Journal of Human Sport and Exercise

Effects of marathon training on maximal aerobic capacity and running economy in experienced marathon runners

Emma J. Lee, Eric M. Snyder, Christopher J. Lundstrom



Maximal aerobic capacity (VO2max) and running economy (RE) are markers of running performance. A valid evaluation of RE may occur through allometric scaling of body mass (alloVO2; ml kg-0.66 min-1), energy cost (EC; kcal kg-1 km-1), or percent of VO2max (%VO2max). Little is known about physiological changes that occur in competitive runners over a marathon training cycle. The VDOT score, incorporating VO2max and RE, enables comparison of race performances under different temperature conditions. This study’s purpose was to determine whether VO2max and measures of RE change with marathon training, and to evaluate the relationship between these variables and VDOT. Eight runners (age 34±2 years; marathon <3:00 males, <3:30 females; five females) completed treadmill marathon-intensity-effort (MIE) and VO2max tests at 10 and 1-2 weeks pre-marathon. Body composition (%BF) was determined using hydrostatic weighing. Paired t-tests were used to compare pre- and post-training values. The alpha level for significance was set at 0.05. Body fat decreased from 18.7±1.5% to 16.7±1.6%, VO2max increased from 51.6±2.4 to 63.9±1.1 ml kg-1 min-1, and %VO2max during the MIE decreased from 82.1±2.0 to 72.3±3.2% (p < 0.05 for all). VDOT was significantly associated with alloVO2 (r = -0.779, p = 0.039) but not with VO2max (r = 0.071, p = 0.867). Experienced competitive runners may increase VO2max and decrease %BF after a marathon-specific training cycle. The decrease in %VO2max in a MIE is likely due to a higher VO2max, as other measures of RE did not change significantly. In this cohort, alloVO2 was negatively correlated with race performance.


VO2max; Performance; Sub-elite


Arbab-Zadeh, A., Perhonen, M., Howden, E., Peshock, R. M., Zhang, R., Adams-Huet, B., . . . Levine, B. D. (2014). Cardiac Remodeling in Response to 1 Year of Intensive Endurance Training. Circulation, 130(24), 2152-2161.

Armstrong, L. E. C., Douglas J.; Millard-Stafford, Mindy; Moran, Daniel S.; Pyne, Scott W.; Roberts, William O. (2007). Exertional Heat Illness during Training and Competition. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 39(3), 556-572.

Barnes, K. R., Hopkins, W. G., McGuigan, M. R., Northuis, M. E., & Kilding, A. E. (2013). Effects of Resistance Training on Running Economy and Cross-country Performance. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 45(12), 2322-2331.

Barnes, K. R., & Kilding, A. E. (2015a). Running economy: measurement, norms, and determining factors. Sports Medicine-Open, 1(1), 1-15.

Barnes, K. R., & Kilding, A. E. (2015b). Strategies to Improve Running Economy. Sports Medicine, 45(1), 37-56.

Basset, D. R., Jr. , & Howley, E. T. (2000). Limiting factors for maximum oxygen uptake and determinants of endurance performance. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 32(1), 70.

Berg, K. (2003). Endurance Training and Performance in Runners. Sports Medicine, 33(1), 59-73.

Berg, K., Latin, R. W., & Hendricks, T. (1995). Physiological and physical performance changes in female runners during one year of training. Sports Medicine, Training and Rehabilitation, 5(4), 311-319.

Billat, L. V. (2001). Interval Training for Performance: A Scientific and Empirical Practice. Sports Medicine, 31(1), 13-31.

Billat, L. V., Demarle, A., Paiva, M., & Koralsztein, J. P. (2002). Effect of Training on the Physiological Factors of Performance in Elite Marathon Runners (Males and Females). Int J Sports Med, 23(05), 336-341.

Billat, L. V., Demarle, A., Slawinski, J., Paiva, M., & Koralsztein, J.-P. (2001). Physical and training characteristics of top-class marathon runners. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 33(12), 2089-2097.

Borg, G. A., & Noble, B. J. (1974). Perceived exertion. Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews, 2(1), 131-154.

