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1.  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
2.  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
3.  Evidence from neuroimaging to explore brain plasticity in humans during an ultra-endurance burden 
BMC Medicine  2012;10:171.
Physical activity, likely through induction of neuroplasticity, is a promising intervention to promote brain health. In athletes it is clear that training can and does, by physiological adaptations, extend the frontiers of performance capacity. The limits of our endurance capacity lie deeply in the human brain, determined by various personal factors yet to be explored. The human brain, with its vast neural connections and its potential for seemingly endless behaviors, constitutes one of the final frontiers of medicine. In a recent study published in BMC Medicine, the TransEurope FootRace Project followed 10 ultra-endurance runners over around 4,500 km across Europe and recorded a large data collection of brain imaging scans. This study indicates that the cerebral atrophy amounting to a reduction of approximately 6% throughout the two months of the race is reversed upon follow-up. While this study will contribute to advances in the limits of human performance on the neurophysiological processes in sports scientists, it will also bring important understanding to clinicians about cerebral atrophy in people who are vulnerable to physical and psychological stress long term.
See related research article
PMCID: PMC3566949  PMID: 23259535
cerebral atrophy; exercise behavior; fatigue; overload; plasticity; running
4.  Metabolic Factors Limiting Performance in Marathon Runners 
PLoS Computational Biology  2010;6(10):e1000960.
Each year in the past three decades has seen hundreds of thousands of runners register to run a major marathon. Of those who attempt to race over the marathon distance of 26 miles and 385 yards (42.195 kilometers), more than two-fifths experience severe and performance-limiting depletion of physiologic carbohydrate reserves (a phenomenon known as ‘hitting the wall’), and thousands drop out before reaching the finish lines (approximately 1–2% of those who start). Analyses of endurance physiology have often either used coarse approximations to suggest that human glycogen reserves are insufficient to fuel a marathon (making ‘hitting the wall’ seem inevitable), or implied that maximal glycogen loading is required in order to complete a marathon without ‘hitting the wall.’ The present computational study demonstrates that the energetic constraints on endurance runners are more subtle, and depend on several physiologic variables including the muscle mass distribution, liver and muscle glycogen densities, and running speed (exercise intensity as a fraction of aerobic capacity) of individual runners, in personalized but nevertheless quantifiable and predictable ways. The analytic approach presented here is used to estimate the distance at which runners will exhaust their glycogen stores as a function of running intensity. In so doing it also provides a basis for guidelines ensuring the safety and optimizing the performance of endurance runners, both by setting personally appropriate paces and by prescribing midrace fueling requirements for avoiding ‘the wall.’ The present analysis also sheds physiologically principled light on important standards in marathon running that until now have remained empirically defined: The qualifying times for the Boston Marathon.
Author Summary
Marathon running, historically perceived as testing the physiologic limits of human endurance, has become increasingly popular even among recreational runners. Of those runners who test their endurance by racing the marathon distance, however, more than two in five report ‘hitting the wall,’ the rapid onset of severe fatigue and inability to maintain a high-intensity pace, resulting from the near-complete depletion of carbohydrate stores in the leg muscles and liver. An apparent paradox of long-distance running is that even the leanest athletes store enough fat to power back-to-back marathons, yet small carbohydrate reservoirs can nevertheless catastrophically limit performance in endurance exercise. In this study I develop and validate a mathematical model that facilitates computation of personalized estimates of the distances at which runners will exhaust their carbohydrate stores while running at selected paces. In addition, I provide a systematic approach to estimating personalized maximum speeds at which runners can safely complete a marathon, based on accessible physiologic parameters such as heart rate and running speed. This analysis provides a quantitative basis for improving the safety and optimizing the performance of endurance runners, evaluating midrace fueling requirements, and estimating limits of performance in human endurance running, for elite and recreational runners alike.
PMCID: PMC2958805  PMID: 20975938
5.  The foot in multistage ultra-marathon runners: experience in a cohort study of 22 participants of the Trans Europe Footrace Project with mobile MRI 
BMJ Open  2012;2(3):e001118.
67 runners participated in the Trans Europe FootRace 2009 (TEFR09), a 4487 km (2789 mi) multistage ultra-marathon covering the south of Europe (Bari, Italy) to the North Cape. Reports on ultra-marathons are lacking, but the literature reports overuse injuries in athletes, especially to the Achilles tendon (AT), ankle or hind foot. Bone oedema may be related to exposure and is present in fatigue fractures. Therefore, the aim of this study was to determine prospectively if sustained maximal load during an ultra-marathon leads to damage to the foot.
Design and participants
In a cohort study, repeated scanning of the 22 athletes participating in the study was performed before and during (approximately every 1000 km) the race. Using the obtained fat saturated inversion recovery sequence, two experienced readers blinded to the clinical data rated the images regarding foot lesions. Statistical analysis included regression analysis and computation of the inter-rater reliability.
