dietary recall interview technique, and analysed through dietary analysis software. Body mass (BM), hydration status, and serum sodium concentration were determined pre- and post-Stages 1 to 5.
Water (overall mean (SD): total daily 7.7 (1.5) L/day, during running 732 (183) ml/h) and sodium (total daily 3.9 (1.3) g/day, during running 270 (151) mg/L) ingestion did not differ between stages in UER (p < 0.001 vs. CON). Exercise-induced BM loss was 2.4 (1.2)% (p < 0.001). Pre- to post-stage BM gains were observed in 26% of UER along competition. Pre- and post-stage plasma osmolality remained within normal clinical reference range (280 to 303 mOsmol/kg) in the majority of UER (p > 0.05 vs. CON pre-stage). Asymptomatic hyponatraemia (<135 mmol/L) was evident pre- and post-stage in n = 8 UER, corresponding to 42% of sampled participants. Pre- and post-stage urine colour, urine osmolality and urine/plasma osmolality ratio increased (p < 0.001) as competition progressed in UER, with no change in CON. Plasma volume and extra-cellular water increased (p < 0.001) 22.8% and 9.2%, respectively, from pre-Stage 1 to 5 in UER, with no change in CON.
Water intake habits of ultra-runners during MSUM conducted in hot ambient conditions appear to be sufficient to maintain baseline euhydration levels. However, fluid over-consumption behaviours were evident along competition, irrespective of running speed and gender. Normonatraemia was observed in the majority of ultra-runners throughout MSUM, despite sodium ingestion under benchmark recommendations.
PMCID: PMC3554439  PMID: 23320854
Water; Drinking; Beverages; Total body water; Dehydration; Euhydration; Hyponatraemia; Carbohydrate
12.  Participation and performance trends in multistage ultramarathons—the ‘Marathon des Sables’ 2003–2012 
The purpose of this study was to investigate participation and performance changes in the multistage ultramarathon ‘Marathon des Sables’ from 2003 to 2012.
Participation and performance trends in the four- or six-stage running event covering approximately 250 km were analyzed with special emphasis on the nationality and age of the athletes. The relations between gender, age, and nationality of finishers and performance were investigated using regression analyses and analysis of variance.
Between 2003 and 2012, a number of 7,275 athletes with 938 women (12.9%) and 6,337 men (87.1%) finished the Marathon des Sables. The finisher rate in both women (r2 = 0.62) and men (r2 = 0.60) increased across years (p < 0.01). Men were significantly (p < 0.01) faster than women for overall finishers (5.9 ± 1.6 km·h−1 versus 5.1 ± 1.3 km·h−1) and for the top three finishers (12.2 ± 0.4 km·h−1 versus 8.3 ± 0.6 km·h−1). The gender difference in running speed of the top three athletes decreased (r2 = 0.72; p < 0.01) from 39.5% in 2003 to 24.1% in 2012 with a mean gender difference of 31.7 ± 2.0%. In men, Moroccans won nine of ten competitions, and one edition was won by a Jordanian athlete. In women, eight races were won by Europeans (France five, Luxembourg two, and Spain one, respectively), and two events were won by Moroccan runners.
The finisher rate in the Marathon des Sables increased this last decade. Men were significantly faster than women with a higher gender difference in performance compared to previous reports. Social or cultural inhibitions may determine the outcome in this event. Future studies need to investigate participation trends regarding nationalities and socioeconomic background, as well as the motivation to compete in ultramarathons.
PMCID: PMC3710135  PMID: 23849138
Ultramarathon; Performance trends; Nationality; Gender difference
13.  Runners in their forties dominate ultra-marathons from 50 to 3,100 miles 
Clinics  2014;69(3):203-211.
This study investigated performance trends and the age of peak running speed in ultra-marathons from 50 to 3,100 miles.
The running speed and age of the fastest competitors in 50-, 100-, 200-, 1,000- and 3,100-mile events held worldwide from 1971 to 2012 were analyzed using single- and multi-level regression analyses.
