Ultramarathons Cause Less Muscle Damage Than Shorter Races

This is getting more into physiology and outside my areas that I know a lot about, but I still found it interesting! I will start with the abstract:

Alterations of Neuromuscular Function after the World’s Most Challenging Mountain Ultra-Marathon
Jonas Saugy, Nicolas Place, Guillaume Y. Millet, Francis Degache, Federico Schena, Grégoire P. Millet
PLoS ONE 8(6): e65596. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0065596
We investigated the physiological consequences of the most challenging mountain ultra-marathon (MUM) in the world: a 330-km trail run with 24000 m of positive and negative elevation change. Neuromuscular fatigue (NMF) was assessed before (Pre-), during (Mid-) and after (Post-) the MUM in experienced ultra-marathon runners (n = 15; finish time = 122.43 hours ±17.21 hours) and in Pre- and Post- in a control group with a similar level of sleep deprivation (n = 8). Blood markers of muscle inflammation and damage were analyzed at Pre- and Post-. Mean ± SD maximal voluntary contraction force declined significantly at Mid- (−13±17% and −10±16%, P

The full text is available free online for those interested.

The is a real paradox. Ultramarathon’s are brutal on the body, but this research is showing less muscles damage than those in the reference group!

The author summarize the main findings as:

(i) the neuromuscular function was generally less altered and (ii) muscle damage and inflammation markers (e.g. CK, LDH, C-RP) were much lower. This suggests that the pacing strategy (i.e. slow pace from the beginning of the race) and sleep deprivation that result in very low-intensity concentric/eccentric contractions preserve the neuromuscular function despite the apparent extreme difficulty of this event.

They do suggest that the sleep deprivation in the later part of the race affected running speed, so may limit the muscle damage. As this is outside my area of expertise, I will refer you to the full paper for more rather than comment more.

Jonas Saugy (2013). Alterations of Neuromuscular Function after the World’s Most Challenging Mountain Ultra-Marathon PLOS One DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0065596

Last updated by .

3 Responses to Ultramarathons Cause Less Muscle Damage Than Shorter Races

  1. Andy July 2, 2013 at 12:58 am #

    It make sense when you know a bit more about the races – the TDS – Tor Des Gants is so difficult that completing it involves a fair amount of walking whereas the UTMB and WS being shorter are much more runnable.

    The more running – the more eccentric load and the more damage

    I actually dont think sleep dep has got much to do with it – the distance is simply too long and terrain too hard to run as much as you would in UTMB and WS at the same kind of pace.

    Despite the distance in UTMB and WS the speeds the winners run it at (21 hours and 15 hours) respectively are relatively quick – UTMB 5 hour marathon pace with 2500m of elevation and WS sub 4 hour marathon pace

    Whereas TDS is significantly slower

    • Craig Payne July 2, 2013 at 1:02 am #

      Thanks Andy! I was hoping someone who knows more about this than me would stop by and comment. I am out if my depth on this topic!

  2. Joe Warne November 9, 2013 at 1:17 pm #

    The running velocity is really important here I think. Nigg suggests that during running there is a MUCH higher amount of ligament and tendon forces during the propulsive period of stance than during the absorption phase. I think a lot of people think this would be the other way around. Since we also know that during faster running the touch down velocity will be higher, we can assume that both the eccentric and concentric forces on muscle will be much higher during the faster races (landing and push-off). During an Ultra event, these forces will be way below any excessive threshold due to lower speeds. Just a thought, I could be wrong here.

Leave a Reply