The TEFR09 course. MRI scanning was performed according to prearranged schedules for every participant, using a mobile 1.5 Tesla MRI unit on a trailer following the race.
Primary outcome measures
MRI data such as AT diameter, bone or tendon lesions, subcutaneous, plantar fascia or intraosseous oedema.
The 22 study participants did not differ significantly from the total of the 67 TEFR09 runners regarding height, weight and age. The AT diameter increased significantly from 6.8 to 7.8 mm as did intraosseous signal, bone lesions and subcutaneous oedema. However, finishers differed only regarding plantar aponeurosis and subcutaneous oedema from participants aborting the TEFR09. Inter-rater reliability was 0.88–0.98.
Under the extreme stress of the TEFR09, an increase of the AT diameter as well as bone signal are thought to be adaptive since only subcutaneous oedema and plantar fascia oedema were related to abortion of the race.
Trial registration number
University of Ulm, Germany Ethics Committee Number 78/08-UBB/se.
Article summary
Article focus
A study on effects of ultra-marathon running, in this case, the multistage Trans Europe FootRace covering a distance of 4487 km from Bari (Italy) to the North Cape.
Observational cohort study using MRI to look for possible lesions to the foot.
Key messages
During sustained maximal load, AT diameter and bone MRI short τ inversion recovery signal (hinting at subtle oedema) increases. This is thought to be adaptive.
Subcutaneous oedema and plantar fascia signal were related to abortion of the race. These measurements seem to be related to relevant changes leading to discontinuation of the run.
No relevant new foot joint or tendon lesions were detected during the race over 4487 km.
Strengths and limitations of this study
Repeated measurement prospectively during the run was possible only because of the mobile MRI unit used for this research project.
The number of included runners (22) is high compared with other MRI-based studies but may have been too small to detect less frequent lesions.
PMCID: PMC3364457  PMID: 22619270
6.  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
7.  Do older athletes reach limits in their performance during marathon running? 
Age  2011;34(3):773-781.
In the last decades, the participation of elderly trained people in endurance events such as marathon running has dramatically increased. Previous studies suggested that the performance of master runners (> 40 yrs) during marathon running has improved. The aims of the study were : (i) to analyze the changes in participation and performance trends of master marathon runners between 1980 and 2009 and, ii) to compare the gender differences in performance as a function of age across the years. Running times of the best male and female runners between 20 and 79 yrs of age who competed in the New-York City marathon were analyzed. Gender differences in performance times were analysed for the top 10 male and female runners between 20 and 65 yrs of age. The participation of master runners increased during the 1980–2009 period, to a greater extent for females compared to males. During that period, running times of master runners significantly (P<0.01) decreased for males older than 64 yrs and for females older than 44 yrs, respectively. Gender differences in running times decreased over the last 3 decades but remained relatively stable across the ages during the last decade. These data suggest that male (≥ 65 yrs) and female (≥ 45 yrs) master runners have probably not yet reached their limits in marathon performance. The relative stability of gender differences in marathon running times across the different age groups over the last decade also suggests that age-related declines in physiological function do not differ between male and female marathoners.
PMCID: PMC3337940  PMID: 21617894
Adult; Age Factors; Aged; Aging; physiology; Athletes; Exercise Tolerance; physiology; Female; Follow-Up Studies; Humans; Longevity; physiology; Male; Middle Aged; Physical Endurance; physiology; Physical Fitness; physiology; Retrospective Studies; Running; physiology; Sex Factors; Young Adult; Running; Aging; Master athletes; Endurance exercise; Gender differences
8.  Do older athletes reach limits in their performance during marathon running? 
Age  2011;34(3):773-781.
In the last decades, the participation of elderly trained people in endurance events such as marathon running has dramatically increased. Previous studies suggested that the performance of master runners (>40 years) during marathon running has improved. The aims of the study were (1) to analyze the changes in participation and performance trends of master marathon runners between 1980 and 2009, and (2) to compare the gender differences in performance as a function of age across the years. Running times of the best male and female runners between 20 and 79 years of age who competed in the New York City Marathon were analyzed. Gender differences in performance times were analyzed for the top 10 male and female runners between 20 and 65 years of age. The participation of master runners increased during the 1980–2009 period, to a greater extent for females compared to males. During that period, running times of master runners significantly (P < 0.01) decreased for males older than 64 years and for females older than 44 years, respectively. Gender differences in running times decreased over the last three decades but remained relatively stable across the ages during the last decade. These data suggest that male (≥65 years) and female (≥45 years) master runners have probably not yet reached their limits in marathon performance. The relative stability of gender differences in marathon running times across the different age groups over the last decade also suggests that age-related declines in physiological function do not differ between male and female marathoners.
