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Researchers launch long-term study of these intense runners

By Robert Preidt

HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Jan. 8, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- As ultramarathons become more popular, researchers have launched a long-term study of the runners who participate in these extremely long races.

Keeping tabs on the runners' health and psychological makeup could help reduce their risk of injury and reveal ways to encourage other Americans to meet minimum levels of exercise, the researchers said.

An ultramarathon is defined as an event that's longer than the standard 26.2-mile marathon. Participation in ultramarathons in North America rose from 15,500 in 1998 to more than 63,500 in 2012, according to UltraRunning magazine.

Yet little is known about the health effects of this intense form of physical activity, the study authors said.

To learn more, they analyzed online questionnaires completed by more than 1,200 ultrarunners, who were asked about their training regimens, general health and running-related injuries during the previous 12 months. The investigators plan to follow this group of runners for 20 years.

It came as no surprise that ultrarunners are healthier than the average American, the researchers said. During the previous year, ultrarunners missed an average of two days of work or school due to illness or injury, compared with four days for people in the general population, according to the study, which was published Jan. 8 in the journal PLoS One.

Most of the ultrarunners' health care visits (64 percent) were for exercise-related injuries. More than three-quarters of ultrarunners had an exercise-related injury in the previous year, and 65 percent lost at least one training day to injury. Like all runners, most of the injuries suffered by ultrarunners involved the knees and other parts of the legs and feet, the study found.

Injuries were more common among younger, less experienced runners.

"It's a bit like drivers: Young drivers are at higher risk of car crashes than older people," study author Dr. Eswar Krishnan, a clinical epidemiologist and assistant professor of medicine at the Stanford University School of Medicine, said in a university news release. "Similarly, people who have recently started running are much more likely to suffer injuries than veteran ultramarathoners."

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