Researchers to Study How Running a Marathon Each Day for 4 ½ Months Affects Body and Mind

Coast-to-coast race will cover 3,080 Miles

Article ID: 628148

Released: 8-Jan-2015 6:00 PM EST

Source Newsroom: Loyola University Health System

Newswise — MAYWOOD, Il. – In the upcoming Race Across USA, ultra-endurance athletes will run a marathon a day as they cover 3,080 miles from California to Maryland.

The event will offer researchers a unique opportunity to study the physical and psychological effects of ultra-endurance running. Among those researchers is exercise physiologist and public health scientist Lara Dugas, PhD, MPH, of Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine. Dr. Dugas is part of a three-member research team that will study how the runners burn calories and how ultra-endurance running changes percent of body fat and muscle mass.

Other research teams will study effects such as biomechanical loading and injury, cardiovascular health, sleep patterns and sports psychology. Beginning Jan. 16th, 2015, an international team of 12 athletes will begin the 4 1/2 month Race Across USA. They will run the equivalent of 117 marathons, with only occasional days off. The goal is to raise awareness of childhood obesity.

“Race Across USA provides a great opportunity to study how extreme amounts of physical activity can change one’s physiology,” Dr. Dugas said. “This research can improve our understanding of how the human body adapts when it is exposed to extreme conditions.”

Dr. Dugas said runners will burn at least 6,000 to 7,000 calories per day, and likely will lose both body fat and muscle mass. “It will be very difficult for them to replace the calories they will be burning,” Dr. Dugas said.

Dr. Dugas is an assistant professor in the Department of Public Health Sciences of Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.

Dr. Dugas and her colleagues Cara Ocobock, PhD, of Grand Valley State University and Herman Pontzer, PhD, of Hunter College will use sophisticated techniques to measure energy expenditure, metabolic rate and other indicators. The study will address these questions:

Will runners adapt to ultra-endurance running over time? Will they become more economical and decrease total energy expenditure? Will they decrease their resting metabolic rate as their bodies adapt to limit total energy expenditure? How will runners’ diets change throughout the race?

How does terrain and climate affect running intensity and energy expenditure?

How will runners’ body composition change over time? How do gender and diet affect body composition changes?

The overall research project is being led by Bryce Carlson, PhD, of Purdue University, who also will be one of the runners.

“As a participant and research director for the Race Across USA, I’ve spent the past year assembling a team of experts in anthropology, human biology, physiology, sports medicine and sports psychology to study how the runners’ bodies and minds respond to the stress of running a marathon nearly every day for nearly five months,” Dr. Carlson wrote on his blog. “This will be a great opportunity for science and for the runners to learn more about how their own bodies respond to changes in diet, sleep, run/walk strategies, recovery aids, etc.”

For more information on Race Across USA, visit