PMCID: PMC3337940  PMID: 21617894
Running; Aging; Master athletes; Endurance exercise; Gender differences; Life Sciences; Molecular Medicine; Geriatrics/Gerontology; Cell Biology
9.  Performance and age of African and non-African runners in half- and full marathons held in Switzerland, 2000–2010 
Endurance running performance of African (AF) and non-African (NAF) athletes is investigated, with better performances seen for Africans. To date, no study has compared the age of peak performance between AF and NAF runners. The present research is an analysis of the age and running performance of top AF and NAF athletes, using the hypothesis that AF athletes were younger and faster than NAF athletes.
Age and performance of male and female AF and NAF athletes in half-marathons and marathons held in Switzerland in 2000–2010 were investigated using single and multilevel hierarchical regression analyses.
For half-marathons, male NAF runners were older than male AF runners (P = 0.02; NAF, 31.1 years ± 6.4 years versus AF, 26.2 years ± 4.9 years), and their running time was longer (P = 0.02; NAF, 65.3 minutes ± 1.7 minutes versus AF, 64.1 minutes ± 0.9 minutes). In marathons, differences between NAF and AF male runners in age (NAF, 33.0 years ± 4.8 years versus AF, 28.6 years ± 3.8 years; P < 0.01) and running time (NAF, 139.5 minutes ± 5.6 minutes versus AF, 133.3 minutes ± 2.7 minutes; P < 0.01) were more pronounced. There was no difference in age (NAF, 31.0 years ± 7.0 years versus AF, 26.7 years ± 6.0 years; P > 0.05) or running time (NAF, 75.0 minutes ± 3.7 minutes versus AF, 75.6 minutes ± 5.3 minutes; P > 0.05) between NAF and AF female half-marathoners. For marathoners, NAF women were older than AF female runners (P = 0.03; NAF, 31.6 years ± 4.8 years versus AF, 27.8 years ± 5.3 years), but their running times were similar (NAF, 162.4 minutes ± 7.2 minutes versus AF, 163.0 minutes ± 7.0 minutes; P > 0.05).
In Switzerland, the best AF male half-marathoners and marathoners were younger and faster than the NAF counterpart runners. In contrast to the results seen in men, AF and NAF female runners had similar performances. Future studies need to investigate performance and age of AF and NAF marathoners in the World Marathon Majors Series.
PMCID: PMC3871899  PMID: 24379724
endurance; running; ethnicity; road race; gender difference
10.  Heart Rate Recovery After Exercise and Neural Regulation of Heart Rate Variability in 30-40 Year Old Female Marathon Runners 
The aim of the present study was to examine the effects of endurance training on heart rate (HR) recovery after exercise and cardiac autonomic nervous system (ANS) modulation in female marathon runners by comparing with untrained controls. Six female marathon runners (M group) aged 32-40 years and eight age-matched untrained females (C group) performed a maximum-effort treadmill running exercise. Maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max) was measured during the exercise with a gas analyzer connected to subjects through a face mask. Heart rate, blood pressure and blood lactate were measured before and after the exercise. Rating of perceived exertion (RPE) to the exercise was obtained immediately after the exercise. Holter ECG was recorded and analyzed with power spectral analysis of heart rate variability (HRV) to investigate the cardiac ANS modulation. The M group had significantly higher VO2max, faster HR recovery after exercise, higher Mean RR, SDRR, HF power and lower LF/HF ratio at rest compared with the C group. The M group also presented greater percent decrease of blood pressure after exercise, although their blood pressure after exercise was higher than the C group. It is suggested that endurance training induced significant alterations in cardiac ANS modulation at rest and significant acceleration of HR recovery after exercise in female marathon runners. Faster HR recovery after exercise in the female marathon runners should result from their higher levels of HRV, higher aerobic capacity and exaggerated blood pressure response to exercise compared with untrained controls.
Key PointsThe effects of endurance training on HR recovery after exercise and cardiac ANS modulation were investigated in female marathon runners by comparing with untrained controls.Time and frequency domain analysis of HRV was used to investigate cardiac ANS modulation.As compared with untrained controls, the female marathon runners showed faster HR recovery after exercise, which should result from their higher levels of HRV, higher aerobic capacity and exaggerated blood pressure response to exercise.
