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Runners In Toughest MUM Suffer Less Muscle Damage, Inflammation

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As paradoxical as it may seem, runners completing what is considered the most challenging mountain ultra-marathon (MUM) in the world experience less neuromuscular fatigue, muscle damage and inflammation compared to participants in shorter MUMs. This is the conclusion drawn by a research team led by a trio of sports science specialists from the University of Lausanne in Switzerland.

The MUM in question is the Alpine endurance trail known as Tor des Geants. It stretches over 330km, comprising 24,000m of elevation changes. Participants are allotted 150 hours to complete the race. Jonas Saugy, lead author of the report published in the PLOS ONE online journal, said that this was not the first study to examine the acute physiological consequences of MUMs. However, none of the previous studies had looked at what happens in events longer than 50 hours. They had never examined the impact of sleep deprivation, which becomes a very important factor in MUMs lasting for over 100 hours, Saugy noted.

The Swiss-led assessment involved 25 male runners in the 2011 Tor de Geants. They were tested before, during and after the race. All subjects were experienced ultra-marathon runners. Their results were compared against those for a control group made up of investigators. Apart from age and experience, the two groups were similar in other respects and their level of sleep deprivation was the same.

When the results were analysed, the researchers found that Tor de Geants participants experienced less neuromuscular fatigue, muscle damage and inflammation than runners in shorter MUMs. The report suggests that protective pacing strategies in the first half and sleep deprivation during the second half of the race seem to set in motion a relative muscle preservation process.