OTHER PREDICTORS OF RUNNING PERFORMANCE
A fascination with the belief that the V02max is the alpha and omega of exercise physiology has blinded us to the possibility that other factors may be equal or better predictors of running performance (Noakes, 1988b).
My colleagues and I were first alerted to this possibility by finding that peak running velocity reached at exhaustion during the maximal treadmill test was a better predictor of running performance than was the V02max (Scrimgeour et al, 1986). Krahenbuhl and Pangrazi (1983) reported a similar finding in children. We and others (D.W. Morgan et al, 1989) have since confirmed this in more detailed studies (Noakes, 1988b, 1990b). In all these studies, peak treadmill running velocity and the running speed at the “lactate tumpoint” were the best physiological predictors of running performance; V02max was a less effective predictor, whereas running economy was without predictive value. The very best predictor of performance at any longer distance, even up to 90 km, was the 10km run time.
To me, these results indicate the following.
1. A muscle factor determines running performance at any distance. This muscle factor involves the maximum power that the muscles can produce and is not likely related to factors determining oxygen transport to or oxygen utilization by the muscles (Noakes, 1988b).
2. Those runners with the best quality muscles for short-distance races (800 to 1500 m) also have the best muscles to race at any longer distance, even up to the extreme ultradistances (see post 8). Thus speed and endurance are not different physiological entities; they are intimately related.
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This does not mean that the best sprinters will also be the best long-distance runners. Although they may have the best quality muscles for explosive exercise, factors such as temperament and body build prevent many top sprinters from achieving excellence at the longer running distances. Alternatively, muscles able to achieve very high rates of energy production for short duration may fatigue more rapidly than muscles that are not quite as powerful. Thus, at distances greater than 400 m, nonelite sprinters with the less powerful muscles may outperform the elite sprinters whose more powerful muscles fatigue too rapidly. However, I suspect that among trained distance runners, the best runners at any longer distance are those who are fastest over distances from 800 to 1500 m and possibly even shorter distances.
3. V02max is an indirect measure of athletic potential, because it measures the oxygen consumption at the peak achieved work load or running velocity. Among runners who have equal running economies, the runners who reach the highest work loads will also have the highest V02max values and will also be the best runners. But the true predictors of their potentials are the peak running velocities or work loads they achieve during the maximal test, not the actual V02max values (Noakes, 1988b, 1989a).
4. The best predictor of running performance at any distance is a running test (time for races of 1500 m to 10 km). This is a most important finding, because it proves what the best athletes have always knownthat one’s state of preparedness for any long-distance race, including marathons and ultramarathons, can be predicted from one’s recent 10-km times. Thus, it is not necessary to test your preparedness for a marathon, for example, by running the full distance. Timing a shorter run prevents the muscle damage and prolonged recovery that results from racing distances longer than 25 km.
5. Laboratory testing is not yet as effective as an actual running test for predicting performance. This indicates that we have yet to establish the exact physiological and biochemical factors that determine running performance. This finding also indicates that the Exercisess predicting running performance on the basis of a hypothetical V02max (Exercisess 2.3, 2.4, 2.6, 2.7) are accurate not because they are based on some unique physiological findings but because they predict performance at all distances on the basis of performance at shorter distances.