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Weber State teams with marathon runners to study effects of primarily downhill race

By Rob Nielsen - | May 23, 2024

BRIAN WOLFER, Special to the Standard-Examiner

A view of the Ogden Marathon finish line at Grant Avenue and 25th Street on Saturday, May 18, 2024, in Ogden.

OGDEN — The 2024 Ogden Marathon is over. But for some, the race was only the beginning of the fun.

At Weber State University, one professor’s long-sought study of the effects of the marathon on runners was finally able to commence.

Saori Hanaki, associate professor and program director of sports science at WSU, told the Standard-Examiner she’s no stranger to long-distance running.

“This is my seventh year in Ogden working at Weber State,” she said. “I have been a runner. I, myself, have run many marathons in the past.”

She said it was while running in Ogden’s event that she noticed a quirk in the marathon that isn’t shared by many similar races.

“I looked at the course, because I’m curious,” she said. “It’s a very downhill-dominant marathon, which is pretty unique. I have run marathons in different states, but I have never run a marathon this downhill dominant. It turned out there are some other downhill-heavy marathons in Utah, I guess, because a lot of the cities are on the Wasatch Front.”

Hanaki said this presented an interesting question to tackle.

“I wanted to see what the effect of the downhill was,” she said. “My personal experience tells me that the more downhill you do, the more sore you get because it’s a little more taxing to the body. I just wanted to quantify it. I’m an exercise scientist and my area of expertise is in biomechanics, which is analysis of body movement. … Previous research has shown that the movement pattern changes just simply from running long-distance, whether it’s flat or not. But then I thought, ‘The downhill is more taxing to the body.’ So I thought that effect is going to be different from the regular, flat marathon, so-to-speak.”

Hanaki had reached out to the GOAL Foundation, which operates the Ogden Marathon, about running a small-scale test on runners during the 2020 marathon. However, the COVID-19 pandemic forced organizers to cancel the race that year.

This year ended up being Hanaki’s opportunity to conduct a study, this time in tandem with the WSU Nutrition Science Department to study biomechanics and biochemical factors.

Hanaki said 26 marathon runners participated fully in the study, which included a survey; recording of diet before, during and after the marathon; testing of blood and urine samples; skin tests; and knee strength tests. Tests were administered on marathon day and the following Monday.

She said it will be some time before the the study’s findings are fully compiled and disseminated.

“We will likely see the spectrum of some individuals perform well, didn’t have as much of the muscle damage, recovered quicker and didn’t have as much pain after the marathon,” she said. “Then we can look at the difference between those individuals that performed better and recovered better versus those who did not quite do as well. Comparing those types of individuals, we can probably suggest, ‘Here, these people did these things and maybe this nutrition consuming has helped. Or maybe doing this kind of training might have helped them to perform better and recover quicker.'”

Hanaki said there is potential for studies with future marathons, but it is still undecided whether that will materialize in the coming years.

“If the interest is there and the GOAL Foundation is up to still continue to collaborate, then we would like to do some maybe smaller-scale (testing),” she said. “Marathon runners turned out to be a really awesome study subject. They were responsive, they followed the instructions and it was one of the easiest human-subject research (projects) I have done, actually.”


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