Ultraendurance exercise is steadily growing in popularity; however, the effect of increasingly prolonged durations of exercise on the vascular endothelium is unknown. The aim of this study was to characterize the effect of various ultramarathon running distances on vascular form and function.
We evaluated vascular endothelial function via flow-mediated dilation (FMD) in the superficial femoral artery, as well as microvascular function, inflammatory factors, and central artery stiffness, before and after participants completed 25-km (7M:2F), 50-km (11M:10F), 80-km (9M:4F), or 160-km (9M:2F) trail races all run on the same day and course.
Completion required 149 ± 20, 386 ± 111, 704 ± 130, and 1470 ± 235 min, with corresponding average paces of 6.0 ± 0.8, 7.7 ± 2.2, 8.6 ± 1.3, and 9.6 ± 1.3 min·km−1, respectively. At baseline, there were no differences in participant characteristics across race distance groups. Shear rate stimulus trended toward an increase after the race (P = 0.07), but resting postrace artery diameter (P < 0.001) was elevated to a similar extent in all conditions. There was a reduction in FMD after the 50-km race (Δ −1.9% ± 2.2%, P < 0.01), but not the 25-km (Δ +0.3% ± 2.9%, P = 0.8), the 80-km (Δ −1.5% ± 3.2%, P = 0.1), or the 160-km (Δ +0.5% ± 2.5%, P = 0.5) race. Inflammatory markers increased most after 160 km, but arterial stiffness and microvascular function were not differently affected by race distance.
Although the superficial femoral artery baseline diameter was larger postexercise regardless of race distance, only the 50-km race reduced FMD, whereas a short-duration higher-intensity race (25 km) and longer-duration lower-intensity races (160 km) did not. Therefore, a 50-km ultramarathon may represent the intersection between higher-intensity exercise over a prolonged duration, causing reduced endothelial function not seen in shorter or longer distances.