The number of events and competitors increased exponentially in 50- and 100-mile events. For the annual fastest runners, women improved in 50-mile events, but not men. In 100-mile events, both women and men improved their performance. In 1,000-mile events, men became slower. For the annual top ten runners, women improved in 50- and 100-mile events, whereas the performance of men remained unchanged in 50- and 3,100-mile events but improved in 100-mile events. The age of the annual fastest runners was approximately 35 years for both women and men in 50-mile events and approximately 35 years for women in 100-mile events. For men, the age of the annual fastest runners in 100-mile events was higher at 38 years. For the annual fastest runners of 1,000-mile events, the women were approximately 43 years of age, whereas for men, the age increased to 48 years of age. For the annual fastest runners of 3,100-mile events, the age in women decreased to 35 years and was approximately 39 years in men.
The running speed of the fastest competitors increased for both women and men in 100-mile events but only for women in 50-mile events. The age of peak running speed increased in men with increasing race distance to approximately 45 years in 1,000-mile events, whereas it decreased to approximately 39 years in 3,100-mile events. In women, the upper age of peak running speed increased to approximately 51 years in 3,100-mile events.
PMCID: PMC3935130  PMID: 24626948
Ultra-Marathon; Age of Peak Performance; Running Speed
14.  Alterations of Neuromuscular Function after the World's Most Challenging Mountain Ultra-Marathon 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(6):e65596.
We investigated the physiological consequences of the most challenging mountain ultra-marathon (MUM) in the world: a 330-km trail run with 24000 m of positive and negative elevation change. Neuromuscular fatigue (NMF) was assessed before (Pre-), during (Mid-) and after (Post-) the MUM in experienced ultra-marathon runners (n = 15; finish time  = 122.43 hours ±17.21 hours) and in Pre- and Post- in a control group with a similar level of sleep deprivation (n = 8). Blood markers of muscle inflammation and damage were analyzed at Pre- and Post-. Mean ± SD maximal voluntary contraction force declined significantly at Mid- (−13±17% and −10±16%, P<0.05 for knee extensor, KE, and plantar flexor muscles, PF, respectively), and further decreased at Post- (−24±13% and −26±19%, P<0.01) with alteration of the central activation ratio (−24±24% and −28±34% between Pre- and Post-, P<0.05) in runners whereas these parameters did not change in the control group. Peripheral NMF markers such as 100 Hz doublet (KE: −18±18% and PF: −20±15%, P<0.01) and peak twitch (KE: −33±12%, P<0.001 and PF: −19±14%, P<0.01) were also altered in runners but not in controls. Post-MUM blood concentrations of creatine kinase (3719±3045 Ul·1), lactate dehydrogenase (1145±511 UI·L−1), C-Reactive Protein (13.1±7.5 mg·L−1) and myoglobin (449.3±338.2 µg·L−1) were higher (P<0.001) than at Pre- in runners but not in controls. Our findings revealed less neuromuscular fatigue, muscle damage and inflammation than in shorter MUMs. In conclusion, paradoxically, such extreme exercise seems to induce a relative muscle preservation process due likely to a protective anticipatory pacing strategy during the first half of MUM and sleep deprivation in the second half.
PMCID: PMC3694082  PMID: 23840345
15.  An increased fluid intake leads to feet swelling in 100-km ultra-marathoners - an observational field study 
An association between fluid intake and changes in volumes of the upper and lower limb has been described in 100-km ultra-marathoners. The purpose of the present study was (i) to investigate the association between fluid intake and a potential development of peripheral oedemas leading to an increase of the feet volume in 100-km ultra-marathoners and (ii) to evaluate a possible association between the changes in plasma sodium concentration ([Na+]) and changes in feet volume.
In seventy-six 100-km ultra-marathoners, body mass, plasma [Na+], haematocrit and urine specific gravity were determined pre- and post-race. Fluid intake and the changes of volume of the feet were measured where the changes of volume of the feet were estimated using plethysmography.
