The Science Behind BLAZE: The Niagara Escarpment Race

Mark Tarnopolsky, MD. PhD, FRCP(C),
Professor of Pediatrics and Medicine,
McMaster University Medical Center,
Hamilton, Ontario, CANADA.

For a more detailed explanation see BLAZE-ScientificBackground.pdf (92KB)

Background: The race will test the mental and physical endurance of 20 elite male and female endurance athletes competing in a continuous relay over the length of the Niagara Escarpment UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve (894 km). This event provides a unique opportunity to complete a scientific study on the “real life” stresses of competing in the field including factors that cannot be recreated in the laboratory setting; elevation gain, rocky terrain, trips and falls, cuts and bruises, environmental changes (heat, rain, humidity), and the difficulties of transporting all food and fuel during the run.

Methods: All 20 athletes will record training and diet for 2 months prior to the race and will visit the Corkins/Lammert Neuromuscular and Mitochondrial Disease Clinic at McMaster University Medical Center to complete a VO2maxtest on a treadmill, a DEXA scan for body composition assessment, and leg strength assessment. In addition, subjects will perform a maximal oxygen uptake test (VO2max) test on a treadmill in the McMaster High Performance Laboratory located in the David Braley Athletic Centre*. We will be taking blood samples on the morning of the start and upon finishing the race for analysis of muscle damage (CK activity) and blood counts (hemoglobin, white blood cell counts and type). Urine will also be collected to determine oxidative stress (free radical damage). During the run we will collect diet records, heart rate, mood scales, and scales to indicate the perception of overall muscle pain and fatigue.

Results That We Will Be Evaluating: From the above measurements we will be looking at interesting concepts including:

  • How much carbon dioxide is produced running the Niagara Escarpment (what is the carbon footprint for a runner vs a car)?
  • How many heart beats does it take to run the escarpment and how many liters of blood would be pumped?
  • What is the caloric cost of running the escarpment (how many hamburgers does it cost to run it)?
  • What will determine success (age, average hours of training before the race, nutritional intake during the run)?
  • Will women show less oxidative stress and muscle damage as compared to men?
  • How will the older team (Mitochondria) fare against the younger team (Muscle)?

Why Are We Doing This: We hope that the scientific results from this event will help athletes of all abilities train and compete more effectively, but our primary goals are:

  • To highlight a true natural wonder of the world – The Niagara Escarpment
  • To inspire people to get outdoors and start exercising in a manner that is respectful of the environment
  • Show that science and exploration are exciting, rewarding, and necessary
  • Raise awareness of common diseases that lead to impairments in muscle strength (muscular dystrophy) and energy provision (mitochondrial disease) that cause major suffering to hundreds of thousands of people in North America and yet are relatively “under the radar”.

* In addition to being used for research purposes, the McMaster High Performance Laboratory offers a range of commonly sought after fitness tests including VO2max and body composition on a fee-for-service basis. For additional information on this new state-of-the-art facility, click:
McMaster High Performance Laboratory


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