Taking part in a running research study at Loughborough University! (part 1 of 2)
Over the summer, I was lucky enough to have some time to participate in a running study at my old university, Loughborough University. Through my running club, a Facebook advert (see below) caught my eye asking for people to express an interest in being a participant in a study that was researching the effect of carbohydrate drink frequency on run performance. Therefore, the idea for the study was to conduct research on different feeding strategies to see what impact this would have on runners.
The research study premise
Given the high profile of Nike’s attempts to break the marathon 2 hour barrier earlier this year, I was keen to give this a go and find out more about the science behind running (I’m not an elite, but this is an elite research facility). I found out that I would need to travel to Loughborough four times.
Indeed, the whole research study was inspired by Nike’s breaking2 attempt. Typically, at race events, drinks stations are provided at 5km intervals, so that depending on race speed, runners are provided with drinks every 20-40 mins. In their breaking2 attempt, Nike had provided their runners with drinks at more frequent intervals. They were therefore able to take on less fluid with each drink.
So, the researchers wanted to investigate this idea further for themselves, considering how quickly the drink might empty from the stomach due to smaller volumes ingested, what impact smaller, more frequent amounts of carbohydrate drink would have on gastrointestinal problems such as bloatedness or discomfort, and whether this fuelling strategy would deliver more carbohydrate to the muscles to be used as fuel.
Initially, I would be required to undertake a couple of running tests in the first session, including a VO2 max test. This would then help them to work out my fitness levels and decide on what speed to make me run the three trial sessions.
Pre-running tests and briefing
When I arrived, Marianna greeted me, thankful for one of only a few participants they’d managed to secure at this point. She introduced me to her research partner, Kelsie, and Dr Mears, who was overseeing their PhD research. Before I even started running, there were questions to answer and sign my name against, confirming that I had been told about the purpose of the study, was fit and healthy etc.
I was then asked to give a urine sample. Now, this might not seem very glamorous, but boy did I find it exciting! I envisioned how Usain, or Mo, or other elite sportspeople would have been asked, in similar conditions, in the past, to provide samples. Sure, I wasn’t being asked for one to test for drugs, but the point was the same. These people are going to be testing my bodily fluids – how cool is that?!
Dr. Mears then explained to me the premise of the study in more detail and outlined his enthusiasm for this being the start of lots of research into fuelling strategies for longer distance running. I have to admit, I was pretty excited about participating in this research! At the time though, as I was listening to this, I could barely respond as I was having to breathe through a tube into a bag as they were measuring levels of carbon dioxide in my breathing. Apparently, they were then going to use this resting sample to compare with samples they were going to be taking during the trials to help them understand how my body was coping with the fuelling plans.
After they’d tested my breathing, I was weighed (naked) behind a curtain to protect my modesty and a sample of blood was taken from my arm, much like what happens when you give blood. However, they only needed a small sample, so once the vain was found and entered correctly, it didn’t take long. I also found out that I was going to have to do all my running with a cannula inserted in my arm. While this doesn’t sound like much fun, I barely noticed it after the first few minutes.
The running tests
Feeling good, it was then time to get the initial running tests done. The first test was an incremental test to volitional exhaustion. They started me off at a certain pace (10km/h I think) and then increased the pace by 1km/h every 4 minutes. At each interval, I was required to have a blood sample taken, before continuing. This continued up to the end of running at 16km/h, at which point the readings they were getting indicated that my blood lactate (BLa) concentrations had reached a Lactate Turning Point (LTP). Apparently, this is the point at which there is a steep increase in blood lactate concentrations. This usually shows the transition between tempo and threshold running.
The measurement of my VO2 max, I found out at the end of the entire study, was 59.1 ml/kg/min which is classed as very good. What the VO2 max measurement relates to is the maximum amount of oxygen that can be taken up and utilised by the body each minute. To put this in to some sort of context, Mo Farah’s VO2 max level is about 80 ml/kg/min according to Dr Mears. He also told me that it was likely that if I did the study again, knowing how I’d done this time, it was highly likely I would outperform the test a bit. I think he might be right!
After this test, I had a drink and a rest for about 10 minutes. The next test was to be run at a constant speed of 14km/h initially on a flat treadmill. After each minute, the incline was raised by 1%. I managed to hold on for 6 minutes, before I stopped. Fortunately, for safety reasons, I was wearing a harness so that if I slipped or stumbled, I wouldn’t end up plastered against the back wall in the research laboratory!
After I’d recovered from the tests, I had a good debrief with Marianna, Kelsie and Dr Mears. At length, they explained the expectation on me for future test sessions. I had to ensure I avoided foods with sugar in, or any products with corn in them too for the four days leading up to each session. I was to ensure I did a glycogen depletion run a couple of days prior to the test session and in the 24 hours prior to each test session, I had to eat the same foods as I had before the first one I was going to do next week. I also had to avoid a whole range of different foods.
I explain how I felt after the session and what it entailed on a video I recorded for my own benefit. Later on, I decided to post it and footage about the subsequent test sessions on YouTube. If videos appeal more than blog articles, you can see how I got on through my YouTube channel, seeking out the trial videos I have posted. Direct links to each video can also be found on the VIDEOS page of this website.
Have you ever taken part in a running-based research trial? How did you find it? Were the results and write up shared with you afterwards?
Next time – I write about how each research trial went!