Body mass decreased by 1.8 kg (2.4%) (p < 0.0001); plasma [Na+] increased by 1.2% (p < 0.0001). Haematocrit decreased (p = 0.0005). The volume of the feet remained unchanged (p > 0.05). Plasma volume and urine specific gravity increased (p < 0.0001). Fluid intake was positively related to the change in the volume of the feet (r = 0.54, p < 0.0001) and negatively to post-race plasma [Na+] (r = -0.28, p = 0.0142). Running speed was negatively related to both fluid intake (r = -0.33, p = 0.0036) and the change in feet volume (r = -0.23, p = 0.0236). The change in the volume of the feet was negatively related to the change in plasma [Na+] (r = -0.26, p = 0.0227). The change in body mass was negatively related to both post-race plasma [Na+] (r = -0.28, p = 0.0129) and running speed (r = -0.34, p = 0.0028).
An increase in feet volume after a 100-km ultra-marathon was due to an increased fluid intake.
PMCID: PMC3366912  PMID: 22472466
Fluid intake; Peripheral oedemas; Sodium; Hydrations status; Ultra-marathon
Biology of Sport  2014;31(2):125-131.
Ultra-endurance competitions are becoming increasingly popular but there is limited research on female participants. The purpose of this study was to examine changes in estrogen and the IGF-I system in women after an ultra-marathon. Six pairs of pre- and post- menopausal women were matched for race finish times;mean finish time was 20 hours. Blood samples were drawn 24 hours before the race, at the finish, and 24 hours into recovery. Samples were analysed for estradiol, total IGF-I, IGFBP-1, and intact IGFBP-3. There was a significant increase in estradiol following the race in both groups (P < 0.05). Total IGF-I decreased after the race (P < 0.01) and remained lower in recovery. IGFBP-1 increased after the race (P < 0.001) but returned to pre-race levels after 24 hours, while intact IGFBP-3 was significantly lower post-race and in recovery (P < 0.001). Postmenopausal women had significantly lower estradiol at baseline, but there were no other group differences. These results demonstrate that among recreational female runners, an ultra-marathon is associated with IGF system changes that are consistent with an energy-deficient, catabolic state. Further research is needed to confirm the effect of these endocrine changes on health and performance.
PMCID: PMC4042659  PMID: 24899777
ultra-endurance; exercise; IGF-I; IGFBP-1; IGFBP-3; estrogen
17.  Age group performances in 100 km and 100 miles ultra-marathons 
SpringerPlus  2014;3:331.
Improved performance has been reported for master runners (i.e. athletes older than 40 years) in both single marathons and single ultra-marathons. This study investigated performance trends of age group ultra-marathoners competing in all 100 km and 100 miles races held worldwide between 1971 and 2013. Changes in running speeds across years were investigated for the annual ten fastest 5-year age group finishers using linear, non-linear and multi-level regression analyses. In 100 km, running speed remained unchanged in women in 25–29 years, increased non-linearly in 30–34 to 55–59 years, and linearly in 60–64 years. In men, running speed increased non-linearly in 18–24 to 60–64 years and linearly in 65–69 to 75–79 years. In 100 miles, running speed increased in women linearly in 25–29 and 30–34 years, non-linearly in 35–39 to 45–49 years, and linearly in 50–54 and 55–59 years. For men, running speed increased linearly in 18–24 years, non-linearly in 25–29 to 45–49 years, and linearly in 50–54 to 65–69 years. Overall, the faster race times over the last 30 years are a result of all top ten finishers getting faster. These findings suggest that athletes in younger to middle age groups (i.e. 25–35 to 50–65 years depending upon sex and distance) have reached their limits due to a non-linear increase in running speed whereas runners in very young (i.e. younger than 25–35 years) and older age groups (i.e. older than 50–65 years) depending upon sex and distance might still improve their performance due to a linear increase in running speed.
PMCID: PMC4094760  PMID: 25032092
Running; Ultra-distance; Women; Men
18.  Changes in Running Speeds in a 100 KM Ultra-Marathon Race 
The purpose of this study was to determine if runners who completed a 100 km ultramarathon race in the fastest times changed their running speeds differently compared to those runners who ran an overall slower race. Times were taken from the race results of the 1995 100 km IAU World Challenge in Winschoten, Netherlands. Race times and 10 km split times were analyzed. Runners (n = 67) were divided into groups of ten with the last group consisting of seven runners. The mean running speed for each 10 km segment was calculated using each runner’s 10 km split times. Mean running speed was calculated using each runner’s race time. The first 10 km split time was normalized to 100, with all subsequent times adjusted accordingly. The mean running speed for each group at each 10 km split was then calculated. The faster runners started at a faster running speed, finished the race within 15 % of their starting speed, and maintained their starting speed for longer (approximately 50 km) before slowing. The slower runners showed a greater percentage decrease in their mean running speed, and were unable to maintain their initial pace for as long. It is concluded that the faster runners: 1) ran with fewer changes in speed, 2) started the race at a faster running speed than the slower runners, and 3) were able to maintain their initial speed for a longer distance before slowing.
