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The Science of Endurance

Ironman competitor Greg Rhodes pursued his athletic endeavors into an exercise performance lab

All it took was one visit to the University’s Laboratory of Physiological Hygiene and Exercise Science as a high school student, and Greg Rhodes knew he had found his niche.

Rhodes, now an exercise physiology student in the School of Kinesiology, facilitates testing for the school’s Human and Sport Performance Laboratory (HSPL). There he has been working with endurance athletes for three years. In addition to his involvement with students enrolled in the Marathon Training course, he is pursuing his doctoral research on the relationship between endurance training and metabolic changes. Under the guidance of adviser Stacy Ingraham, director of the HSPL, Rhodes proctors sport efficiency testing to collect VO2max (maximal oxygen uptake) data.

Recruited as a test subject for similar tests while still in high school, Rhodes was introduced to a field that connected his athletic endeavors to a career path.

“As a high school endurance athlete, discovering that you could be an athlete as well as a scientist was momentous,” he recalls.

Since childhood, Rhodes has been incredibly athletic and active. Competing in various sports throughout his youth and college years—swimming, Nordic skiing, cycling, and triathlons—his dream is to one day participate in the Ironman World Championships hosted annually in Kona, Hawaii.

After completing an undergraduate biology degree at Carleton College, while doubling as an All-American Nordic skier, Rhodes briefly taught high school biology and then moved to Colorado as a ski instructor. Later, he decided to reconnect his passion for sport performance with academics and began graduate study at the University.

Due to his passion for sport—specifically endurance sport—Rhodes is particularly interested in the resulting physiological changes that can improve health and livelihood.

“There’s an altruistic part to it,” he explains. “How does endurance training change our metabolic profile? How might this benefit non-athletic or obese populations?”

As an exercise physiology student who has been competing in triathlons for over 14 years, Rhodes is able to use the HSPL lab to monitor his own training and race strategy, too. Typically, he trains a minimum of 20 hours per week during peak periods—a challenging routine to balance alongside academics and a healthy social life.

Greg Rhodes

“On training for the Ironman, most people will look at you and ask, ‘Why?’” he says. “But within the realm of kinesiology, there are those who understand and share that athletic, competitive drive, as well as the goals for achievement that come with it.”

Rhodes’ adviser, Ingraham, is in that realm as a former competitive marathon runner herself.

Greg Rhodes

This past September in Madison, Wisconsin, Rhodes completed his third Ironman with a time of 10 hours, 14 minutes, and 15 seconds. He did not reach his goal to qualify for the October 2013 Kona Ironman, but he finished 69th out of 2,800 participants overall, including approximately 30 professional triathletes. He has already signed up for a fourth Ironman in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, in June, giving him seven months to train and prepare.

The ultimate goal for this relentlessly ambitious scientist-athlete is to continue working with sport athletes and other coaches.

“I have a passion for coaching because it’s an extension of teaching,” says Rhodes. “I view it as a mixture of art and science, and my academic career has provided me the opportunity to expand my knowledge of both through experience. But,” he adds, “my dream job is to be a member of the U.S. Olympic Committee and train Olympic athletes.”

Learn more about the graduate program in exercise physiology.

Story by Molly Augustin | Photos by Michael Rhodes, M.D. | November 2012

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