PMCID: PMC3880089  PMID: 24431956
Heart rate recovery; heart rate variability; female marathon runner
11.  Kinematic Changes During a Marathon for Fast and Slow Runners 
The purpose of this study was to describe kinematic changes that occur during an actual marathon. We hypothesized that (1) certain running kinematic measures would change between kilometres 8 and 40 (miles 5 and 25) of a marathon and (2) fast runners would demonstrate smaller changes than slow runners. Subjects (n = 179) were selected according to finish time (Range = 2:20:47 to 5:30:10). Two high-speed cameras were used to measure sagittal-plane kinematics at kilometres 8 and 40 of the marathon. The dependent variables were stride length, contact time, peak knee flexion during support and swing, and peak hip flexion and extension during swing. Two-tailed paired t-tests were used to compare dependent variables between kilometres 8 and 40 for all subjects, and regression analyses were used to determine whether faster runners exhibited smaller changes (between miles 5 and 25) than slower runners. For all runners, every dependent variable changed significantly between kilometres 8 and 40 (p < 0.001). Stride length increased 1.3%, contact time increased 13.1%, peak knee flexion during support decreased 3.2%, and peak hip extension, knee flexion, and hip flexion during swing decreased 27.9%, increased 4.3%, and increased 7.4%, respectively (p < 0.001). Among these significant changes, all runners generally changed the same from kilometres 8 and 40 except that fast runners decreased peak knee flexion during support less than the slow runners (p < 0.002). We believe that these changes, for all runners (fast and slow), were due to fatigue. The fact that fast runners maintained knee flexion during support more consistently might be due to their condition on the race day. Strengthening of knee extensor muscles may facilitate increased knee flexion during support throughout a marathon.
Key points
Runners changed kinematics significantly from kilometres 8 to 40 (increased stride length, contact time, peak hip flexion during swing, and peak knee flexion during swing, and decreased running speed, stride frequency, peak knee flexion during support and peak hip extension during swing).
Fast runners demonstrated more peak knee flexion during support throughout a marathon.
Runners generally changed kinematics similarly (between kilometres 8 and 40) except that fast runners exhibited a more consistent peak knee flexion during support than slow runners.
Resistance training that would increase both muscular strength and endurance of knee extensors may increase peak knee flexion during support and help maintain it similar to the fast runners throughout a marathon.
PMCID: PMC3737836  PMID: 24137065
Fatigue; endurance; run; biomechanics; race
12.  Physiological alterations after a marathon in the first 90-year-old male finisher: case study 
SpringerPlus  2014;3:608.
Endurance performance decreases during ageing due to alterations in physiological characteristics, energy stores, and psychological factors. To investigate alterations in physiological characteristics and body composition of elderly master athletes in response to an extreme endurance event, we present the case of the first ninety-year-old official male marathon finisher.
Case description
Before and directly after the marathon, a treadmill incremental test, dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry, peripheral quantitative computed tomography, mechanography, and dynamometry measurements were conducted. The athlete finished the marathon in 6 h 48 min 55 s, which corresponds to an average competition speed of 6.19 km h-1.
Discussion and Evaluation
Before the marathon, was 31.5 ml min-1 kg-1 body mass and peak heart rate was 140 beats min-1. Total fat mass increased in the final preparation phase (+3.4%), while leg fat mass and leg lean mass were slightly reduced after the marathon (-3.7 and -1.6%, respectively). Countermovement jump (CMJ) peak power and peak velocity decreased after the marathon (-16.5 and -14.7%, respectively). Total impulse during CMJ and energy cost of running were not altered by the marathon. In the left leg, maximal voluntary ground reaction force (Fm1LH) and maximal isometric voluntary torque (MIVT) were impaired after the marathon (-12.2 and -14.5%, respectively).
Side differences in Fm1LH and MIVT could be attributed to the distinct non-symmetrical running pattern of the athlete. Similarities in alterations in leg composition and CMJ performance existed between the nonagenarian athlete and young marathon runners. In contrast, alterations in total body composition and m1LH performance were markedly different in the nonagenarian athlete when compared to his younger counterparts.
PMCID: PMC4210455  PMID: 25392780
Dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry; Peripheral quantitative computed tomography; Countermovement jump; Multiple one-legged hopping; Impulse
13.  Effects of High Intensity Training and Continuous Endurance Training on Aerobic Capacity and Body Composition in Recreationally Active Runners 
The aim of the study was to examine the effects of two different training programs (high-intensity-training vs. continuous endurance training) on aerobic power and body composition in recreationally active men and women and to test whether or not participants were able to complete a half marathon after the intervention period. Thirty-four recreational endurance runners were randomly assigned either to a Weekend-Group (WE, n = 17) or an After-Work- Group (AW, n = 17) for a 12 week-intervention period. WE weekly completed 2 h 30 min of continuous endurance running composed of 2 sessions on the weekend. In contrast, AW performed 4 30 min sessions of high intensity training and an additional 30 min endurance run weekly, always after work. During an exhaustive treadmill test aerobic power was measured and heart rate was continuously recorded. Body composition was assessed using bio-impedance. Following the intervention period all subjects took part in a half-marathon. AW significantly improved peak oxygen uptake (VO2 peak) from 36.8 ± 4.5 to 43.6 ± 6.5 [], velocity at lactate threshold (VLT) from 9.7 ± 2.2 to 11.7 ± 1.8 [km.h-1] and visceral fat from 5.6 ± 2.2 to 4.7 ± 1.9 In WE VO2 peak signifi-cantly increased from 38.8 ± 5.0 to 41.5 ± 6.0 [], VLT from 9.9 ± 1.3 to 11.2 ± 1.7 [km.h-1] and visceral fat was reduced from 5.7 ± 2.1 to 5.4 ± 1.9 (p < 0.01). Only the improvements of VO2 peak were significantly greater in AW compared with WE (pre/post group interaction: F=15.4, p = 0.01, η2 = 0.36). Both groups completed a half marathon with no significant differences in performance (p = 0.63). Short, intensive endurance training sessions of about 30 min are effective in improving aerobic fitness in recreationally active runners.
