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Improving anaerobic fitness could be key to faster run times

A higher anaerobic fitness found to give mountain ultra-marathon runners the edge over their competiors

Increasing your anaerobic capacity in addition to your aerobic capacity help long distance runners improve their times new research shows.

The researchers from Simon Frasier University (SFU) in British Columbia measured aerobic and anaerobic capacity in 10 male mountain marathon runners and found a runner’s pre-race anaerobic fitness capacity is a key factor in determining who will have the fastest finishing times.

Aerobic fitness refers to how the body uses energy when there is enough oxygen, such as the energy burn that occurs when running at a comfortable pace. Anaerobic fitness refers to the body’s ability to exercise when there’s not enough oxygen, such as during a sprint to the finish line at the end of a race.

The 10 runners were of similar age, weight and height and aerobic capacity was measured by having the subjects run to the point of exhaustion on a treadmill, while anaerobic capacity was assessed through seated cycling ergometer.

“All our participants finished the race. The regression results indicated that those with higher anaerobic capacity were predicted to have a faster finishing time. This prediction of race finishing time was significant at a five percent level and explained 54 percent of the variance in finishing times,” said Michael Rogers, a member of the SFU research team. However, he added that the findings suggest the need for further research to explain the remaining 46 percent variance in finishing results.

The results suggest that long distance runners should aim to increase their anaerobic capacity in addition to their aerobic capacity.

“Typically, anaerobic capacity can be improved with high-intensity, shorter-duration training, such as in repetitive uphill sprint training,” Rogers said. The team also made a new observation: High-intensity efforts at greater than about 80 to 85 percent of maximal age-predicted heart rates can be being maintained for several hours in these mountain ultra-marathons. This is novel because “these are races that are typically thought to be performed at considerably lower exercise intensities,” Rogers said.

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