European Journal of Applied Physiology

, Volume 119, Issue 9, pp 2001–2009 | Cite as

The effect of an ultra-endurance running race on heart rate variability

  • Lewis A. FazackerleyEmail author
  • James W. Fell
  • Cecilia M. Kitic
Original Article



The aim of this study was to investigate the effect of an ultra-marathon on heart rate variability (HRV) and psychometric indices in endurance runners. In addition, we aimed to determine the magnitude of change and subsequent recovery for 7 days following the race.


Recreationally trained runners (n = 13 (8M); age = 36.6 ± 7.6 years; height = 174 ± 9 cm; weight = 70.5 ± 9.3 kg) completed measures of HRV upon waking in the morning for 1 week prior to and 1 week following a 64-km running race. Profile of mood states, wellbeing, and muscular soreness were also measured throughout the study period to further contextualise recovery.


An increase in heart rate accompanied by decreased LnSDNN, LnRMSSD, LnLF, LnHF, and LnLF/HF from baseline were observed 1 day post-race (p < 0.05). Indices of HRV had returned to baseline on day 2 of recovery. Perceptual fatigue and muscle soreness increased post-race (immediately following and on day 1 of recovery) (p < 0.05) and took until day 5 of recovery to return to baseline.


The results indicate that cardiac autonomic control is significantly altered in response to a 64 km ultra-marathon. Specifically, parasympathetic activity is suppressed. The change in autonomic control was relatively short-lived, and parasympathetic-related indices had returned to baseline 2 days after the event. Subjective measures of fatigue and wellbeing suggest that athletes were not completely recovered until day 5 post-event, with muscular soreness remaining prominent during this period. A combination of physiological and psychological parameters is important to contextualise recovery in ultra-endurance runners.


Parasympathetic Autonomic control Recovery Stress Fatigue 



Analysis of variance


Autonomic nervous system


Arbitrary unit


High frequency


Heart rate variability


Low frequency


Natural logarithm


Profile of mood states


Root mean square of successive differences between R–R intervals


Rating of perceived exertion


Standard deviation of the normal-to-normal sinus-initiated inter-beat intervals


Author contributions

The study was designed by LF, CK, and JF. Data were collected by LF. Data were analysed by LF, CK, and JF. The manuscript was written by LF and CK. All authors read and approved the manuscript.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

421_2019_4187_MOESM1_ESM.bat (2 kb)
Supplementary file1 (BAT 2 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Sport Performance Optimisation Research Team, School of Health Science, College of Health and MedicineUniversity of TasmaniaLauncestonAustralia

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