With a Marathoner’s Will, Jed Hartings Takes on Brain Trauma and Subarachnoid Hemorrhage

At the UC Gardner Neuroscience Institute, Jed Hartings, PhD, is the ultimate marathon man. He recently completed the “Boston to Big Sur Challenge,” running two marathons on two coasts in 13 days. His combined time of 6:49:27 placed him 60th among 351 runners who competed in both events.

In addition – and more importantly for humankind — Dr. Hartings has his own double marathon going in the research arena. The name isn’t catchy, but you might call it the “Brain Trauma to Subarachnoid Hemorrhage Challenge.” Dr. Hartings, Research Assistant Professor in UC’s Department of Neurosurgery and Director of Clinical Monitoring for the Mayfield Clinic, is immersed in the study of spreading depolarizations, a pathologic brain activity and complication thought to play a key role in both of these serious neurological conditions.

Dr. Hartings is principal investigator of a major paper on the connection between spreading depolarization and recovery after traumatic brain injury that was published Thursday in Brain, an Oxford University Press publication and one of the world’s leading neurology journals. And he serves on the Organizing Committee of the upcoming Vasospasm 2011, an international conference that will bring researchers from six continents to Cincinnati in July to discuss neurovascular events, like depolarizations, that follow subarachnoid hemorrhage. Dr. Hartings and his collaborators in the Co-Operative Study on Brain Injury Depolarizations will hold their annual meeting jointly with Vasospasm 2011.

Unravelling the role of depolarizations in neurologic diseases is likely years, if not decades, away. So the projects are perfect for Dr. Hartings, who takes the long view in life and is not one to depend on instant gratification.

Dr. Hartings, who grew up on Cincinnati’s West Side, began running with his older brother on their grade school track team, competing in 1,600- and 800-meter events, then ran cross country and track at St. Xavier High School, where he was co-captain during his junior and senior years. At the University of Notre Dame, he ran as part of the Army R.O.T.C. Ranger Challenge Team, competing in 10-kilometer road races in full gear with helmets, boots, rifles and rucksacks.

“I completed my first marathon in Pittsburgh the week I defended my PhD dissertation,” Dr. Hartings recalls, “but I gave up running after that because of recurring injuries.”

After returning to Cincinnati in 2008, he joined Bob Roncker’s Training Group and began running again. “I quickly re-discovered my love for running, and in the past three years have completed five additional marathons,” he says. “The highlight has been the quest to qualify for the Boston Marathon, which I finally did last October in Columbus. A training buddy who also qualified at the same race had the idea to do the Boston to Big Sur Challenge. He said it would be epic, and that’s all I needed to hear.”

Dr. Hartings ran Boston in 3:15:40, only 15 seconds short of his career best time. Then, wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the words, “Running for Research,” he and his friend ran Big Sur together from start to finish in 3:33:47.

“I love to race and compete for personal bests, but it was a thrill to run Big Sur just for fun –‘on the ragged edge of the western world,’ the Pacific Coast Highway — and take in all the scenery and entertainment under the influence of a real runner’s high,” Dr. Hartings says. “It was like a 26.2-mile victory lap after Boston.”

Running, Dr. Hartings explains, satisfies his need for adventure, balances the long hours spent writing and analyzing data, and humors his scientific bent for analyzing split times, heart rates and training progress. “It’s like being the subject in your own study,” Dr. Hartings says. “But more than anything, I just love the runner’s high that I get. I always say that the fun doesn’t really start until after mile 10, and at some point after that, you enter some strange spiritual realm.”

In August he hopes to complete an Ironman Triathlon, which comprises a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, and 26.2-mile run. And someday he hopes to run a 50-mile ultramarathon. Along the way, he will continue his more cerebral marathon in the quest to understand, and someday find better treatments for, brain trauma and subarachnoid hemorrhage.

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