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Athletes use world-class facilities at Marjon to prepare for world’s toughest race

Released: 04.07.23

Athletes train in the Marjon Sport & Health Centre

Plymouth Marjon University, a leading institution in sports science and exercise, has provided heat acclimation sessions for three athletes in preparation for the Marathon De Sable, the world's toughest footrace. 

From 03 to 13 April, three athletes underwent intensive heat acclimation training at the Marjon Sport Science Labs' heat chamber. This rigorous programme aimed to adapt their bodies to the demanding conditions they faced during the Marathon De Sable on 21 April 2023. 

Led by esteemed experts in the field, Dr. Joseph Layden and Dr. Steve McGuire, the heat acclimation sessions received support from dedicated students pursuing degrees in BSc Sport and Exercise Science and MSc Sport and Exercise Science. This collaboration exemplifies Plymouth Marjon University's commitment to providing students with practical opportunities to work alongside accomplished athletes. 

Dr Joseph Layden, Senior Lecturer at Plymouth Marjon University, said: 

It is always fantastic to work with athletes, especially those undertaking events as it provides incredible opportunities for our students to gain invaluable experience, bridging the gap between theoretical knowledge and practical application of sports science support. Bringing the students onboard as part of the Sport Science Team ensures a dedicated group, ready to deliver a first-class and complete service to the athletes. 

Bill Martin, one of the athletes that trained at the Marjon Sport & Health Centre, commented: 

“The heat acclimation sessions at Marjon were the icing on the cake to my preparation for the Marathon Des Sables. The team were friendly, knowledgeable, and really interested in the event and the three of us who were competing.  

“All of the work we did with them was so valuable physiologically and for confidence. The measurement and monitoring of how we performed in the heat chamber really helped our bodies adapt to exertion in the heat, and we learned a lot about how we felt when under heat stress, how to recognise danger signals, and what to do about them. The team gave me great advice on hydration, and this was essential to my performance in the event.  

“I would highly recommend anyone planning to tackle an extreme environment challenge to work with the Marjon team.” 

Another Marathon Des Stables trainee, Jason Louis, added: 

“I found the Marjon Sport and Exercise Science team when I was looking for help heat acclimating prior to the Marathon de Sables. Steve and Joe obviously enjoy this practical aspect of their work and have expertise in running these programmes for athletes and the military. The sessions were well-planned and controlled, and their enthusiasm made even the tough days enjoyable. I learnt about hydration, nutrition and performance in the desert, as well as seeing improvements in my response to exercise in the heat. The whole experience has added immeasurably to my preparation journey.” 

Heat acclimation is a vital process in adapting the body to high temperatures. The physiological adaptations that occur during heat acclimation improve exercise tolerance in hot environments and reduce the risk of heat injury. This process can typically be achieved within one to two weeks. 

Maintaining a stable body temperature is crucial for optimal performance and preventing harm. The body's ability to regulate temperature, often referred to as its ‘thermostat’, ensures that heat loss equals heat gain, meaning your body will exude heat at a variable rate to maintain your temperature. Failure to maintain this balance can lead to cellular dysfunction, impairing performance and potentially endangering the athlete. 

Hot environmental conditions pose challenges to athletes participating in both submaximal (less than maximum) and high-intensity exercises. Muscle fatigue, impaired cardiovascular function, and compromised central nervous system function are the three primary contributors to reduced performance in the heat. These factors can work together to significantly impact an athlete's ability to perform, depending on the duration and intensity of the exercise. 

By undertaking heat acclimation at Plymouth Marjon University, the three athletes were proactive in preparing for the Marathon De Sable. Utilising the expertise of the University’s physiology team and services ensured that the athletes were fully prepared to perform in extreme conditions. 

For more information about Plymouth Marjon University sport science programmes here and learn more about the Marathon De Sable here. 

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