Key pointsContinuous endurance training and high intensity training lead to significant improvements of aerobic capacity and body compositionBoth training methods enable recreationally active runners to finish a half-marathonHigh intensity training is favorable to improve VO2 peak
PMCID: PMC3737930  PMID: 24149357
Aerobic power; lactate threshold; VO2 peak; endurance running; aerobic training
14.  The SPLASH/ICPC integrity marathon in Ibadan, Nigeria: incidence and management of injuries and marathon-related health problems 
The growing interest in marathon runners and marathons in Nigeria has not been reflected in reports of injuries and other health problems associated with these events. This study therefore outlines the incidence of injuries, marathon-related health problems and delivery of physiotherapy at the maiden and second editions of the Splash 105.5 FM/ICPC Integrity Marathon in Ibadan city, south-west Nigeria in 2009 and 2010.
Using a data entry sheet, demographics and information on running experience, past and present injuries and other health problems reported en route and at the finish line by the runners were documented. The prevalence of injuries and other health problems reported by previous and first-time runners were compared.
In both events, 16.3% and 17.2% of the runners respectively reported injuries with significant occurrence in first-time runners (p = 0.003 for 2009; p = 0.002 for 2010) mostly at the finish line. The reported injury type and site were muscle cramps and the thigh (39.7% and 76.4% respectively). Heat exhaustion was reported by 42.8% of runners in 2009 and 56.3% in 2010. Cryotherapy was mostly used in combination with other physiotherapy modalities in both years.
Most of the injuries and other health problems were reported by first-time marathon runners mainly at the finish line. The most reported site of injury was the thigh while muscle cramps and heat exhaustions were the most reported types of injuries and health problems. First-time marathon runners should be adequately informed of the predisposition to injury during marathons and adequate body conditioning should be emphasized. Ample preparation and effective involvement of the physiotherapy team is essential for management of injured runners en route and at the finish line in a marathon.
PMCID: PMC3674981  PMID: 24499546
Physiotherapy; Marathon; Injuries; Runners
15.  Pre- and postmarathon training habits of nonelite runners 
Despite the increasing popularity of marathons, little research has examined the training habits of nonelite marathon runners. Given that nonelite runners, particularly those with a competitive motive, have a higher risk for injury than experienced elite runners, it is important for physicians to understand the training program and features that might distinguish running performance and injury rates in this population.
We hypothesized that nonelite runners who qualify for the Boston Marathon (“qualifers”) would have higher running volumes, more running sessions per week, lower injury rates, and lower body mass index (BMI) than nonqualifying runners.
Study design:
A cross-sectional Web-based survey of runners (convenience sample) at 1 month (n = 50) and 6 months (n = 41) after participation in the 2008 Twin Cities Marathon (TCM) that acquired data on anthropometric measures, demographic data, finishing time, premarathon/current training program, and self-reported injury.
Thirteen of 50 initial survey respondents were classified as a “qualifier” based on their finishing time. Mean BMI was significantly lower in the qualifiers at 1 month (22.0 versus 23.9 kg/m2, P = 0.0267) but not 6 months postmarathon. There were no significant differences in training volume (running frequency, run length, or cross-training volume) or injury rates between qualifiers and nonqualifiers. Prior to the 2008 TCM, 54% of runners included cross-training in their exercise program, which increased significantly to 74% 1 month postmarathon (P = 0.0039) and 71% 6 months postmarathon (P = 0.0325). There was no association between cross-training and injury rates.
Nonelite marathon runners had a high degree of cross-training in their training program. Qualifiers for the Boston Marathon did not significantly differ in running frequency, run length, or cross-training volume compared with nonqualifiers. Whether changes in the training program at an individual level might facilitate a change in qualifying status remains to be determined.
