Do more uphill sprints! Higher anaerobic fitness gives edge to mountain ultra-marathon runners
Between changes in elevation, terrain and weather, athletes who compete in mountain ultra-marathons can expect an extreme test of endurance and grit while running these 50-kilometer (~31 miles) races. But is there a way to predict the type of athlete that will post the best finishing time? New research presented today at the Experimental Biology 2016 meeting in San Diego suggests that a runner’s pre-race anaerobic fitness capacity may be a key factor in determining who will have the fastest finishing times.
Researchers at Simon Frasier University (SFU) in British Columbia observed two measures of fitness among the mountain marathoners: aerobic and anaerobic capacity. 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 research team assessed 10 healthy male mountain marathon competitors of similar age, weight and height. 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 5 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 these runners should aim to increase their anaerobic capacity in addition to their aerobic capacity, which is an established predictor of mountain ultra-marathon performance. “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,” he added.