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.
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.
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.