UK (Bournemouth Universit) Extreme research at the top of the world

A lecturer at Bournemouth University is setting off to Nepal where she will carry out some extreme sports research at the foot of Mount Everest.

Dr Rebecca Neal, Senior Lecturer in Exercise Physiology at Bournemouth University and an endurance athlete, will lead a research team studying the performance of athletes taking part in the World’s Highest Obstacle Course Race – 5,600 metres above sea level – followed by a 28-mile downhill marathon.

Dr Neal and the team, which includes partners at the University of North Carolina, will be observing the effects of the high-altitude endurance events on the athletes’ bodies through a series of cognitive and physical tests.

The tests will be carried out throughout an acclimatisation trek from Lukla to Everest Base camp between 8th and 17th November, and during the two high altitude races which take place on 18th November.

The findings of their research will be used to help future organisers of extreme challenges develop training and safety standards as their events become more and more popular.

“New challenges and adventures are being organised all the time,” explained Dr Neal. “They are also now much more accessible; you don’t need to be an experienced elite athlete to take part in many of them, you pay the entrance fee and sign up.

“What we learn about how these events impact the variety of athletes taking part will help understand more about the preparation and monitoring needs for high-altitude events for a wider range of people.”

The team will be analysing participants for indications of fatigue, acute mountain sickness, breathlessness and impaired cognitive function. They will also test new wearable technology that clips on the ear and measures oxygen levels in the blood. The device can provide readings to a mobile app in real time, which could have major advantages over the standard way of measuring oxygen saturation by connecting someone’s finger to a machine.

The world record obstacle course starts at Gorakshep (5,130 metres) and finishes at the top of Kala Patthar (5,644 metres). Dr Neal, along with her team and the athletes will then descend back to Gorakshep where the 28.5-mile marathon will begin, ending in Namche Bazar (3,440 metres).