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Cardiovascular Research Studying Runners Launches at Pittsburgh Marathon

PITTSBURGH, May 4 – Feet, muscles and bones take a tremendous pounding from hundreds of miles of training and then racing in a marathon such as Sunday’s Dick’s Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon, but little is known about how the heart reacts.

This weekend, the University of Pittsburgh Department of Emergency Medicine will inaugurate a year-long research study into the cardiovascular stress that athletes experience from a long-endurance event—particularly, the 26.2-mile marathon.

To that end, Pitt researchers will place heart monitors on 10 volunteer participants before, during and the day after this Sunday’s race, and also will draw a blood sample immediately following the race. The study participants, who cut across age ranges and competitive abilities, wear monitors that display results similar to a stress test – and the findings can be compared against training journals kept by participants for 10 to 12 weeks.

“Much of the training for a marathon is, in fact, conditioning of the heart for this event,” said Clifton Callaway, MD, PhD, professor of emergency medicine. “Despite this, there are very few studies about heart activity during actual races, and even fewer about the recovery over the day after a race.  Moreover, many previous studies have focused on elite runners who may not be representative of the large numbers of amateur runners who now participate in these races.”

Drs. Callaway and Dave Hostler, PhD, associate professor of emergency medicine, are the principal investigators of the research project. They seek to expand the study to other major marathons around the United States.
Working the Pittsburgh race will be a team of four volunteers, directed by Vanessa Franco, PhD, and an MD candidate aiming to complete her Pitt School of Medicine education in December. Franco is a marathoner who in April finished the prestigious Boston Marathon, a race where unseasonably warm temperatures caused 2,041 runners—or roughly one of every nine participants—to seek medical attention.
The Department of Emergency Medicine is providing the financial support for the research without any external funding.

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