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Fortune Favors the Brave: Tactical Behaviors in the Middle-Distance Running Events at the 2017 IAAF World Championships

Arturo Casado and Andrew Renfree

Purpose: To assess tactical and performance factors associated with progression from qualification rounds in the 800-m and 1500-m running events at the 2017 International Association of Athletics Federations World Championships. Methods: Official results were used to access final and intermediate positions and times, as well as performance characteristics of competitors. Shared variance between intermediate positions and rank order lap times with finishing positions were calculated, along with probability of automatic qualification, for athletes in each available race position at the end of every 400-m lap. Differences in race positions and lap times relative to season’s best performances were assessed between automatic qualifiers, fastest losers, and nonqualifiers. Results: Race positions at the end of each 400-m lap remained more stable through 800-m races than 1500-m races. Probability of automatic qualification decreased with both race position and rank order lap times on each lap, although rank order lap times accounted for a higher degree of shared variance than did intermediate position. In the 1500-m event, fastest losers ran at a higher percentage of season’s best speed and adopted positions closer to the race lead in the early stages. This was not the case in the 800-m. Conclusions: Intermediate positioning and the ability to produce a fast final race segment are strongly related to advancement from qualification rounds in middle-distance running events. The adoption of a more “risky” strategy characterized by higher speeds relative to season’s best may be associated with an increased likelihood of qualification as fastest losers in the 1500-m event.

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More Pace Variation and Pack Formation in Successful World-Class 10,000-m Runners Than in Less Successful Competitors

Andrew Renfree, Arturo Casado, Gonzalo Pellejero, and Brian Hanley

Purpose: To determine different relationships between, and predictive ability of, performance variables at intermediate distances with finishing time in elite male 10,000-m runners. Methods: Official electronic finishing and 100-m split times of the men’s 10,000-m finals at the 2008 and 2016 Olympic Games and IAAF World Championships in 2013 and 2017 were obtained (125 athlete performances in total). Correlations were calculated between finishing times and positions and performance variables related to speed, position, time to the leader, and time to the runner in front at 2000, 4000, 6000, 8000, and 9900 m. Stepwise linear-regression analysis was conducted between finishing times and positions and these variables across the race. One-way analysis of variance was performed to identify differences between intermediate distances. Results: The SD and kurtosis of mean time, skewness of mean time, and position and time difference to the leader were either correlated with or significantly contributed to predictions of finishing time and position at at least one of the analyzed distances (.81 ≥ r ≥ .30 and .001 ≤ P ≤ .03, respectively). These variables also displayed variation across the race (.001 ≤ P ≤ .05). Conclusions: The ability to undertake a high degree of pace variability, mostly characterized by acceleration in the final stages, is strongly associated with achievement of high finishing positions in championship 10,000-m racing. Furthermore, the adoption and maintenance of positions close to the front of the race from the early stages are important to achieve a high finishing position.

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The Effect of Periodization and Training Intensity Distribution on Middle- and Long-Distance Running Performance: A Systematic Review

Mark Kenneally, Arturo Casado, and Jordan Santos-Concejero

This review aimed to examine the current evidence for 3 primary training intensity distribution types: (1) pyramidal training, (2) polarized training, and (3) threshold training. Where possible, the training intensity zones relative to the goal race pace, rather than physiological or subjective variables, were calculated. Three electronic databases (PubMed, Scopus, and Web of Science) were searched in May 2017 for original research articles. After analysis of 493 resultant original articles, studies were included if they met the following criteria: (1) Their participants were middle- or long-distance runners; (2) they analyzed training intensity distribution in the form of observational reports, case studies, or interventions; (3) they were published in peer-reviewed journals; and (4) they analyzed training programs with a duration of 4 wk or longer. Sixteen studies met the inclusion criteria, which included 6 observational reports, 3 case studies, 6 interventions, and 1 review. According to the results of this analysis, pyramidal and polarized training are more effective than threshold training, although the latest is used by some of the best marathon runners in the world. Despite this apparent contradictory finding, this review presents evidence for the organization of training into zones based on a percentage of goal race pace, which allows for different periodization types to be compatible. This approach requires further development to assess whether specific percentages above and below race pace are key to inducing optimal changes.

