Physiological Determinants of Ultramarathon Trail-Running Performance

in International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance
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Context: The physiological determinants of ultramarathon success have rarely been assessed and likely differ in their contributions to performance as race distance increases. Purpose: To examine predictors of performance in athletes who completed either a 50-, 80-, or 160-km trail race over a 20-km loop course on the same day. Methods: Measures of running history, aerobic fitness, running economy, body mass loss, hematocrit alterations, age, and cardiovascular health were examined in relation to race-day performance. Performance was defined as the percentage difference from the winning time at a given race distance, with 0% representing the fastest possible time. Results: In the 50-km race, training volumes, cardiovascular health, aerobic fitness, and a greater loss of body mass during the race were all related to better performance (all P < .05). Using multiple linear regression, peak velocity achieved in the maximal oxygen uptake test (β = −11.7, P = .002) and baseline blood pressure (β = 3.1, P = .007) were the best performance predictors for the men’s 50-km race (r = .98, r2 = .96, P < .001), while peak velocity achieved in the maximal oxygen uptake test (β = −13.6, P = .001) and loss of body mass (β = 12.8, P = .03) were the best predictors for women (r = .94, r2 = .87, P = .001). In the 80-km race, only peak velocity achieved in the maximal oxygen uptake test predicted performance (β = −20.3, r = .88, r2 = .78, P < .001). In the 160-km race, there were no significant performance determinants. Conclusions: While classic determinants of running performance, including cardiovascular health and running fitness, predict 50-km trail-running success, performance in longer-distance races appears to be less influenced by such physiological parameters.

The authors are with the Human Performance and Health Research Laboratory, Dept of Human Health and Nutritional Sciences, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON, Canada.

Burr (burrj@uoguelph.ca) is corresponding author.
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