Linsey Marr on the Discovery Channel: Women, Particles and Marathons

Linsey Marr, Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, is one of many bright spots in my short career at Virginia Tech. She recently completed a study with Matthew Ely of the Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine that was featured on the Discovery Channel. The study compared marathon performance in seven cities: Boston, New York, Chicago, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Sacramento, Los Angeles, and Duluth, MN.

The team found a significant relationship between lower performance and particulate pollution, but not between carbon monoxide, ozone, nitrogen dioxide, or sulfur dioxide. This was surprising for the researchers, but I don’t necessarily think so. If you think about most marathons or race situations, they clear out all the traffic and divert the parallel routes the whole way–which would move carbon monoxide away from the race route. Sacramento and Los Angeles have the worst ozone problems of these cities, but not necessarily on any given day; in Los Angeles, a marathon route on the west side would have the same ozone levels as Cedar Rapids IA (negligible); farther inland they would be higher but not necessarily at ground level, where runners breathe. So there may be a mismatch between monitor measures and what runners are actually taking in.
In any case, it’s an interesting study and a reminder of why I loved working with her so much and why I miss her so much now that I’ve left: asking interesting questions is the best part of our job.