PMCID: PMC3781877  PMID: 24198565
training; marathon; cross-training; BMI
16.  Higher Precision of Heart Rate Compared with VO2 to Predict Exercise Intensity in Endurance-Trained Runners 
The aim of the present study was to assess the precision of oxygen uptake with heart rate regression during track running in highly-trained runners. Twelve national and international level male long-distance road runners (age 30.7 ± 5.5 yrs, height 1.71 ± 0.04 m and mass 61.2 ± 5.8 kg) with a personal best on the half marathon of 62 min 37 s ± 1 min 22 s participated in the study. Each participant performed, in an all-weather synthetic track five, six min bouts at constant velocity with each bout at an increased running velocity. The starting velocity was 3.33 m·s-1 with a 0.56 m·s-1 increase on each subsequent bout. VO2 and heart rate were measured during the runs and blood lactate was assessed immediately after each run. Mean peak VO2 and mean peak heart rate were, respectively, 76.2 ± 9.7 mL·kg-1·min-1 and 181 ± 13 beats·min-1. The linearity of the regressions between heart rate, running velocity and VO2 were all very high (r > 0.99) with small standard errors of regression (i.e. Sy.x < 5% at the velocity associated with the 2 and 4 mmol·L-1 lactate thresholds). The strong relationships between heart rate, running velocity and VO2 found in this study show that, in highly trained runners, it is possible to have heart rate as an accurate indicator of energy demand and of the running speed. Therefore, in this subject cohort it may be unnecessary to use VO2 to track changes in the subjects’ running economy during training periods.
Key pointsHeart rate is used in the control of exercise intensity in endurance sports.However, few studies have quantified the precision of its relationship with oxygen uptake in highly trained runners.We evaluated twelve elite half-marathon runners during track running at various intensities and established three regressions: oxygen uptake / heart rate; heart rate / running velocity and oxygen uptake / running velocity.The three regressions presented, respectively, imprecision of 4,2%, 2,75% and 4,5% at the velocity associated with the 4 mmol·L-1 threshold.The results of the present study show that, in highly trained runners, it is possible to use heart rate as an accurate index of the external work rate during sub maximal running speeds.
PMCID: PMC3737894  PMID: 24149310
Running velocity; internal load; relationships; standard error
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.
18.  What are the Main Running-Related Musculoskeletal Injuries? 
Sports Medicine (Auckland, N.z.)  2012;42(10):891-905.
Musculoskeletal injuries occur frequently in runners and despite many studies about running injuries conducted over the past decades it is not clear in the literature what are the main running-related musculoskeletal injuries (RRMIs).
The aim of this study is to systematically review studies on the incidence and prevalence of the main specific RRMIs.
An electronic database search was conducted using EMBASE (1947 to October 2011), MEDLINE (1966 to October 2011), SPORTDiscus™ (1975 to October 2011), the Latin American and Caribbean Center on Health Sciences Information (LILACS) [1982 to October 2011] and the Scientific Electronic Library Online (SciELO) [1998 to October 2011] with no limits of date or language of publication. Articles that described the incidence or prevalence rates of RRMIs were considered eligible. Studies that reported only the type of injury, anatomical region or incomplete data that precluded interpretation of the incidence or prevalence rates of RRMIs were excluded. We extracted data regarding bibliometric characteristics, study design, description of the population of runners, RRMI definition, how the data of RRMIs were collected and the name of each RRMI with their rates of incidence or prevalence. Separate analysis for ultra-marathoners was performed. Among 2924 potentially eligible titles, eight studies (pooled n = 3500 runners) were considered eligible for the review. In general, the articles had moderate risk of bias and only one fulfilled less than half of the quality criteria established.
A total of 28 RRMIs were found and the main general RRMIs were medial tibial stress syndrome (incidence ranging from 13.6% to 20.0%; prevalence of 9.5%), Achilles tendinopathy (incidence ranging from 9.1% to 10.9%; prevalence ranging from 6.2% to 9.5%) and plantar fasciitis (incidence ranging from 4.5% to 10.0%; prevalence ranging from 5.2% to 17.5%). The main ultra-marathon RRMIs were Achilles tendinopathy (prevalence ranging from 2.0% to 18.5%) and patellofemoral syndrome (prevalence ranging from 7.4% to 15.6%).
This systematic review provides evidence that medial tibia stress syndrome, Achilles tendinopathy and plantar fasciitis were the main general RRMIs, while Achilles tendinopathy and patellofemoral syndrome were the most common RRMIs for runners who participated in ultra-marathon races.
PMCID: PMC4269925  PMID: 22827721
19.  Mean Platelet Volume (MPV) Predicts Middle Distance Running Performance 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(11):e112892.
Running economy and performance in middle distance running depend on several physiological factors, which include anthropometric variables, functional characteristics, training volume and intensity. Since little information is available about hematological predictors of middle distance running time, we investigated whether some hematological parameters may be associated with middle distance running performance in a large sample of recreational runners.
