I’m one of the 1,200 runners participating in the ultrarunner health study featured in NYT

One of the things I struggle with as a long distance runner, especially a female one, is the lack of scientific research that’s relevant to this particular population niche. Specifically, there aren’t a lot of health studies, and there are basically zero nutritional studies, for ultrarunners to draw on. It’s hard to take a scientific approach to something that just hasn’t been looked at. When I ask doctors sport-specific questions (“How much iron should I be getting?”), it’s often hard for them to come up with good answers.

That’s why, when I was asked to be a part of a long-term study focusing on ultrarunners, I jumped at the opportunity. I was as curious about the results as anyone, and what better way to get answers about this sort of stuff than to be part of the study?

The Ultrarunners Longitudinal Tracking (ULTRA) study is a long-term research project investigating the correlation between running really long distances and health. The New York Times just wrote an article on the initial findings. If you haven’t yet seen it, here’s the article, titled What Ultra-Marathons Do to Our Bodies. The full text of the study is here.

Here are a few of the findings I liked:

  • Runners in the study ran about 2,080 miles in the last year. I ran about 1,000 over the course of six months – I was injured in the first half of the year.
  • Runners in the study completed about 3 ultramarathons and 3 marathons or shorter in the past year. However, apparently one respondent ran 40 ultras – that’s just amazing. I ran 5 marathons in six months – no ultras in 2013.
  • Mean (median) age [of first ultra] was 36.9 (36) years (IQR, 30–43 years), average 7 years of running before first ultra. 
  • About one in 4 ultramarathon runners had 3 or less years of regular running experience experience before their first ultramarathon, and that number is decreasing.

Overall, pretty neat stuff. If you’re a runner, I definitely encourage you to take a look at the full study – some very interesting findings. And this is just the beginning!


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