What´s going on with Performance of Middle/Long Distance Spanish Runners? A Physiologist Approach

So far in 1995 the genius Bengt Saltin and his collegues published the best (personal opinion) exercise Physiology paper on endurance running, comparing scandinavian and kenyan runners. It was not only about physiological issues, it was even about social factors which make junior kenyan athletes, perfect machines for winning (once they become senior athletes) each year top Marathons in the World.
santiagosanz -
What´s going on with Performance of Middle/Long Distance Spanish Runners? A Physiologist Approach
Límites, más allá de ellos
¿Límites? Más allá de ellos (blog de Santiago Sanz)

“Coaching runners outside and inside the fence“

So far in 1995 the genius Bengt Saltin and his collegues published the best (personal opinion) exercise Physiology paper on endurance running, comparing scandinavian and kenyan runners. It was not only about physiological issues, it was even about social factors which make junior kenyan athletes, perfect machines for winning (once they become senior athletes) each year top Marathons in the World.

A great paper to read!!!

When Kenyan kids grow up, they can daily run around 6-15 Miles and, this is well defined in the study. Their best quality is not the Vo2max values they have (0f course, one subject was 85,9ml/kg/min), due to this is even close in top white runners but when We talk about running economy, just at 18Km/h Saltin reported a huge difference once the inclination of treadmill was increased.

Both Scandinavian and kenyan runners were tested in altitude and sea level and at top speeds running economy was greater in the Africans. Both Scandinavian and kenyan runners were tested in altitude and sea level and at top speeds running economy was greater in the Africans.

What you realize once you read the document is that Marathon is not anymore a huge mileage training event anymore. They do not report more than hundred miles per week for top 5000/10000m athletes from the study (Including St. Patrick High School) but the workouts intensity was so high from 60 to 96% Vo2max range.

Weekly mileage related to running intensities reported by Saltin, et al., 1995 Weekly mileage related to running intensities reported by Saltin, et al., 1995

 

Weekly training schedule from St. Patrick school (Home of champions in Kenya) Weekly training schedule from St. Patrick school (Home of champions in Kenya)

 

It was at the London Marathon 2014, just a few hours after Kipsang´s victory when I talked with Renato Canova (Italian coach of stars as Olympic Marathon Champions Baldini, Bordin and coach of Florence Kiplagat, Moses Mosop,...). It was a nice and short conversation about how much has marathon change, talking about intensity and, of course mileage. The 200 miles from Bordin (2h08min12sec) were a non-sense if We compare with the 120 from Baldini and from some east african runners who simply blow up fast miles and train so specifically as Renato told me "These boys during race can stay moving from lactate to piruvate continuously... at a really high intensity". I know that some more tools are needed to close more the gap with the two hours marathon but maybe with the use of training monitoring as Heart Rate variabilty, these runners will jump again to a greater performance step... To the 2 hours dreamed by Dr. Michael Joyner? : )

As an athlete I always wanna learn from top, top, runners as Geoffrey Mutai As an athlete I always wanna learn from top, top, runners as Geoffrey Mutai

So What´s the problem with Spanish runners right now? Can We have brilliant contenders as USA, Canada or Italy? Can We change some training issues to increase again the performance and be close as in the past to the 13/27 min in the 5000 and 10000m? Can We back to the 2h08min in the Marathon?

First of all We must define what are the physiological components to have the largest effect on Marathon Perfomance and according to Chapman & Levine, 2007 these are:

- Vo2 at Ventilatory or Lactate Threshold

-Vo2max

- Running Economy

Be + economic means be faster in Marathon Be + economic means be faster in Marathon

The last variable is quite better in the East Africans and has been recently reported by Ishikawa, M. et al., (2014), also it seems than in african endurance runners central governor work in better conditions with a higher oxygenation of pre-frontal cortex at high intensities (Santos-Concejero, J. et al., 2015), also as Saltin reported in 1995 at a given intensity and considering Vo2max is limited, better We have a top cardiorespiratory condition (Vo2peak) or better We have a low consumption of oxygen at top speeds (both are the ideal).

How Can We improve the Vo2max & Vo2 at Ventilatory Threshold? Simple methods were  defined by the most relevant physiologist on gases mechanics and endurance disciplines. Per Olof Astrand posted it in the legendary "Textbook of Work Physiology, 1978". With this kind of sessions at sea level retyculocytes can be increased by ~2-4% (Friedmann et al., 2005) but for a greater improvement athletes need to train at 2100-2500m for almost three weeks (Heinicke et al., 2005). An improvement in total hemoglobin mass of ~5% will increase the Vo2max at sea level and performance will be significantly better.

I´ve been training high more than 1500h per year in the last 12 years!!! I´ve been training high more than 1500h per year in the last 12 years!!!

Many US athletes live continuosly in moderate altitude (Flagsstaff, Fresno, Boulder, Big Bear, Mammoth Lakes,...). We have seen great performances in the last few years from american runners who just copy the training conditions of Eritreans, Ethiopians, kenyans and Ugandan runners. If Spanish runners wanna jump to the 13min/27min and 2h08min era, better they start to train high almost six months a year and coming down just before racing as "Neocytolisis" was reported by Rice et al., (2001) with a 10% fall in the Red Cell Volume of altitude dwellers within ten days after descent from altitude to sea level.

We have read several studies like the one from Ritchelier et al., 1994 where they reported a big inter-individual erythropoietic response at 6542m altitude with subjects who didn´t increase the serum EPO or even those who reported an increase in Serum EPO but not in hemoglobin mass but mostly of the subjects who are exposed to altitude, are responders (Chapman et al., 1998).

Some more training quantify tools as Heart Rate Variability still not been used by the Africans, something that let us know that once they explote all scientific potential... Will be a step more ahead!!!

Science is the key of improvement and... SUCCESS!!! Science is the key of improvement and... SUCCESS!!!

Santiago Sanz

A enthusiastic athlete and sport physiologist!!!

Follow all my updates on diversity in Exercise Physiology @santirun

 

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