How do endurance runners actually train? Relationship with competition performance

Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2005 Mar;37(3):496-504. doi: 10.1249/01.mss.0000155393.78744.86.


Purpose: To quantify the relationship between total training load and running performance during the most important competitions of the season (national cross-country championships, 4.175- and 10.130-km races).

Methods: Eight well-trained, subelite endurance runners (age (mean+/-SD): 23+/-2 yr; VO2max: 70.0+/-7.3 performed a maximal cardiorespiratory exercise test before the training period to determine ventilatory threshold (VT) and respiratory compensation threshold (RCT). Heart rate was continuously recorded using telemetry during each training session over a 6-month macrocycle, designed to achieve peak performance during the aforementioned cross-country races, lasting from late August to the time that these races were held, that is, mid-February. This allowed us to quantify the total cumulative time spent in three intensity zones calculated as zone 1 (low intensity, lower than the VT); zone 2 (moderate intensity, between VT and RCT); and zone 3 (high intensity, above the RCT).

Results: Total training time in zone 1 (4581+/-979 min) was significantly higher (P<0.001) than that accumulated in zones 2 (1354+/-583 min) and 3 (487+/-154 min). Total time in zone 2 was significantly higher than time in zone 3 (P<0.05). A correlation coefficient of r=-0.79 (P=0.06) and r=-0.97 (P=0.008) was found between the total training time spent in zone 1 and performance time during the short and long cross-country races, respectively.

Conclusions: Our findings suggest that total training time spent at low intensities might be associated with improved performance during highly intense endurance events, especially if the event duration is approximately 35 min. Interventional studies (i.e., improving or reducing training time in zone 1) are needed to corroborate our findings and to elucidate the physiological mechanisms behind them.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / physiology
  • Adult
  • Competitive Behavior / physiology
  • Heart Rate / physiology
  • Humans
  • Oxygen Consumption / physiology
  • Physical Education and Training / methods*
  • Physical Endurance / physiology*
  • Running / physiology*
  • Task Performance and Analysis*