Blood, sweat and cheers:
Exercise research takes commitment © May 21, 2010, Norwich University Office of Communications

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Music: Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Video: Norwich Office of Communications
An April 2010 exercise physiology research project demanded high levels of exertion and organization.

Sweating, Kylie Cowens pulled to the side of the indoor track in Norwich University’s Shapiro Field House and trotted to a table set up with medical supplies. She took in air with the deep, measured breathing of a well-conditioned runner.

Still, she had run nine miles, and Cowens leaned hard against the table as she reached for an alcohol swab to sterilize the end of her finger. Dan Unright, her lab partner and a third-year sports medicine major, scribbled information about her heart rate and exertion level into a clipboard, and prepared to take a small sample of her blood for the final time that morning.

“How do you feel?” he asked.

“Phenomenal,” she replied.

Cowens, a senior biology major, felt good at the end of an hour-and-a-half jog, but it had been no walk in the park. The test they’re performing for an exercise physiology class required her to run continuously, except for brief data-collecting stops every 15 minutes. And she had to do it without drinking water. Although she normally runs without water, 90 minutes is a long time, said Cowens. The level of difficulty surprised her.

“Your mouth gets really dry, and that’s all you can think about,” said Cowens.

It was great to see the students rise to such a professional level.

~ Jo Lynn Ostler
adjunct professor and coach

Two groups comprising a dozen runners and their technician partners ran through the exercise that morning. It would be the first of three tests the class would conduct for an end-of-the-semester project analyzing the effects of water replenishment on heart rate, blood-glucose levels and perceived-energy ratings. For the second run, held a week later, the athletes drank a measured quantity of water at intervals. On the third, they consumed an energy sports drink.

Unright, who predicts that liquid replenishment will have a dramatic effect on runners, said students volunteered to run for a variety of reasons, and didn’t need to be talked into it.

“She’s running a half marathon,” he said of Cowens. “I think it’s a personal goal to be able to run for an hour and a half.”

As test subjects in the first group began to finish their run, the corner of the cavernous space grew busy with students comparing levels from notebooks and computers, organizing materials for the next group or stretching for the upcoming workout. Adjunct Prof. Jo Lynn Ostler shouted above the din to keep students on track.

“Heart-rate monitors off and clean,” she said. “Keep everything neat and organized.”

Organization helps keep things running smoothly, said Ostler, but one of the big challenges is to continue with the project if things aren’t going perfectly. As if to prove her point, Ostler discovered they were running low on test strips for measuring blood glucose just as the second group of runners settled into its groove. This despite their having “bought out” local pharmacies.

“I’m going to warn you technicians that we’re running out of strips,” she said to the group, and began questioning students on how they ought to deal with the shortage. “You want to have a read in the end, for sure.”

Fortunately, one student technician said she knew where to find more strips, and departed to retrieve them.

Greg Eskedjian, a junior sports-medicine major, said he’s never participated in a research project as large and complex as this. Accounting for variability and human error, such as the test-strip problem, was one of the toughest things to manage, he said.

“You do what you can to make do,” said Eskedjian.

Ostler, who is responsible for the lab component of the third-year exercise physiology class run by Prof. Elizabeth Wuorinen, said it was gratifying to see how serious and dedicated students were to the assignment, and their partnerships in particular. Runners worked very hard, and the technicians had to be there for them; monitoring their safety and performance and learning how to draw blood. Their performances improved as the research progressed.

“It was great to see the students rise to such a professional level,” she said. “All I had to do was stay in the background and observe.”

Exertion is not uncommon in physical education and sports-medicine classes at Norwich, the country’s oldest private military college, Ostler added. The act of participation can really enhance classroom learning, and this level of experiential learning is not uncommon throughout the school.

“How else do you really learn unless you really do it?” she said.