Bouchard, C., An, P., Rice, T., Skinner, J. S., Wilmore, J. H., Gagnon, J., . . . Rao, D. C. (1999). Familial aggregation of VO2max response to exercise training: results from the HERITAGE Family Study. Journal of applied physiology, 87(3), 1003-1008.

Braun, W. A., & Paulson, S. (2012). The Effects of a Downhill Running Bout on Running Economy. Research in Sports Medicine, 20(3), 274-285.

Burgess, T. L., & Lambert, M. I. (2010). The effects of training, muscle damage and fatigue on running economy. International SportMed Journal, 11(4), 363-379.

Cheuvront, S. N., & Haymes, E. M. (2001). Thermoregulation and Marathon Running. Sports Medicine, 31(10), 743-762.

Conley, D. L., & Krahenbuhl, G. S. (1980). Running economy and distance running performance of highly trained athletes. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 12(5), 357-360.

Cornelissen, V. A., & Fagard, R. H. (2005). Effects of Endurance Training on Blood Pressure, Blood Pressure–Regulating Mechanisms, and Cardiovascular Risk Factors. Hypertension, 46(4), 667-675.

Costill, D. L. (1967). The relationship between selected physiological variables and distance running performance. The Journal of sports medicine and physical fitness, 7(2), 61.

Costill, D. L., Thomason, H., & Roberts, E. (1973). Fractional utilization of the aerobic capacity during distance running. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 5(4), 248-252.

Coyle, E. F. (2007). Physiological Regulation of Marathon Performance. Sports Medicine, 37(4), 306-311.

Daniels, J. (1974). Physiological Characteristics of Champion Male Athletes. Research Quarterly. American Alliance for Health, Physical Education and Recreation, 45(4), 342-348.

Daniels, J. (2014). Daniels's Running Formula. In T. Hanlon, C. Marty, & T. Wolpert (Eds.), Daniels' Running Formula (3rd ed., pp. 77-104). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Daniels, J., & Daniels, N. (1992). Running economy of elite male and elite female runners. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 24(4).

Daniels, J., & Gilbert, J. (1979). Oxygen power: Performance tables for distance runners. Tempe, Arizona.

Davies, C. T. M., & Knibbs, A. V. (1971). The training stimulus. Internationale Zeitschrift für angewandte Physiologie einschließlich Arbeitsphysiologie, 29(4), 299-305.

El Helou, N., Tafflet, M., Berthelot, G., Tolaini, J., Marc, A., Guillaume, M., . . . Toussaint, J.-F. (2012). Impact of Environmental Parameters on Marathon Running Performance. PLoS ONE, 7(5), e37407.

Foster, C. (1983). VO2 max and training indices as determinants of competitive running performance. Journal of Sports Sciences, 1(1), 13-22.

Holloszy, J. O., & Booth, F. W. (1976). Biochemical Adaptations to Endurance Exercise in Muscle. Annual Review of Physiology, 38(1), 273-291.

Holloszy, J. O., & Coyle, E. F. (1984). Adaptations of skeletal muscle to endurance exercise and their metabolic consequences. Journal of applied physiology, 56(4), 831-838.

Holloszy, J. O., Rennie, M. J., Hickson, R. C., Conlee, R. K., & Hagberg, J. M. (1977). Physiological consequences of the biochemical adaptations to endurance exercise. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 301(1), 440-450.

Janssen, G. M. E., Graef, C. J. J., & Saris, W. H. M. (1989). Food Intake and Body Composition in Novice Athletes During a Training Period to Run a Marathon. Int J Sports Med, 10(S 1), S17-S21.

Jeukendrup, A. E., & Wallis, G. A. (2005). Measurement of Substrate Oxidation During Exercise by Means of Gas Exchange Measurements. Int J Sports Med, 26(S 1), S28-S37.

Johnston, R. E., Quinn, T. J., Kertzer, R., & Vroman, N. B. (1997). Strength Training in Female Distance Runners: Impact on Running Economy. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 11(4), 224-229.

Joyner, M. J., & Coyle, E. F. (2008). Endurance exercise performance: the physiology of champions. The Journal of Physiology, 586(1), 35-44.

