Study reveals physical demands of two-hour marathon

Some of the elites runners were tested at Exeter Arena

Press Release:

Elite runners need a specific combination of physiological abilities to have any chance of running a sub-two-hour marathon, new research shows.

The study is based on detailed testing of athletes who took part in Nike’s Breaking2 project – an ambitious bid to break the two-hour barrier.

Professor Andrew Jones, of the University of Exeter, said the findings reveal that elite marathon runners must have a “perfect balance” of VO2 max (rate of oxygen uptake), efficiency of movement and a high “lactate turn point” (above which the body experiences more fatigue).

The VO2 measured among elite runners shows they can take in oxygen twice as fast at marathon pace as a “normal” person of the same age could while sprinting flat-out.

“Some of the results – particularly the VO2 max – were not actually as high as we expected,” Professor Jones said.

“Instead, what we see in the physiology of these runners is a perfect balance of characteristics for marathon performance.

“The requirements of a two-hour marathon have been extensively debated, but the actual physiological demands have never been reported before.”

The runners in the study included Eliud Kipchoge, who took part in Breaking2 – falling just short of the two-hour target – but later achieving the goal in 1:59:40.2 in the Ineos 1:59 challenge.

Based on outdoor running tests on 16 athletes in the selection stage of Breaking2, the study found that a 59kg runner would need to take in about four litres of oxygen per minute (or 67ml per kg of weight per minute) to maintain two-hour marathon pace (21.1 km/h).

“To run for two hours at this speed, athletes must maintain what we call ‘steady-state’ VO2,” Professor Jones said.

“This means they meet their entire energy needs aerobically (from oxygen) – rather than relying on anaerobic respiration, which depletes carbohydrate stores in the muscles and leads to more rapid fatigue.”

In addition to VO2 max, the second key characteristic is running “economy”, meaning the body must use oxygen efficiently – both internally and through an effective running action.

The third trait, lactate turn point, is the percentage of VO2 max a runner can sustain before anaerobic respiration begins.

“If and when this happens, carbohydrates in the muscles are used at a high rate, depleting glycogen stores,” Professor Jones explained.

“At this point – which many marathon runners may know as ‘the wall’ – the body has to switch to burning fat, which is less efficient and ultimately means the runner slows down.

“The runners we studied – 15 of the 16 from East Africa – seem to know intuitively how to run just below their ‘critical speed’, close to the ‘lactate turn point’ but never exceeding it.

“This is especially challenging because – even for elite runners – the turn point drops slightly over the course of a marathon.

“Having said that, we suspect that the very best runners in this group, especially Eliud Kipchoge, show remarkable fatigue resistance.”

The testing, conducted in Exeter and at Nike’s performance centre in Oregon, USA, provided a surprising experience for a group of amateur runners in the UK.

“We tested 11 of the 16 runners at Exeter Arena a few years ago,” Professor Jones said.

“Some local runners were there at the time, and it was a real eye-opener for them when a group of the world’s best athletes turned up.

“The elite runners were great – they even joined in with the local runners and helped to pace their training.”

Abebe Bikala, the barefoot marathoner

The marathon is really a hard distance to run; it is 42 kms of hard running. It’s hard on the body, particularly the feet which is why all marathon runners spend such a lot of consideration to exactly what is on their feet. Marathoners spend considerable time getting the appropriate running shoes and a lot of money is involved in running shoes. Back at the 1960 Rome Olympic Games, Abebe Bikala from Ethiopia turned up for the marathon and there were no running shoes remaining in the teams supplies which would fit him, so he ran the marathon barefoot and went on to win the gold medal. This is often commonly acclaimed as a tremendous achievement. Recently there has been a group of runners who are suggesting the running footwear is not all they can be claimed to be and are recommending that running ought to be done barefoot, much like nature intended. After all, we were not born with footwear and historical humans had to run large distances without running shoes to survive as animals needed to be hunted on foot over long distances.

Running footwear are really only a relatively recent invention. Those who promote the barefoot approach to running love to point to the achievements of Abebe Bikala as even more validation that we don’t need running shoes. There are certainly a great many other justifications both for and against barefoot running, with not much scientific data supporting it. Whilst Abebe Bikala winning gold medal at the Rome Olympics barefoot certainly suggest that it is possible, what those who like to promote his achievements as evidence often leave out that he later went on to win the gold medal as well as break the world record in the marathon at the 1964 Tokyo Olympic games. Abebe Bikala managed to set the world record this time wearing running shoes; in other words he had the ability to run faster when he was wearing running shoes. We may well have evolved to run without running shoes, but we also evolved in an environment prior to concrete and hard surfaces emerged. While the achievements of him were extraordinary, making use of him as proof that it is better does not stack up to scrutiny.

Dreams of Running a Marathon

A marathon is the supreme desire for numerous joggers. People that have actually been running for years and some that have never ever run a day in their life like the idea of finishing a marathon. There appears to be something wonderful regarding the idea of a marathon, virtually as if it appears super-human to complete in one and even to finish one.

Have you been pondering the concept of running a marathon for enjoyable or for competition? If so, you need to recognize that it takes months of tough and consistent prep work before the dream can become a reality because a marathon is no stroll in the park.

Among the very best methods for making the desire for a marathon possible for you is to locate a partner. Speak to your buddies and also locate somebody who agrees to begin the journey of marathon training with you. Find out a method to mesh your routines so that you can educate with each other, at the very least on your long terms. You have actually heard it said that ‘no guy is an island,’ and that concept it definitely real when it involves preparing for your very first marathon. The majority of people last a couple of weeks at best when they have no one to train with and also no person to hold them answerable as the training timetable ends up being extra extreme.

As soon as you have actually discovered the ideal marathon partner you must likewise take some time to investigate the most effective training schedule for your time, needs and also running goals. Getting on a particular schedule for marathon training will certainly avoid you from overworking yourself or underworking on your own. It is no easy thing to obtain your body fit for a twenty-six mile run, so make it a top priority to locate a timetable and after that adhere to it.

Speak with your doctor concerning your desire for running a marathon. It is never a bad suggestion to contact a medical care professional for any warnings or recommendations. See if your physician has any type of ideas for means to supplement your training with adjustments to your consuming or resting behaviors. Proper eating as well as sleeping will only profit the physical training you do to get ready for the marathon.

Running a marathon is something that many people fantasize regarding but much less individuals in fact complete it. With some cautious planning and also a great deal of devotion you can be among the few that makes the dream of running a marathon a truth.