Key PointsFaster runners in the 100 km race;ran with fewer changes in running speed compared to the slower runners;started the race at a faster running speed than the slower runners;were able to maintain their initial running speed for longer distances than slower runners.
PMCID: PMC3905299  PMID: 24482594
Pacing strategy; peak performance; ultra-endurance
19.  Participation and performance trends of East-African runners in Swiss half-marathons and marathons held between 2000 and 2010 
This study examined the changes in participation, performance and age of East African runners competing in half-marathons and marathons held in Switzerland between 2000 and 2010.
Race times, sex, age and origin of East African versus Non-African finishers of half-marathon and marathon finishers were analyzed.
Across time, the number of Kenyan and Ethiopian finishers remained stable (P > 0.05) while the number of Non-African finishers increased for both women and men in both half-marathons and marathons (P < 0.05). In half-marathons, the top ten African women (71 ± 1.4 min) and top three (62.3 ± 0.6 min) and top ten (62.8 ± 0.4 min) African men were faster than their Non-African counterparts (P < 0.05). In marathons, however, there was no difference in race times between the top three African men (130.0 ± 0.0 min) and women (151.7 ± 2.5 min) compared to Non-African men (129.0 ± 1.0 min) and women (150.7 ± 1.2 min) (P > 0.05). In half-marathons and marathons was no difference in age between the best Non-African and the best African runners (P > 0.05).
During the last decade in Switzerland, the participation of Kenyan and Ethiopian runners in half- and full- marathons remained stable. In marathons there was no difference in age and performance between the top African and the top Non-African runners. Regarding half-marathons, the top African runners were faster but not younger than the top Non-African runners. Future insight should be gained by comparing the present results with participation, performance and age trends for East African runners competing in marathons held in larger countries.
PMCID: PMC4175477  PMID: 24289794
Running; East African runners; Nationality; Aging; Gender; Marathon
20.  Metabolic responses to a 48-h ultra-marathon run in middle-aged male amateur runners 
European Journal of Applied Physiology  2013;113(11):2781-2793.
To evaluate ongoing metabolic changes during a 48-h competitive run and a 48-h recovery period, with focus on potential health risks exemplified by heart and skeletal muscle damage biomarkers and oxidative stress-related indices.
Blood samples were taken before the race, after 12, 24, and 48 h of running, and after 24 and 48 h of recovery from male amateur runners (N = 7, age 35–59 years, VO2max mean ± SD 57.0 ± 4.0 ml kg−1 min−1, total distance covered 183–320 km). The samples were analyzed for morphology, acid–base and electrolyte balance, iron status, lipid profile, interleukin-6, high-sensitivity C-reactive protein, N-terminal pro-brain-type natriuretic peptide, high-sensitivity cardiac troponin T, non-enzymatic antioxidants, activities of selected enzymes including antioxidant enzymes, and total antioxidant status.
The sustained ultra-endurance run caused hypocapnic alkalosis with slight hyperkalemia and hypocalcemia, but no hyponatremia. Blood biochemistry showed severe muscle but not liver damage, and an acute inflammatory response. These effects were evidenced by leukocytosis, several fold rises in interleukin-6 and high sensitivity C-reactive protein, extreme elevations in serum levels of muscle enzymes, and marked increases in cardiac biomarker levels. Most of the changes dissolved during the 48 h post-race recovery. Neither the iron pool, nor erythropoiesis, nor pro-oxidant/antioxidant balance were substantially affected.
The changes consequent on the ultra-endurance run do not pose a serious health risk in men who begin their endeavor with ultra-endurance running in mid-life. There is some circumstantial evidence that hyperventilatory hypocapnia may modulate inflammatory response by stimulating the release of interleukin-6 from working skeletal muscles.
