Marathon Study: How 18-week Race Affects Body, Mind | Loyola Medicine
Friday, January 9, 2015

Marathon study to focus on how 18-week race affects body, mind

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

MAYWOOD, Ill. (January 9, 2015) – 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. 16, 2015, an international team of 12 athletes will begin the 18-week 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,” said Dr. Dugas, who 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, Mich., and Herman Pontzer, PhD, of Hunter College, N.Y., 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, Ind., 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."

Read more about Race Across USA.

About Loyola Medicine and Trinity Health

Loyola Medicine, a member of Trinity Health, is a quaternary care system based in the western suburbs of Chicago that includes Loyola University Medical Center (LUMC), Gottlieb Memorial Hospital, MacNeal Hospital and convenient locations offering primary and specialty care services from 1,877 physicians throughout Cook, Will and DuPage counties. LUMC is a 547-licensed-bed hospital in Maywood that includes the William G. and Mary A. Ryan Center for Heart & Vascular Medicine, the Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center, a Level 1 trauma center, Illinois's largest burn center, a certified comprehensive stroke center and a children’s hospital. Having delivered compassionate care for over 50 years, Loyola also trains the next generation of caregivers through its teaching affiliation with Loyola University Chicago’s Stritch School of Medicine and Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing. Gottlieb is a 247-licensed-bed community hospital in Melrose Park with 150 physician offices, an adult day care program, the Gottlieb Center for Fitness, the Loyola Center for Metabolic Surgery and Bariatric Care and the Loyola Cancer Care & Research at the Marjorie G. Weinberg Cancer Center at Melrose Park. MacNeal Hospital is a 374-bed teaching hospital in Berwyn with advanced inpatient and outpatient medical, surgical and psychiatric services, advanced diagnostics and treatments. MacNeal has a 12-bed acute rehabilitation unit, a 25-bed inpatient skilled nursing facility, and a 68-bed behavioral health program and community clinics. MacNeal has provided quality, patient-centered care to the near west suburbs since 1919.

Trinity Health is one of the largest multi-institutional Catholic healthcare systems in the nation, serving diverse communities that include more than 30 million people across 22 states. Trinity Health includes 94 hospitals, as well as 109 continuing care locations that include PACE programs, senior living facilities and home care and hospice services. Its continuing care programs provide nearly 2.5 million visits annually. Based in Livonia, Mich., and with annual operating revenues of $18.3 billion and assets of $26.2 billion, the organization returns $1.1 billion to its communities annually in the form of charity care and other community benefit programs. Trinity employs about 133,000 colleagues, including 7,800 employed physicians and clinicians. Committed to those who are poor and underserved in its communities, Trinity is known for its focus on the country's aging population. As a single, unified ministry, the organization is the innovator of Senior Emergency Departments, the largest not-for-profit provider of home health care services—ranked by number of visits—in the nation, as well as the nation’s leading provider of PACE (Program of All Inclusive Care for the Elderly) based on the number of available programs.