The aim of the current study was to analyze men’s and women’s world records across the full range of running disciplines to contextualize the recent debate about the possibility of a sub-2-h marathon. The average male–female gap is currently 11.2% ± 1.0% for all running events. However, reducing the marathon time to below 2 h would produce a performance 12.9% (+1.7 SD) faster than the women’s marathon record. This gap would be greater than all current world-record differences and would also require a reversal of medium- and long-term historical trends in the men’s and women’s record differences. We therefore conclude that based on historical trends and known differences between men’s and women’s performances, the current women’s world record is not yet the equivalent of a sub-2-h marathon and, therefore, that an imminent sub-2-h marathon is implausible.
The Unlikeliness of an Imminent Sub-2-Hour Marathon: Historical Trends of the Gender Gap in Running Events
Ross Tucker and Jordan Santos-Concejero
Analysis of the Kenyan Distance-Running Phenomenon
Ross Tucker, Vincent O. Onywera, and Jordan Santos-Concejero
To investigate the ethnicity of Kenya’s most successful international runners, tracking their evolution over the period of their international emergence and current dominance.
The authors analyzed male track distance events from 800m upwards from all the major global athletics championships from 1964 to 2013, and the annual Top-25 world marathon performances since 1990.
The percentage of top-25 marathon performances and medals won by Kenyan and Kalenjin runners have increased over time with Nandi subtribe outperforming the rest of the world outside Africa (r > .70, large effect). However, Europe, North America, Oceania, Asia, and South America decreased over time in top marathon performances and track medals won (r > .70, large effect). The tribe and subtribe distribution was different in the marathon than in the track: Maasais were more likely to feature in medals won in shorter track events than in the top 25 of the world marathon rankings (risk ratio [RR] = 9.67, very large effect). This was also the case for Marakwets (RR = 6.44, very large effect) and Pokots (RR = 4.83, large effect). On the other hand, Keiyos, Kikuyus, Kipsigis, Sabaots, and Tugens were more likely to succeed in the marathon than in shorter track events (RR > 2.0, moderate effect).
These data emphasize that the previously documented emergence of African distance runners is primarily a Kenyan phenomenon, driven by the Kalenjin tribe and in particular the Nandi subtribe. This supports the complex interaction between genotype, phenotype, and socioeconomic factors driving the remarkable dominance of Kenyan distance runners.
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.
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.
Running Economy: Neuromuscular and Joint-Stiffness Contributions in Trained Runners
Nicholas Tam, Ross Tucker, Jordan Santos-Concejero, Danielle Prins, and Robert P. Lamberts
Context: It is debated whether running biomechanics make good predictors of running economy, with little known about the neuromuscular and joint-stiffness contributions to economical running gait. Purpose: To understand the relationship between certain neuromuscular and spatiotemporal biomechanical factors associated with running economy. Methods: Thirty trained runners performed a 6-min constant-speed running set at 3.3 m·s−1, where oxygen consumption was assessed. Overground running trials were also performed at 3.3 m·s−1 to assess kinematics, kinetics, and muscle activity. Spatiotemporal gait variables, joint stiffness, preactivation, and stance-phase muscle activity (gluteus medius, rectus femoris, biceps femoris, peroneus longus, tibialis anterior, and gastrocnemius lateralis and medius) were variables of specific interest and thus determined. In addition, preactivation and ground contact of agonist–antagonist coactivation were calculated. Results: More economical runners presented with short ground-contact times (r = .639, P < .001) and greater stride frequencies (r = −.630, P < .001). Lower ankle and greater knee stiffness were associated with lower oxygen consumption (r = .527, P = .007 and r = .384, P = .043, respectively). Only lateral gastrocnemius–tibialis anterior coactivation during stance was associated with lower oxygen cost of transport (r = .672, P < .0001). Conclusions: Greater muscle preactivation and biarticular muscle activity during stance were associated with more economical runners. Consequently, trained runners who exhibit greater neuromuscular activation prior to and during ground contact, in turn optimizing spatiotemporal variables and joint stiffness, will be the most economical runners.
Muscle Activation Patterns Correlate With Race Walking Economy in Elite Race Walkers: A Waveform Analysis
Josu Gomez-Ezeiza, Jordan Santos-Concejero, Jon Torres-Unda, Brian Hanley, and Nicholas Tam
Purpose: To analyze the association between muscle activation patterns on oxygen cost of transport in elite race walkers over the entire gait waveform. Methods: A total of 21 Olympic race walkers performed overground walking trials at 14 km·h−1 where muscle activity of the gluteus maximus, adductor magnus, rectus femoris, biceps femoris, medial gastrocnemius, and tibialis anterior were recorded. Race walking economy was determined by performing an incremental treadmill test ending at 14 km·h−1. Results: This study found that more-economical race walkers exhibit greater gluteus maximus (P = .022, r = .716), biceps femoris (P = .011, r = .801), and medial gastrocnemius (P = .041, r = .662) activation prior to initial contact and weight acceptance. In addition, during the propulsive and the early swing phase, race walkers with higher activation of the rectus femoris (P = .021, r = .798) exhibited better race walking economy. Conclusions: This study suggests that the neuromuscular system is optimally coordinated through varying muscle activation to reduce the metabolic demand of race walking. These findings highlight the importance of proximal posterior muscle activation during initial contact and hip-flexor activation during early swing phase, which are associated with efficient energy transfer. Practically, race walking coaches may find this information useful in the development of specific training strategies on technique.
Gait-Cycle Characteristics and Running Economy in Elite Eritrean and European Runners
Jordan Santos-Concejero, Jesús Oliván, José L. Maté-Muñoz, Carlos Muniesa, Marta Montil, Ross Tucker, and Alejandro Lucia
This study aimed to determine whether biomechanical characteristics such as ground-contact time, swing time, and stride length and frequency contribute to the exceptional running economy of East African runners.
Seventeen elite long-distance runners (9 Eritrean, 8 European) performed an incremental maximal running test and 3 submaximal running bouts at 17, 19, and 21 km/h. During the tests, gas-exchange parameters were measured to determine maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max) and running economy (RE). In addition, ground-contact time, swing time, stride length, and stride frequency were measured.
The European runners had higher VO2max values than the Eritrean runners (77.2 ± 5.2 vs 73.5 ± 6.0 mL · kg−1 · min−1, P = .011, effect sizes [ES] = 0.65), although Eritrean runners were more economical at 19 km/h (191.4 ± 10.4 vs 205.9 ± 13.3 mL · kg−1 · min−1, P = .026, ES = 1.21). There were no differences between groups for ground-contact time, swing time, stride length, or stride frequency at any speed. Swing time was associated with running economy at 21 km/h in the Eritrean runners (r = .71, P = .033), but no other significant association was found between RE and biomechanical variables. Finally, best 10-km performance was significantly correlated with RE (r = –.57; P = .013).
Eritrean runners have superior RE compared with elite European runners. This appears to offset their inferior VO2max. However, the current data suggest that their better RE does not have a biomechanical basis. Other factors, not measured in the current study, may contribute to this RE advantage.