For as long as I’ve known, the number one predictor of running success has been known to be VO2 Max. VO2 Max is the body’s ability to get oxygen to its muscles. The harder one works, the more oxygen is needed by the muscles. This effort is a combination of the heart, cardiovascular system, and muscles. These three systems work in unison to make oxygen delivery possible (there are other systems involved, but let’s stick to the basics). However, what if I were to tell you, recent research has pointed out that perhaps VO2 Max is not the end of all means to determining running success after all? What if I were to say, VO2 max is not the cause of running success, but rather the by product. Meaning, rather than VO2 Max determining your running success, your running success determines your VO2 Max. This means, something else must be guilty of limiting our running success.
This limiting (or benefiting factor depending on if you have a high VO2 Max or not) is running economy. Running economy is how efficiently your body can run, or how economical it is (compare it to a car). Where VO2 Max involves getting oxygen to your muscles, running economy involves using less oxygen by your muscles. The more fuel efficient a car is the more economical it is right? The human body works the same way. Therefore, by having a high running economy, you can perform at the same work level as someone else with a low running economy while working at a lower VO2 Max. What does this mean to your running career? Running economy not VO2 Max is the limiting factor, because you can beat someone who has a higher VO2 Max than you as long as you’re running economy is better so you never have to reach that high level of VO2 Max. A matter of fact, any race over 5k does not significantly tap into VO2 Max, thus, running economy for long distance is a great deal more important than VO2 Max in distance races.
What composes running economy? Well, running economy is composed of your height, weight, weight distribution, running form, and body composition. These factors are what determine your running economy.
Now some of you might be saying, “What about lactic acid?” This by the way is not as bad as its reputations states (it’s actually a byproduct of using carbohydrates as fuel). Lactic acid still comes into play, but lactic acid produces its unwanted effects when the body cannot get it away from the muscles quick enough and its starts to build up. However, during slower distance races, you body can keep up with the lactic acid production and it should not even become a factor.
How do you improve your running economy? Well first of you have to run. The more running you do the better, practice makes perfect. Stick with a lot of slow running at first to practice on proper form (don’t think about it, the body corrects these mistakes itself in order to run as efficiently as possible.) Eventually you should add speed so your body becomes more economical at running at faster paces.
Overall, just remember, to run well you must run. That is exactly what running economy is. Furthermore, if you would like to learn more about VO2 Max, lactic acid, or running economy, go to www.iamoptimal.com.