It all started in 1972. That's when I was born. At the age of five, I found soccer. Until my early 20s, I was dedicated to soccer. I played in the Olympic Development Program, for the NCAA Division 1 defending national champions (University of Virginia), and for a short time in the Irish Premiere League for Galway United. I also played for the Tallahassee Tempest, a feeder team to the Miami Fusion, while I went to school for my PhD at Florida State University. During the transition from Ireland to graduate school, I met the amazing woman who would become my wife, Trudy, and her two wonderful kids. Those kids are now grown and have kids of their own - being a grandfather is one of the greatest joys of my life. Every day, I wonder what I've done to be so fortunate to have Trudy in my life; she is my everything.
Although I stayed fit for the next two decades, I was never as fit as during those 'glory days'. I like to say that my midlife crisis was a seemingly out-of-the-blue decision to run a local 100k ultra marathon where I live in Pocatello, Idaho. I accomplished that goal and decided I liked it. I liked it in that odd sort of way that only athletes fully understand - the joy of pushing through to explore our physical and psychological limits.
Because I didn't know much about ultra running, I wanted to learn all that I could. So, I started reading, visiting websites on ultra marathon running, and listening to podcasts. I quickly discovered that there was a wealth of great information and content on the people and places in our sport. But, when I looked for grounded, reliable, science-based content on the physiology of ultra marathon training and racing, I didn’t find much. When I did find it, the context was usually a few statements within a larger article, blog post, or podcast episode that contained a lot of other entertaining, but not actionable, information. Most important, I often heard statements that were not accurate, and sometimes misleading, with regard to exercise physiology. So, I decided to start this podcast and the scienceofultra.com website for you. I realized that I could give back to this wonderful community I had joined by providing this content, focused on the science and physiology of ultra marathon training and racing. Science of Ultra complements the many great resources surrounding our sport but uniquely delivers the reliable, valid, and actionable answers to physiology questions in ultra marathon running. I interview the world’s leading scientists, coaches, and athletes to bring you those answers.
Why am I the person to do this? I’m a full Professor of physiology at Idaho State University, I’m director of the ISU Biomedical Research Institute, and I’m head of our Advanced Imaging Core Facility. My B.S. is in Sports Medicine from the University of Virginia, I hold a M.S. in Exercise Science & Health Promotion from George Mason University, my PhD is in Exercise Physiology from Florida State University, and I completed three years of postdoctoral fellowship research at the Yale University School of Medicine. I coauthored the chapter in the American College of Sports Medicine graduate level textbook on skeletal muscle blood flow control and have published many peer-reviewed studies. My research in exercise physiology has focused on bioenergetics, with an emphasis on gas exchange kinetics (oxygen consumption, carbon dioxide production) and transitions in exercise intensity around physiologic thresholds. With this expertise, I bring a wealth of knowledge to the table because trail running is an extended series of transitions in exercise intensity and the bioenergetics are what dictate our ability to perform throughout an ultra marathon. The many facets of interest to ultra runners in bioenergetics and physiologic thresholds are the foundations of my career in exercise science. My formal doctoral academic training was in a department of Nutrition and Exercise, which provided a strong foundation in the hydration and nutrition of sport performance.
I’ve run my own laboratory since 2004, graduated many students and future healthcare professionals, and sent my own PhD students off to their own research careers. I have been funded by the AHA and by NIH, among others, to support my laboratory research. Individual studies have ranged from sub cellular signaling cascades to whole-body sport performance. I understand cellular function at the molecular level and also the integrated functions of muscle contraction and cardiopulmonary dynamics during exercise.
Along the way, I’ve developed many connections throughout the field of exercise science. So, I’m able to bring the scientists who study the topics relevant to training and performance in ultra marathons to you. In the Science of Ultra podcast episodes I also talk with coaches about how they consolidate the science and apply it in their practice. My interviews with athletes elucidate the training and racing practices that have been part of their journeys. But the heart of Science of Ultra is the rigorous experiments in exercise physiology performed by leading scientists, the direction they can bring to our sport, and the unwavering pursuit of understanding. On the podcast, we generally won’t dive into any one specific study or experiment because we can learn more reliably by extracting conclusions from bodies of research. But, on occasion, we may talk about a single study when there is a good and specific reason for doing so.
I believe that it is my responsibility to help you steer clear of the smoke-and-mirrors of pseudo-science, the speculation of theories presented as fact, the anecdotes expanded to generality, and to bring to you reliable conclusions grounded in high quality science so that you can make your own decisions about your training and racing. After all, you are responsible for what you do and you deserve to have the best information available. Science of Ultra is not here to tell you what to do, but rather to bring you the high quality science that is our understanding of human sports physiology now, so that you can make informed decisions about becoming your Ultra Best!