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Training Characteristics of a World Championship 5000-m Finalist and Multiple Continental Record Holder Over the Year Leading to a World Championship Final

Mark Kenneally, Arturo Casado, Josu Gomez-Ezeiza, and Jordan Santos-Concejero

Purpose: Optimal training for endurance performance remains a debated topic. In this case study, the training of a world-class middle-/long-distance runner over a year’s duration is presented. Methods: The training is analyzed via 2 methods to define training intensity distribution (TID) (1) by physiological zones and (2) by zones based on race pace. TID was analyzed over the full season, but also over the final 6, 12, and 26 weeks to allow for consideration of periodization/phases of season. The results of both methods are compared. Other training data measured include volume and number of sessions. Results: The average weekly volume for the athlete was 145.8 (24.8) km·wk−1. TID by physiological analysis was polarized for the last 6 weeks of the season but was pyramidal when analyzed over the final 12, 26, and 52 weeks of the season. TID by race-pace analysis was pyramidal across all time points. The athlete finished 12th in the final of the World Championship 5000-m and made the semifinal of the 1500-m. He was ranked in the top 16 in the world for 1500, 5000, and 10,000 m. Conclusion: The results of this study demonstrate a potential flaw with recent work suggesting polarized training as the most effective means to improve endurance performance. Here, different analysis methods produced 2 different types of TID. A polarized distribution was only seen when analyzed by physiological approach, and only during the last 6 weeks of a 52-week season. Longer-term prospective studies relating performance and physiological changes are suggested.

Open access

Training Periodization, Methods, Intensity Distribution, and Volume in Highly Trained and Elite Distance Runners: A Systematic Review

Arturo Casado, Fernando González-Mohíno, José María González-Ravé, and Carl Foster

Purpose: This review aimed to determine (1) performance and training characteristics such as training intensity distribution (TID), volume, periodization, and methods in highly trained/elite distance runners and (2) differences in training volume and TID between event distances in highly trained/elite distance runners. Methods: A systematic review of the literature was carried out using the PubMed/MEDLINE, Scopus, and Web of Science databases. Results: Ten articles met the inclusion criteria. Highly trained/elite distance runners typically follow a pyramidal TID approach, characterized by a decreasing training volume from zone 1 (at or below speed at first ventilatory/lactate threshold [LT]) to zone 2 (between speeds associated with either both ventilatory thresholds or 2 and 4 mmol·L−1 LTs [vLT1 and vLT2, respectively]) and zone 3 (speed above vVT2/vLT2). Continuous-tempo runs or interval training sessions at vLT2 in zone 2 (ie, medium and long aerobic intervals) and those in zone 3 (ie, anaerobic or short-interval training) were both used at least once per week each in elite runners, and they were used to increase the number of either vLT2 or z3 sessions to adopt either a pyramidal or a polarized approach, respectively. More pyramidal- and polarized-oriented approaches were used by marathoners and 1500-m runners, respectively. Conclusions: Highly trained and elite middle- and long-distance runners are encouraged to adopt a traditional periodization pattern with a hard day–easy day basis, consisting in a shift from a pyramidal TID used during the preparatory and precompetitive periods toward a polarized TID during the competitive period.

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Training Intensity Distribution, Training Volume, and Periodization Models in Elite Swimmers: A Systematic Review

José María González-Ravé, Francisco Hermosilla, Fernando González-Mohíno, Arturo Casado, and David B. Pyne

A well-planned periodized approach allows swimmers to achieve peak performance at the major national and international competitions. Purpose: To identify the main characteristics of endurance training for highly trained swimmers described by the training intensity distribution (TID), volume, and periodization models. Methods: The electronic databases Scopus, PubMed, and Web of Science were searched using a comprehensive list of relevant terms. Studies that investigated the effect of the periodization of training in swimming, with the training load (volume, TID) and periodization reported, were included in the systematic review. Results: A total of 3487 studies were identified, and after removal of duplicates and elimination of papers based on title and abstract screening, 17 articles remained.  A further 8 articles were excluded after full text review, leaving a final total of 9 studies in the systematic review. The evidence levels were 1b for intervention studies (n = 3) and 2b for (observational) retrospective studies (n = 6). The sprint swimmers typically followed a polarized and threshold TID, the middle-distance swimmers followed a threshold and pyramidal TID, and the long-distance swimmers primarily followed a pyramidal TID. The periodization model identified in the majority of studies selected is characterized by wave-like cycles in units like mesocycles to promote physiological adaptations and skill acquisition. Conclusions: Highly trained swimmers follow a training volume and TID based on their primary event. There is a need for further experimental studies on the effects of block and reverse periodization models on swimming performance. Although observational studies of training have limited evidence, it is unclear whether a different training/periodization approach would yield better results.

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Simple Approach to Defining Training Intensity in Endurance Runners

Carl Foster, Renato Barroso, Daniel Bok, Daniel Boullosa, Arturo Casado, Cristina Cortis, Jos J. de Koning, Andrea Fusco, and Thomas Haugen

