Use VO2 max data to improve long distance running

VO2max is the maximum rate at which your body can consume oxygen during maximal aerobic intensity; typically, measured either as L/min or, more commonly, as ml/kg/min. VO2max is considered one of the most important parameters to determine aerobic capacity — or endurance — and improve long distance running. 

Due to the synergy required from the transportation and consumption systems, crucial vitals like the heart, the lungs, and the circulatory system must work perfectly; that is, if the athlete aims to achieve high values of maximum oxygen consumption. Altogether, this is why we consider VO2max a strong indicator of good health.

Key parameters you should know about, to improve long distance running

To clear things out, VO2max, on its own, is not the golden rule to improve long distance running effectively; especially when it comes to Marathon races. Otherwise, we could determine the result of the race, before the race itself — based on the VO2max values of all competitors. 

We know that the most important parameters to maintain the highest possible velocity in a Marathon race are:

  • the maximal oxygen uptake (VO2 max),
  • the fractional utilization of VO2 max; and,
  • the energy cost of running (ECr). 

VO2max values for runners of different levels

The above-listed parameters explain 70% of the variance in the average running speed sustained, during a Marathon race. Also, they’re good endurance performance indicators of individuals of different ages, genders, and training disciplines. 

To point out, a typical VO2 max value for top-class male Marathoners is about 70–85 mL/kg/min; for low-level athletes, around 65 mL/kg/min; and for recreational runners, about 51–58 mL/kg/min (Myrkos et al, 2020).

Yet, few studies have managed to examine the physiological characteristics of recreational Marathon runners, with finishing times >3h, in detail; and, of course, how these characteristics affect performance in this group of runners. However, it has been scientifically proven that, the better the level of recreational Marathoners, the higher the VO2 max. This stands for velocity and VO2 at lactate threshold, as well.

The ‘secret ingredients’ to improve long distance running

As mentioned, there are stronger factors that improve long distance running, than the VO2max, per se. To elaborate, fractional utilization of VO2max (the amount of oxygen an athlete consumes at a velocity corresponding to VO2max), as well as the oxygen consumption at a velocity corresponding to the estimated Marathon pace, are the ‘secret ingredients’ to success. Why? Well, they’re both linked to important mechanisms pertinent to human physiology; So, they can deeply affect aerobic performance and, thus, improve long distance running.

Another strong factor to improve long distance running is the velocity corresponding to VO2max. To explain, suppose an athlete achieved their maximal value of VO2 at a 4.20min/km pace, say 3 months ago. If they can now achieve their VO2max at a 4min/km pace, then, the possibility for them to finish the Marathon faster, increases considerably.

Download the infographic

Wrapping it up

To recap, there are a few critical physiological factors that affect endurance performance in long distance races, like Marathons. That said, athletes aiming to improve long distance running need to focus on the VO2 max, the fractional utilization of VO2max, and economy of movement; all of which are key to increase aerobic capacity, and achieve top-level performance.

Use VO2 max data to improve long distance running was last modified: October 21st, 2021 by Aris Myrkos