However, compared to what waits the 14 runners starting The Sri Chinmoy Self-Transcendence 3100 Mile Race on Sunday, my longer back-to-back runs seem like sprint distances. For those of you who have not heard about this almost 5000 kilometer long race I can strongly recommend the book “Running Beyond the Marathon: insights into the longest footrace in the world” by Grahak Cunningham. The runners are given 18 hours a day between 6:00 am to midnight, seven days a week, for 51 days to complete 5649 laps around an 883 meter block in Queens, New York. They need to run a minimum of 60 miles (96 km) a day to complete the distance. Grahak’s book is a really great and fascinating account of both the physical and mental struggles to complete this race and it is really inspirational. It also gives good practical tips about blisters, chaffing and other ailments that will be experienced at magnitude at such an extreme ultra event like this. To me, what is really fascinating about this race is that it really shows what the human body and mind is capable of. Interestingly, there are not many runners not finishing the race and those who are forced to a DNF appear quite often to be suffering from issues with infected blisters.
However, in line with the histories of runners in Grahak’s book on the Self-Transcendence 3100 Mile Race it appears not to be primarily the negative energy balance which limits the endurance performance for these long races, even though that it partly determines the possible running pace during these herculean runs. I have previously mentioned the findings from the 4487 km long Trans Europe Foot Race 2009 (TEFR 2009) for instance in a blog post about the effects caused by this race in the 44 participants on the brain and the pain perception and personality traits of the runners. This race has now been described in a number of fascinating scientific articles and confirm that most runners complete the race despite the massive negative energy balance that they lost more than half of their adipose soft tissue and even lean tissue volume decreased (mainly skeletal muscle tissue). For further reading I can recommend the articles listed below, most of them actually freely available through Pubmed. I certainly think we will learn much more about human physiology from studies of longer races like this in the future.
· Schütz et al “The TransEurope FootRace Project: longitudinal data acquisition in a cluster randomized mobile MRI observational cohort study on 44 endurance runners at a 64-stage 4,486 km transcontinental ultramarathon” BMC Med 2012 10:78
· Freund et al “Substantial and reversible brain gray matter reduction but no acute brain lesions in ultramarathon runners: experience from the TransEurope-FootRace Project” BMC Med 2012; 10:170.
· Freund et al “Ultra-marathon runners are different: investigations into pain tolerance and personality traits of participants of the TransEurope FootRace 2009” Pain Pract 2013; 13: 524-32
· Schütz et al “Characteristics, changes and influence of body composition during a 4486 km transcontinental ultramarathon: results from the TransEurope FootRace mobile whole body MRI-project” BMC Med 2013; 11: 122
· Freund et al “Regionally accentuated reversible brain grey matter reduction in ultra marathon runners detected by voxel-based morphometry” BMC Sports Sci Med Rehabil. 2014; 6:4