Londeree, B. R., Thomas, T. R., Ziogas, G., Smith, T. D., & Zhang, Q. (1995). %VO2max versus %HRmax regressions for six modes of exercise. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 27(3), 458-461.

Mello, R. P., Murphy, M. M., & Vogel, J. A. (1988). Relationship Between a Two Mile Run For Time and Maximal Oxygen Uptake. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 2(1), 9-12.

Midgley, A. W., McNaughton, L. R., & Jones, A. M. (2007). Training to Enhance the Physiological Determinants of Long-Distance Running Performance. Sports Medicine, 37(10), 857-880.

Millet, G. P., Jaouen, B., Borrani, F., & Candau, R. (2002). Effects of concurrent endurance and strength training on running economy and V̇O2 kinetics. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 34(8), 1351-1359.

Morgan, D. W., Bransford, D. R., Costill, D. L., Daniels, J., Howley, E. T., & Krahenbuhl, G. S. (1995). Variation in the aerobic demand of running among trained and untrained subjects. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 27(3), 404-409.

Ogles, B. M., & Masters, K. S. (2000). Older vs. younger adult male marathon runners: participative motives and training habits. Journal of Sport Behavior, 23(2).

Paavolainen, L. M., Hakkinen, K., Hamalainen, I., Nummela, A., & Rusko, H. (2003). Explosive-strength training improves 5-km running time by improving running economy and muscle power. Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports, 13(4), 272-272.

Paavolainen, L. M., Häkkinen, K., Hämäläinen, I., Nummela, A., & Rusko, H. (1999). Explosive-strength training improves 5-km running time by improving running economy and muscle power. Journal of applied physiology, 86(5), 1527-1533.

Pate, R. R., & Neill, J. R. (2007). American women in the marathon. Sports Medicine, 37, 294+.

Péronnet, F., & Massicotte, D. (1991). Table of nonprotein respiratory quotient: an update. Can J Sport Sci, 16(1), 23-29.

Prior, D. L., & La Gerche, A. (2012). The athlete's heart. Heart, 98(12), 947-955.

Saunders, P. U., Pyne, D. B., Telford, R. D., & Hawley, J. A. (2004). Factors Affecting Running Economy in Trained Distance Runners. Sports Medicine, 34(7), 465-485.

Smith, T. P., McNaughton, L. R., & Marshall, K. J. (1999). Effects of 4-wk training using Vmax/Tmax on VO2max and performance in athletes. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 31(6), 892-896.

Spurrs, R., Murphy, A., & Watsford, M. (2003). The effect of plyometric training on distance running performance. European journal of applied physiology, 89(1), 1-7.

Støren, Ø., Helgerud, J., Støa, E. M., & Hoff, J. (2008). Maximal Strength Training Improves Running Economy in Distance Runners. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 40(6), 1087-1092.

Suping, Z., Guanglin, M., Yanwen, W., & Ji, L. (1992). Study of the relationships between weather conditions and the marathon race, and of meteorotropic effects on distance runners. International Journal of Biometeorology, 36(2), 63-68.

Svedenhag, J., & Sjödin, B. (1984). Maximal and Submaximal Oxygen Uptakes and Blood Lactate Levels in Elite Male Middle- and Long-Distance Runners. Int J Sports Med, 05(05), 255-261.

Swain, D. P., Abernathy, K. S., Smith, C. S., Lee, S. J., & Bunn, S. A. (1994). Target heart rates for the development of cardiorespiratory fitness. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 26(1), 112-116.

Tanaka, H., Monahan, K. D., & Seals, D. R. (2001). Age-predicted maximal heart rate revisited. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 37(1), 153-156.

Vihma, T. (2010). Effects of weather on the performance of marathon runners. International Journal of Biometeorology, 54(3), 297-306.

Wilmore, J. H., Brown, C. H., & Davis, J. A. (1977). Body Physique and Composition of the Female Distance Runner. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 301(1), 764-776.

Wilmore, J. H., Stanforth, P. R., Gagnon, J., Rice, T., Mandel, S., Leon, A. S., . . . Bouchard, C. (2001). Cardiac output and stroke volume changes with endurance training: The HERITAGE Family Study. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 33(1), 99-106.


Copyright (c) 2018 Journal of Human Sport and Exercise

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.