PMCID: PMC3824198  PMID: 24002469
Ultra-marathon; Muscle damage; Inflammation; Interleukin-6; Cardiac biomarkers; Acid–base balance
21.  Neuromuscular Consequences of an Extreme Mountain Ultra-Marathon 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(2):e17059.
We investigated the physiological consequences of one of the most extreme exercises realized by humans in race conditions: a 166-km mountain ultra-marathon (MUM) with 9500 m of positive and negative elevation change. For this purpose, (i) the fatigue induced by the MUM and (ii) the recovery processes over two weeks were assessed. Evaluation of neuromuscular function (NMF) and blood markers of muscle damage and inflammation were performed before and immediately following (n = 22), and 2, 5, 9 and 16 days after the MUM (n = 11) in experienced ultra-marathon runners. Large maximal voluntary contraction decreases occurred after MUM (−35% [95% CI: −28 to −42%] and −39% [95% CI: −32 to −46%] for KE and PF, respectively), with alteration of maximal voluntary activation, mainly for KE (−19% [95% CI: −7 to −32%]). Significant modifications in markers of muscle damage and inflammation were observed after the MUM as suggested by the large changes in creatine kinase (from 144±94 to 13,633±12,626 UI L−1), myoglobin (from 32±22 to 1,432±1,209 µg L−1), and C-Reactive Protein (from <2.0 to 37.7±26.5 mg L−1). Moderate to large reductions in maximal compound muscle action potential amplitude, high-frequency doublet force, and low frequency fatigue (index of excitation-contraction coupling alteration) were also observed for both muscle groups. Sixteen days after MUM, NMF had returned to initial values, with most of the recovery process occurring within 9 days of the race. These findings suggest that the large alterations in NMF after an ultra-marathon race are multi-factorial, including failure of excitation-contraction coupling, which has never been described after prolonged running. It is also concluded that as early as two weeks after such an extreme running exercise, maximal force capacities have returned to baseline.
PMCID: PMC3043077  PMID: 21364944
The purpose of this study was to investigate if the risk of injury declines with increasing weekly running volume before a marathon race.
The study was a retrospective cohort study on marathon finishers. Following a marathon, participants completed a web‐based questionnaire. The outcome of interest was a self‐reported running‐related injury. The injury had to be severe enough to cause a reduction in distance, speed, duration or frequency of running for at least 14 days. Primary exposure was self‐reported average weekly volume of running before the marathon categorized into below 30 km/week, 30 to 60 km/week, and above 60 km/week.
A total of 68 of the 662 respondents sustained an injury. When adjusting for previous injury and previous marathons, the relative risk (RR) of suffering an injury rose by 2.02 [95% CI: 1.26; 3.24], p < 0.01, among runners with an average weekly training volume below 30 km/week compared with runners with an average weekly training volume of 30‐60 km/week. No significant differences were found between runners exceeding 60 km/week and runners running 30‐60 km/week (RR=1.13 [0.5;2.8], p=0.80).
Runners may be advised to run a minimum of 30 km/week before a marathon to reduce their risk of running‐related injury.
Level of Evidence:
PMCID: PMC3625790  PMID: 23593549
Running‐related injury; marathon; risk factors; running volume.
23.  Factors associated with menstrual dysfunction and self‐reported bone stress injuries in female runners in the ultra‐ and half‐marathons of the Two Oceans 
British Journal of Sports Medicine  2007;41(10):679-683.
To investigate factors associated with menstrual dysfunction, self‐reported bone stress injuries and energy balance in women runners.
613 runners were randomly sampled during the registration period for an endurance event. Demographic information, including self‐reported height and weight, training and injury history and menstrual history, was collected by questionnaire.
