Jessica Hunter, Doctoral Student
June 12, 2019

The Whitlark Fellowship supports selected research activities by Kinesiology Ph.D. students at the University of Maryland. The intention of the fellowship is to afford students the opportunity to conduct research internationally, but those doing research in another lab within the United States can also apply.  Projects are judged on the intellectual merit and scope and the educational value of the proposed outcomes that contribute to the student’s scholarly development. We are happy to announce Jessica Hunter has been awarded a Whitlark Fellowship for her research this summer and fall at Harvard Medial School. 

Here is an excerpt from Jessica’s application:

This proposed work is a collaboration between my home lab at the University of Maryland and Dr. Irene Davis, professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Harvard Medical School and Director of the Spaulding National Running Center at Spaulding Hospital in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Dr. Davis’s lab is equipped with force-measuring treadmill, a necessary piece of equipment for the proposed work, and Dr. Davis is a prominent expert in running biomechanics and injuries. She has been a close colleague and collaborator of my advisor (Dr. Miller) for over 10 years.

In biomechanics there is a growing body of research quantifying cumulative loads in running, including my recently published work on cumulative loads of training using different running speeds1. This next step in my research adds the ecological element of fatigue, a commonly suspected stress fracture risk factor in novice runners2–4, to address whether running “too much” may lead to high cumulative loads. Slower paced running constitutes a substantial portion of most distance running programs5 and was shown to lead to higher cumulative loads per unit distance than fast running1. Therefore the mechanical, physiological, and cognitive response to prolonged slow paced running may be an important factor in understanding how running injuries develop. The effects of fatigue on cumulative load, physiological signs of fatigue, and cognitive responses may offer a more complete and consistent explanation for running injury development. Pursuing these aims with the most technically and scientifically sound approach requires expensive equipment (specifically, a force-measuring treadmill) in Dr. Davis’ lab that we do not have available here at UMD.

The results of this study will provide the background for further research in cumulative running loads and overuse injury, particularly in describing running injuries as a fatigue-failure process. Future studies may assess the effects of consecutive days of running, different speeds/intensities on gait mechanics and cumulative load. Comparing these variables in runners of different experience levels or functional groups may help determine how training status or other characteristics affect injury risk and lead to safer training practices and lower injury incidence. In addition, popular wearable devices currently quantify acceleration or load-based estimates of running, and this project may help inform improved interpretation of these outcomes in terms of injury prevention.

This research project will also contribute to my professional growth. In my career I would like to continue to conduct research that has direct applicability to training habits that promote healthy running. A recent article that appeared in Runner’s World online, which summarized the results of my recent manuscript, demonstrates the importance of the current project to the running community. The exposure of my research to the running community also benefits a secondary professional goal, to apply biomechanics principles to runners on an individual basis to improve performance and decrease injury risk.