PE 1262 Marathon Training is no normal class. It meets at 7:30 a.m. Sundays, students are encouraged to run five times a week and the data they log during training may help illuminate the physical effects of long-distance running.
The research could strain the widely held theory that athletes sacrifice explosive power and agility when they train for long-distance running and aerobic activity, said Dr. Stacy Ingraham, a kinesiology researcher who is heading up the research component of the class.
“The literature has definitely been skewed by some pretty poor data,” Ingraham said. “We’re just trying to quantify it in a different way.”
Even though valuable data may come from the students’ logs, the class is not a lab; it’s about teaching students to train for the marathon.
Chris Lundstrom, one of the instructors, said many students in the class have no scientific background and most had never run a marathon before. Many had no running background at all.
“There were some people, the first time they trained, who couldn’t even do a mile,” said Ben Kampf, a graduate student and teaching assistant for the class. “Now, tomorrow they’re going to do 10.”
By the end of the semester, they’ll be doing 26.2 miles — or risk failing. Completion of the Eau Claire Marathon accounts for 40 percent of the grade, Lundstrom said.
Along the way, a battery of tests will allow the professors and TAs to establish baseline fitness levels for each student in areas like the vertical jump, two-mile run, oxygen transport and body composition. At the end of the class, they’ll perform the same tests again and note any changes.
“They’re just as interested in all this stuff as we are,” said Chris Carroll, a graduate student who is gathering data from the class.
University senior Carly Volzer said the class structure and the physiological data will give her a structured way to train for the marathon.
“I think that actually assigning a number to these things is very helpful,” Volzer said.
Biology junior Kelsi Upmann, who has already completed a marathon, said the data are interesting, but she’s more concerned with simply training toward her time goals.
“I think it’s cool to know what my numbers are and everything,” Upmann said. “But it’s probably not going to consciously change my training program from what I was going to do originally, but I do like to see how it’s changing.”
The students find their baseline fitness levels with simple tests like the standing long-jump and a timed run. They also use more complex tests like the Bod Pod, an egg-shaped chamber that measures body fat.
Compared to a bathroom scale, that body composition readout paints a far better picture of overall health.
“By not having to focus just on that scale number, you can see what’s fat and what’s fat-free mass by looking at the compositional changes,” said Sarah Mork, a University kinesiology and Carlson School of Management triple-major who coordinates Bod Pod testing.
Many of the marathon- training students will lose fat and gain muscle, so weight alone wouldn’t reflect that significant and positive change.
Over the 12 weeks of the course last spring, the students lost an average of more than 2 percent body fat. In some, that number was as high as 5 percent, but as a class, weight changed little. Some even gained weight, mostly muscle, Carroll said.
“If you’re looking to lose weight, marathon training probably is not going to be the most effective vehicle,” Carroll said. “But if you look at it in terms of cardiovascularhealth and terms of lifelong health, it’s a huge deal.”
Volzer said learning her own body fat percentage may be motivating, but she’s training for the marathon for other reasons, namely, as a change of pace from traditional coursework.
“[Class] is so much sitting, reading a book, sitting, at a computer, sitting, sitting, sitting,” Volzer said. “I consider this [class] a gift to myself.”