Cardiorespiratory endurance for Marathon runners

Cardiorespiratory endurance, or cardiovascular endurance, is the ability of the heart, lungs, and blood vessels to deliver oxygen to body tissues. As a result, this bodily function allows the production of energy through aerobic metabolism. Also, it allows the supply of muscle tissue with the oxygen needed, to produce energy in mitochondria. So, what does that mean for an athlete who is training for a Marathon?

The importance of cardiorespiratory endurance for a Marathon runner

In sports, the last >3min, the cardiorespiratory function plays the key role for performance; and that’s a scientific fact. Also known as VO2max or oxygen utilization, the cardiorespiratory function is probably the most important parameter; especially when training for a Marathon. In short, it will be demanding. Having said that, a cardiorespiratory endurance training program for such an event must be planned right; particularly, to cause the necessary changes — or adaptations — to your cardiorespiratory function.

Physiological Adaptations to Exercise

Acute adaptations

Intensive and long-lasting EE (Endurance Exercise) is characterized by a significant increase in skeletal muscle oxygen demand; which, in turn, causes a marked elevation of pulmonary oxygen uptake; and, of course, transports the oxygen-enriched blood to the working skeletal muscles. 

Under physiological conditions, the acute cardiopulmonary adaptation to EE, encompasses increases in:

  • pulmonary ventilation
  • heart rate
  • cardiac output

And, it’s accompanied by a moderate increase in systolic blood pressure, and peripheral vasodilatation (Predel et al, 2014).

Chronic Adaptations

Systematic aerobic training will ideally lead to the so-called, “athlete’s heart“. This means that there will be an increase in the diameter of the left ventricular. Consequently, an increase of the stroke volume will follow (the volume of blood pumped from the left ventricle per beat). At the same time, it will cause a significantly lower resting heart rate; that is, as compared to the initial values.

Furthermore, the O2 utilization from the working muscles will improve; we have the mitochondrial genesis and the increased activity of the aerobic enzyme to thank for that. In addition, pulmonary ventilation will increase. And thus, the overall cardiovascular function will improve. 

Marathon training: boost your performance with cardiorespiratory endurance

The VO2max parameter

So, we explained what cardiorespiratory endurance is, and touched upon the acute/chronic adaptation from where it occurs. Now, it’s time to discuss how it can boost your performance. 

As we’ve already mentioned, a significant parameter of this synergic bodily function is the VO2max. Specifically, the maximum amount of oxygen a body can consume during maximum aerobic exercise, to produce energy from the aerobic metabolism. 

To point out, VO2max is highly correlated with Marathon performance. The 26.2 mi (or 42.2 km) route, requires a great value of VO2max. Typically, elite marathoners reach — sometimes, even overcome — the 80ml/kg/min. 

For well-trained athletes with finishing time <3hrs, the VO2max is around 60-75ml/kg/min; whereas, for the hobbyist, with a Marathon time <4hrs, a good value of Vo2max is around 50-65ml/kg/min.

How can VO2max be improved? 

High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is the optimal method to improve VO2max — even on well-trained or elite athletes. To elaborate, HIIT stresses the cardiorespiratory system; promoting a great “environment” in the athlete’s body for further adaptations on VO2max to occur. Thus, HIIT is a great way to build cardiorespiratory endurance. Want to know more about the benefits of HIIT? You can read the article we wrote about it a while ago, right here.

The O2 utilization

The oxygen an athlete receives through the respiratory system from the environment moves across the alveolar-capillary membrane and into the blood. Then, the oxygen binds to hemoglobin in red blood cells; although, only a small amount dissolves into the plasma. 

What’s more, the oxygen is transported from the lungs to the peripheral tissues. Ultimately, it’s used for energy production (Rozen et al, 2020). The optimal oxygen utilization for running (oxygen cost of running), seems to be a crucial parameter for performance. And, generally speaking, for events that last >3min, as well (Wells et al, 2013). 

How can O2 utilization be improved?

All coaches who train marathoners, know that the Long Slow Distance run is the ‘holy grail’ of every long-distance athlete. The long-run is mainly performed at low intensity (below anaerobic threshold), and in a prolonged exercise duration (about 2-4hrs). Eventually, it promotes the optimal circumstances for the oxygen cost of running. Muscles need less oxygen for the given energy production, compared with pre-training values; thus, the athlete can either run faster or last longer.

Science Training to the rescue

Indeed, cardiorespiratory endurance is central for Marathon performance! At any rate, it requires solid scientific knowledge on adaptations, caused by training, to design an optimal training plan. That being the case, Science Training can become your faithful personal assistant on this special journey. Give it a go, today!

Ready, Set, Go!

Cardiorespiratory endurance for Marathon runners was last modified: July 7th, 2022 by Aris Myrkos