Lifelong physiology of a former marathon world-record holder – the pros and cons of extreme cardiac remodeling.

Foulkes SJ; College of Health Sciences, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada and University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.
Haykowsky MJ; Kistler PM; McConell G; Trappe S; HHargreaves M; Costill D; La Gerche A;

Journal of applied physiology (Bethesda, Md. : 1985) [J Appl Physiol (1985)] 2024 Jun 27.
Date of Electronic Publication: 2024 Jun 27.

In a 77-year-old former world-record holding male marathoner (2:08:33.6) this study sought to investigate the impact of lifelong intensive endurance exercise on cardiac structure, function and the trajectory of functional capacity (determined by maximal oxygen consumption, V̇O 2 max) throughout the adult lifespan. As a competitive runner, our athlete (DC) reported performing up to 150-300 miles/wk of moderate-to-vigorous exercise, and sustained 10-15 hours/wk of endurance exercise after retirement from competition. DC underwent maximal cardiopulmonary exercise testing in 1970 (aged 27yrs), 1991 (aged 49yrs) and 2020 (aged 77yrs) to determine V̇O 2 max. At his evaluation in 2020, DC also underwent comprehensive cardiac assessments including resting echocardiography, and resting and exercise cardiac magnetic resonance to quantify cardiac structure and function at rest and during peak supine exercise. DC’s V̇O 2 max showed minimal change from 27yrs (69.7mL/kg/min) to 49yrs (68.1mL/kg/min), although it eventually declined by 36% by the age of 77yrs (43.6mL/kg/min). DC’s V̇O 2 max at 77yrs, was equivalent to the 50 th percentile for healthy 20-29 year-old males and 2.4 times the requirement for maintaining functional independence. This was partly due to marked ventricular dilatation (left-ventricular end-diastolic volume: 273mLs), which facilitates a large peak supine exercise stroke volume (200mLs) and cardiac output (22.2L/min). However, at the age of 78 years, DC developed palpitations and fatigue, and was found to be in atrial fibrillation requiring ablation procedures to revert his heart to sinus rhythm. Overall, this life study of a world champion marathon runner exemplifies the substantial benefits and potential side effects of many decades of intense endurance exercise.