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Effect of ultramarathon cycling on the heart rate in elite cyclists
  1. G Neumayr,
  2. R Pfister,
  3. G Mitterbauer,
  4. A Maurer,
  5. H Hoertnagl
  1. University Clinics of Innsbruck, Austria
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr Neumayr
 University Clinics of Innsbruck, Institute of Sports Medicine and Cardiovascular Medicine, Anichstrasse 35, Innsbruck A-6020, Austria;


Objectives: To analyse the heart rate (HR) response and estimate the ultraendurance threshold—the optimum maintainable exercise intensity of ultraendurance cycling—in ultraendurance elite cyclists competing in the Race across the Alps.

Methods: HR monitoring was performed in 10 male elite cyclists during the first Race across the Alps in 2001 (distance: 525 km; cumulative altitude difference: 12 600 m) to investigate the exercise intensity of a cycle ultramarathon and the cardiopulmonary strains involved. Four different exercise intensities were defined as percentages of maximal HR (HRmax) as follows: recovery HR (HRre), <70% of HRmax; moderate aerobic HR (HRma), 70–80%; intense aerobic HR (HRia), 80–90%; and high intensity HR (HRhi), >90%.

Results: All athletes investigated finished the competition. The mean racing time was 27 hours and 25 minutes, and the average speed was 18.6 km/h. The mean HRmax was 186 beats/min, and the average value of measured HRs (HRaverage) was 126 beats/min resulting in a mean HRaverage/HRmax ratio of 0.68, which probably corresponds to the ultraendurance threshold. The athletes spent 53% (14 hours 32 minutes) of total race time within HRre, 25% (6 hours 51 minutes) within HRma, 19% (5 hours 13 minutes) within HRia, and only 3% (49 minutes) within HRhi, which shows the exercise intensity to be predominantly moderate (HRre + HRma  =  78% or 21 hours 23 minutes). The HR response was influenced by the course profile as well as the duration. In all subjects, exercise intensity declined significantly during the race, as indicated by a decrease in HRaverage/HRmax of 23% from 0.86 at the start to 0.66 at the end.

Conclusions: A substantial decrease (10% every 10 hours) in the HR response is a general cardiovascular feature of ultramarathon cycling, suggesting that the ultraendurance threshold lies at about 70% of HRmax in elite ultramarathon cyclists.

  • heart rate
  • exercise intensity
  • ultraendurance cycling
  • ultraendurance threshold
  • cycling
  • cTn, cardiac troponin
  • HR, heart rate

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