Those of us who feel accomplished after jogging a 5K may wonder what drives more serious runners – marathoners, and even ultramarathoners, who run races longer than 26.2 miles. A pair of physicians believes that learning more about these extreme athletes could benefit the rest of us.
Eswar Krishnan, MD, an assistant professor of medicine at Stanford, and Martin Hoffman, MD, of UC Davis, plan to collect data on 1,200 ultrarunners for the next 20 years. They launched the Ultrarunners Longitudinal Tracking Study with a web-based questionnaire in November 2011, and baseline findings of the study were published online today in PLOS ONE.
In a news release, Krishnan explains the value of studying extreme exercise:
“It will help us to understand how much exercise is optimal, how much recreational activity is appropriate and beneficial, and if there is a reason not to push your body beyond a certain point,” he said.
Initial results show, not unexpectedly, that ultrarunners are healthier than the overall U.S. population. Most of their visits to health-care professionals were for exercise-related injuries, which were more common in younger, less-experienced runners. Injuries were mainly to the knees and lower extremities. Notably, ultrarunners reported a lower incidence of stress fractures than other runners, but stress fractures were more common in the foot, perhaps due to running on uneven terrain. These runners also had higher-than-average rates of asthma and allergies, possibly because they spend so much time outdoors.
Identifying what inspires ultrarunners may have broader applications:
The psychological profiles of ultrarunners are of particular interest to the researchers and will be a focus of the upcoming questionnaire. Krishnan and Hoffman are collaborating with several sports psychologists to study what drives these runners to such an extreme level of competition. “Understanding what motivates ultrarunners could be useful for encouraging others to meet minimum levels of exercise to enhance health,” Hoffman said.