Training intensity distribution is important to training program design. The zones 1 to 2 boundary can be defined by the Talk Test and the rating of perceived exertion. The zones 2 to 3 boundary can be defined by respiratory gas exchange, maximal lactate steady state, or, more simply, by critical speed (CS). The upper boundary of zone 3 is potential defined by the velocity at maximum oxygen uptake (vVO2max), although no clear strategy has emerged to categorize this intensity. This is not normally definable outside the laboratory. Purpose: This study predicts vVO2max from CS, determined from 1 (1.61 km) and 2 (3.22 km) citizen races in well-trained runners. Methods: A heterogeneous group of well-trained runners (N = 22) performed 1- and 2-mile races and were studied during submaximal and maximal treadmill running to measure oxygen uptake, allowing computation of vVO2max. This vVO2max was compared with CS. Results: vVO2max (4.82 [0.53] m·s−1) was strongly correlated with CS (4.37 [0.49] m·s−1; r = .84, standard error of estimate [SEE] = 0.132 m·s−1), 1-mile speed (5.09 [0.51] m·s−1; r = .84, SEE = 0.130 m·s−1), and 2-mile speed (4.68 [0.49] m·s−1; r = .86, SEE = 0.120 m·s−1). Conclusions: CS, calculated from 2 citizen races (or even training time trials), can be used to make reasonable estimates of vVO2max, which can be used in the design of running training programs.

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Evolution of 1500-m Olympic Running Performance

Carl Foster, Brian Hanley, Renato Barroso, Daniel Boullosa, Arturo Casado, Thomas Haugen, Florentina J. Hettinga, Andrew M. Jones, Andrew Renfree, Philip Skiba, Alan St Clair Gibson, Christian Thiel, and Jos J. de Koning

Purpose: This study determined the evolution of performance and pacing for each winner of the men’s Olympic 1500-m running track final from 1924 to 2020. Methods: Data were obtained from publicly available sources. When official splits were unavailable, times from sources such as YouTube were included and interpolated from video records. Final times, lap splits, and position in the peloton were included. The data are presented relative to 0 to 400 m, 400 to 800 m, 800 to 1200 m, and 1200 to 1500 m. Critical speed and D′ were calculated using athletes’ season’s best times. Results: Performance improved ∼25 seconds from 1924 to 2020, with most improvement (∼19 s) occurring in the first 10 finals. However, only 2 performances were world records, and only one runner won the event twice. Pacing evolved from a fast start–slow middle–fast finish pattern (reverse J-shaped) to a slower start with steady acceleration in the second half (J-shaped). The coefficient of variation for lap speeds ranged from 1.4% to 15.3%, consistent with a highly tactical pacing pattern. With few exceptions, the eventual winners were near the front throughout, although rarely in the leading position. There is evidence of a general increase in both critical speed and D′ that parallels performance. Conclusions: An evolution in the pacing pattern occurred across several “eras” in the history of Olympic 1500-m racing, consistent with better trained athletes and improved technology. There has been a consistent tactical approach of following opponents until the latter stages, and athletes should develop tactical flexibility, related to their critical speed and D′, in planning prerace strategy.

Open access

How to Succeed as an Athlete: What We Know, What We Need to Know

Carl Foster, Renato Barroso, Ralph Beneke, Daniel Bok, Daniel Boullosa, Arturo Casado, Karim Chamari, Cristina Cortis, Jos de Koning, Andrea Fusco, Thomas Haugen, Alejandro Lucía, Iñigo Mujika, David Pyne, José A. Rodríguez-Marroyo, Oyvind Sandbakk, and Stephen Seiler

Free access

Competition Between Desired Competitive Result, Tolerable Homeostatic Disturbance, and Psychophysiological Interpretation Determines Pacing Strategy

Carl Foster, Jos J. de Koning, Florentina J. Hettinga, Renato Barroso, Daniel Boullosa, Arturo Casado, Cristina Cortis, Andrea Fusco, Halle Gregorich, Salvador Jaime, Andrew M. Jones, Katherine R. Malterer, Robert Pettitt, John P. Porcari, Cassie Pratt, Patrick Reinschmidt, Phillip Skiba, Annabel Splinter, Alan St Clair Gibson, Jacob St Mary, Christian Thiel, Kate Uithoven, and Joyce van Tunen

Scientific interest in pacing goes back >100 years. Contemporary interest, both as a feature of athletic competition and as a window into understanding fatigue, goes back >30 years. Pacing represents the pattern of energy use designed to produce a competitive result while managing fatigue of different origins. Pacing has been studied both against the clock and during head-to-head competition. Several models have been used to explain pacing, including the teleoanticipation model, the central governor model, the anticipatory-feedback-rating of perceived exertion model, the concept of a learned template, the affordance concept, the integrative governor theory, and as an explanation for “falling behind.” Early studies, mostly using time-trial exercise, focused on the need to manage homeostatic disturbance. More recent studies, based on head-to-head competition, have focused on an improved understanding of how psychophysiology, beyond the gestalt concept of rating of perceived exertion, can be understood as a mediator of pacing and as an explanation for falling behind. More recent approaches to pacing have focused on the elements of decision making during sport and have expanded the role of psychophysiological responses including sensory-discriminatory, affective-motivational, and cognitive-evaluative dimensions. These approaches have expanded the understanding of variations in pacing, particularly during head-to-head competition.