Ultra‐marathon (ULTRA) participants (n = 276) were significantly older (mean (SD) 39 (8.2) vs 34 (10.5) years; p<0.001), lighter (58.2 (6.6) vs 59.6 (8.3) kg; p<0.05) and reported a higher training volume (p<0.001) than half‐marathon (HALF) participants (n = 337). Significantly more ULTRA subjects than HALF subjects reported a previous bone stress injury (21% vs 14%; p<0.05). There was no difference between the groups for menstrual status, but age at menarche was later (p<0.01) in the ULTRA group. Data were combined according to the absence (REG; n = 368/602 (61%)) or presence (IRREG; n = 234/602 (39%)) of a history of menstrual irregularity. Subject morphology was similar between groups, but the IRREG group had a higher self‐reported measure on the self‐loathing subscale (SLSS; p<0.01). The whole group was then classified according to current menstrual status, with 165 women being classified as currently irregular. (OLIGO/AMEN; 11.6%) and 445 women as currently regular (EUMEN; 88.4%). There were no morphological differences between the groups, however the OLIGO/AMEN group had a later age of menarche (p<0.01) than the EUMEN group. Further, women who reported a previous bone stress injury had higher SLSS scores than those who did not (2.91 (0.98) vs 2.68 (0.84); p<0.05).
There may be two independent mechanisms associated with energy balance, which are related to bone stress injuries, but may not necessarily be related to menstrual dysfunction.
PMCID: PMC2465157  PMID: 17496067
female; athlete; menstrual dysfunction; bone; energy balance
24.  Effect of Ultra-marathon (308 km) Race on Bone Metabolism and Cartilage Damage Biomarkers 
To evaluate the potential effects of a 308-km ultra-marathon on bone and cartilage biomarkers.
Venous blood samples were collected at pre-race, 100 km, 200 km, and 308 km checkpoints. The following markers of cartilage damage and bone metabolism were studied: osteocalcin (OC), osteoprotegerin (OPG), and calcium, phosphorous, and cartilage oligomeric matrix protein (COMP).
Blood samples were taken from 20 male runners at four different checkpoints. Serum COMP was increased by 194.1% (130.7% at 100 km and 160.4% at 200 km). Serum OPG was significantly increased by 158.57% at 100 km and 114.1% at 200 km compared to the pre-race measures. OC was transiently suppressed at 200 km. Serum calcium and phosphorous concentrations decreased compared to the pre-race measures.
This study showed that the 308-km ultra-marathon induced several changes, including transient uncoupling of bone metabolism, increased bone resorption, suppressed bone formation, and bone turnover and had a major impact on cartilage structure.
PMCID: PMC3309329  PMID: 22506239
Ultra-marathon; Osteoprotegerin; COMP; Osteocalcin
25.  Acute metabolic responses to a 24-h ultra-marathon race in male amateur runners 
European Journal of Applied Physiology  2011;112(5):1679-1688.
The study was conducted to evaluate the metabolic responses to a 24 h ultra-endurance race in male runners. Paired venous and capillary blood samples from 14 athletes (mean age 43.0 ± 10.8 years, body weight 64.3 ± 7.2 kg, VO2max 57.8 ± 6.1 ml kg−1 min−1), taken 3 h before the run, after completing the marathon distance (42.195 km), after 12 h, and at the finish of the race, were analyzed for blood morphology, acid–base balance and electrolytes, lipid profile, interleukin-6 (IL-6), high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hsCRP), and serum enzyme activities. Mean distance covered during the race was 168.5 ± 23.1 km (range 125.2–218.5 km). Prolonged ultra-endurance exercise triggered immune and inflammatory responses, as evidenced by a twofold increase in total leukocyte count with neutrophils and monocytes as main contributors, nearly 30-fold increase in serum IL-6 and over 20-fold rise in hsCRP. A progressive exponential increase in mean creatine kinase activity up to the level 70-fold higher than the respective pre-race value, a several fold rise in serum activities of aspartate aminotransferase and alanine aminotransferase, and a fairly stable serum γ-glutamyl transferase level, were indicative of muscle, but not of liver damage. With duration of exercise, there was a progressive development of hyperventilation-induced hypocapnic alkalosis, and a marked alteration in substrate utilization towards fat oxidation to maintain blood glucose homeostasis. The results of this study may imply that progressive decline in partial CO2 pressure (hypocapnia) that develops during prolonged exercise may contribute to increased interleukin-6 production.
PMCID: PMC3324692  PMID: 21879351
Ultra-endurance exercise; Muscle damage; Inflammatory response; Interleukin-6

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