The study population consisted in 43 amateur runners (15 females, 28 males; median age 47 years), who successfully concluded a 21.1 km half-marathon at 75–85% of their maximal aerobic power (VO2max). Whole blood was collected 10 min before the run started and immediately thereafter, and hematological testing was completed within 2 hours after sample collection.
The values of lymphocytes and eosinophils exhibited a significant decrease compared to pre-run values, whereas those of mean corpuscular volume (MCV), platelets, mean platelet volume (MPV), white blood cells (WBCs), neutrophils and monocytes were significantly increased after the run. In univariate analysis, significant associations with running time were found for pre-run values of hematocrit, hemoglobin, mean corpuscular hemoglobin (MCH), red blood cell distribution width (RDW), MPV, reticulocyte hemoglobin concentration (RetCHR), and post-run values of MCH, RDW, MPV, monocytes and RetCHR. In multivariate analysis, in which running time was entered as dependent variable whereas age, sex, blood lactate, body mass index, VO2max, mean training regimen and the hematological parameters significantly associated with running performance in univariate analysis were entered as independent variables, only MPV values before and after the trial remained significantly associated with running time. After adjustment for platelet count, the MPV value before the run (p = 0.042), but not thereafter (p = 0.247), remained significantly associated with running performance.
The significant association between baseline MPV and running time suggest that hyperactive platelets may exert some pleiotropic effects on endurance performance.
PMCID: PMC4227876  PMID: 25386658
20.  Lack of Awareness of Fluid Needs Among Participants at a Midwest Marathon 
Sports Health  2011;3(5):451-454.
Marathon running has become popular, particularly among inexperienced runners.
Many marathoners are inexperienced and lack concern for potential complications of marathon running.
Study Design:
Cross-sectional survey.
In sum, 419 runners completed a survey on a variety of topics regarding training for a marathon and hydration strategies.
Overall, 211 females (38.3 ± 9.1 years old) and 208 males (41.6 ± 11.0 years old) participated. They trained for 6.8 ± 4.3 months and had run for 9.8 ± 9.1 years; 33.5% had no marathon experience and 16.9% had run 1 marathon. Of the injuries reported, 77.6% and 72.9% were minor musculoskeletal injuries during the current and previous running seasons, respectively. Of the 278 runners who had run a marathon, 54 (19.0%) had been treated in the medical tent, 31.5% of whom for dehydration. Furthermore, 54.9% and 64.3% of the survey participants were “not at all” concerned with musculoskeletal injury and hyponatremia, respectively. Also, 88.7% did not know their sweat rate; 67.8% did not weigh themselves; and 81.3% had no other method of hydration assessment. No significant correlations were found between concern for hyponatremia and age, sex, or experience.
Most participants were inexperienced, lacked concern for injury or hyponatremia, and were not using methods of hydration assessment.
PMCID: PMC3445216  PMID: 23016042
marathon; hydration; running; injury
21.  Physiological factors associated with low bone mineral density in female endurance runners 
Objective: To explore potential factors that could be associated with low bone mineral density (BMD) in female endurance runners.
Methods: Fifty two female endurance runners (1500 m to marathon), aged 18–44 years, took part. Body fat percentage, lumbar spine BMD, and femoral neck BMD were measured using the Hologic QDR 4500w bone densitometer. Data on training, menstrual cycle status, osteoporosis, and health related factors were obtained by questionnaire. Dietary variables were assessed from a prospective seven day dietary record of macronutrients and micronutrients.
Results: The mean (SD) lumbar spine and femoral neck BMD were 1.11 (0.11) and 0.89 (0.12) g/cm2 respectively. A backward elimination regression analysis showed that age, body mass, body fat, distance run, magnesium, and zinc intake were the variables significantly associated with BMD. Lumbar spine BMD (g/cm2) = -1.90 + (0.0486 x age (years)) + (0.342 x log mass (kg)) - (0.000861 x age2 (years)) - (0.00128 x distance (km/week)), with an R2 = 30.1% (SEE = 0.089 (95% confidence interval (CI) 0.05 to 0.23); p<0.001). Femoral neck BMD (g/cm2) = -2.51 - (0.00989 x age (years)) + (0.720 x log mass (kg)) + (0.000951 x magnesium (mg/day)) -(0.0289 x zinc (mg/day)) - (0.00821 x body fat (%)) - (0.00226 x distance (km/week)), with an R2 = 50.2% (SEE = 0.100 (95% CI 0.06 to 0.22); p<0.001). The negative association between skeletal BMD and distance run suggested that participants who ran longer distances had a lower BMD of the lumbar spine and femoral neck. Further, the results indicated a positive association between body mass and BMD, and a negative association between body fat and BMD.
Conclusions: The results suggest a negative association between endurance running distance and lumbar spine and femoral neck BMD, with a positive association between body mass and femoral neck and lumbar spine BMD. However, longitudinal studies are required to assess directly the effect of endurance running and body mass on BMD, and to see if the addition of alternative exercise that would increase lean body mass would have a positive effect on BMD and therefore help to prevent osteoporosis.
