Do you think the most up-to-date shoes, performance diets and well thought-out racing strategies are just for elite runners?
In fact, the slower you are, the more such measures improve the time for completion, new research at the University of Colorado suggests.
"We have found that at faster speeds you get significantly less benefits than improving your economy than at slower speeds," said lead author Shalaya Kipp, a former student in the department of integrative physiology.
The study, published in the magazine Limits in physiology Today, he uses a mathematical approach to answer a question puzzled by physiologists of exercises for years: How much improves the speed of your body's work – or the number of calories burned per second?
The issue intrigued the interest of the wider community in July 2017, when Nike introduced its Zoom Vaporfly 4% shoe, which, according to previous UK research, improved the economy by 4% on average.
Media members, entertainment athletes and some researchers have accepted that this means that runners who wear shoes can cross the finish line 4% faster. With such savings, many predicted that the sub-2-hour marathon was nearby.
But according to the new study, mathematics is more complex than that.
"For a long time, most people thought there was a direct proportional linear relationship: if you improved the economy by X percent, you could use X percent faster," said Wouter Hoogkamer, PhD, co-author of Kipp and Integrative Professor physiology Roger Cram. "We decided to reassess this link and found that this was not the case."
For the paper, the researchers reviewed racing runners dating back decades, reordering the numbers to explain things like air drag and oxygen uptake rates (both increasing as fast as you run).
They have come to the conclusion that for runners moving slower than 9 minutes per mile, any improvement in economic management (thanks to better shoes, nutritional supplements, wind, drafting or other measures) leads to more Higher tempo improvement.
For example, a 1% improvement in economy marathon economy from 4:30:00 will make it 1.17% faster, reducing significantly 3 minutes and 7 seconds.
On the other hand, for those who work faster than 9 minutes per mile, every percentage improvement in gas flow in the body results in less than that percentage improvement. For example, the same 1% improvement in a 2:03:00 marathon will allow him to perform only .65% faster, with just 47 seconds of improvement.
To simplify math, the authors included a first-ever spreadsheet where runners can include height, weight, percentage improvement in economy and base speed to predict the time for the final of their next marathon, half marathon or 10K.
All this is good news for fans of runners, the authors say.
"Many times the entertainers assume that these things will simply be of benefit to elite athletes, when the reality is that they can benefit even more from the elites," said Kip, now a PhD student at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.
She notes that for a slower runner, slipping a pair of shoes that improve the economy by 4%, actually can turn into a 5% improvement in the final time. Meanwhile, other measures to increase metabolic efficiency, such as beet juice, drawing behind another runner, or exercising plenometric exercises, can also increase speed.
"For those whose New Year's resolutions are starting to fade or who are training for the boldest Boulder, there is an optimistic message: There are many things you can do to improve your time," Kram said.
For those who are at the top of the competitive spectrum, however, the new document clarifies something that many are already intuitively aware of: the faster you are, the harder it is to get faster.
Since the introduction of 4% shoes, the authors note, the world record of the marathon has only improved by a relatively small 1.03%.
"With the current shoe technology, perfect drawings and other factors that are still in place, we still believe that a marathon is possible in less than two hours," Hokkamer said, pointing to the record time of Eliood Kipchoghe, 39. "It will be a little harder than we thought.