PMCID: PMC1724580  PMID: 12547747
22.  Age, sex and (the) race: gender and geriatrics in the ultra-endurance age 
Ultra-endurance challenges were once the stuff of legend isolated to the daring few who were driven to take on some of the greatest physical endurance challenges on the planet. With a growing fascination for major physical challenges during the nineteenth century, the end of the Victorian era witnessed probably the greatest ultra-endurance race of all time; Scott and Amundsen’s ill-fated race to the South Pole. Ultra-endurance races continued through the twentieth century; however, these events were isolated to the elite few. In the twenty-first century, mass participation ultra-endurance races have grown in popularity. Endurance races once believed to be at the limit of human durability, i.e. marathon running, are now viewed as middle-distance races with the accolade of true endurance going to those willing to travel significantly further in a single effort or over multiple days. The recent series of papers in Extreme Physiology & Medicine highlights the burgeoning research data from mass participation ultra-endurance events. In support of a true ‘mass participation’ ethos Knetchtle et al. reported age-related changes in Triple and Deca Iron-ultra-triathlon with an upper age of 69 years! Unlike their shorter siblings, the ultra-endurance races appear to present larger gender differences in the region of 20% to 30% across distance and modality. It would appear that these gender differences remain for multi-day events including the ‘Marathon des Sables’; however, this gap may be narrower in some events, particularly those that require less load bearing (i.e. swimming and cycling), as evidenced from the ‘Ultraman Hawaii’ and ‘Swiss Cycling Marathon’, and shorter (a term I used advisedly!) distances including the Ironman Triathlon where differences are similar to those of sprint and endurance distances i.e. c. 10%. The theme running through this series of papers is a continual rise in participation to the point where major events now require selection races to remain within reasonable limits. With the combination of distance and environment placing a significant physiological bordering on pathophysiological burden on the participants of such events, one question remains: Are we destined for another Scott vs. Amundsen? How long is too long?
PMCID: PMC3877880  PMID: 24380378
Ultra-endurance; Extreme conditions; Ultra-marathon; Performance trends; Sport; Gender differences
23.  The GRONORUN study: is a graded training program for novice runners effective in preventing running related injuries? Design of a Randomized Controlled Trial 
Running is a popular form of recreational exercise. Beside the positive effects of running on health and fitness, the risk of a running related injury has to be considered. The incidence of injuries in runners is high and varies from 30–79%. However, few intervention studies on prevention of running related injuries have been performed and none of these studies involved novice runners.
GRONORUN (Groningen Novice Running) is a two armed randomized controlled trial, comparing the effects of two different training programs for novice runners on the incidence of running related injuries. Participants are novice runners, who want to train for a four mile running event. The control group will train according a standard 8 week training program. The intervention group will use a more gradual, 13 week training program which is based on "the ten percent training rule". During the thirteen week follow up participants register information on running and RRI's in an internet based running log. The primary outcome measure is RRI. An injury is defined as a musculoskeletal ailment of the lower extremity or back, causing a restriction of running for at least one week.
The GRONORUN trial is the first randomized controlled trial to study a preventive intervention in novice runners. Many different training programs for novice runners are offered, but none are evidence based.
PMCID: PMC1821023  PMID: 17331264
24.  Cardiac Output and Performance during a Marathon Race in Middle-Aged Recreational Runners 
The Scientific World Journal  2012;2012:810859.
Purpose. Despite the increasing popularity of marathon running, there are no data on the responses of stroke volume (SV) and cardiac output (CO) to exercise in this context. We sought to establish whether marathon performance is associated with the ability to sustain high fractional use of maximal SV and CO (i.e, cardiac endurance) and/or CO, per meter (i.e., cardiac cost). Methods. We measured the SV, heart rate (HR), CO, and running speed of 14 recreational runners in an incremental, maximal laboratory test and then during a real marathon race (mean performance: 3 hr 30 min ± 45 min). Results. Our data revealed that HR, SV and CO were all in a high but submaximal steady state during the marathon (87.0 ± 1.6%, 77.2 ± 2.6%, and 68.7 ± 2.8% of maximal values, respectively). Marathon performance was inversely correlated with an upward drift in the CO/speed ratio (mL of CO × m−1) (r = −0.65, P < 0.01) and positively correlated with the runner's ability to complete the race at a high percentage of the speed at maximal SV (r = 0.83, P < 0.0002). Conclusion. Our results showed that marathon performance is inversely correlated with cardiac cost and positively correlated with cardiac endurance. The CO response could be a benchmark for race performance in recreational marathon runners.
PMCID: PMC3356747  PMID: 22645458
25.  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

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