In their study of Jim McDonagh and Ted Corbitt, top veteran ultramarathoners with similar V02max values but with different running performances, Costill and Winrow (1970b) reported that the amount of oxygen each runner utilized when running at each of four submaximal (below 100% V02max) running speeds of between 10.8 km/hr and 16 km/hr differed quite substantially. McDonagh required less oxygen to run at each running speed and was therefore labeled more economical or more efficient than Corbitt. The relative difference in their efficiencies was about 11%, which is about twice the difference (5%) in their best marathon times at the time they were studied. Dill et al. (1930) and more recently Sjodin and Scheie (1982), J.T. Daniels et al. (1985), and Svedenhag and Sjodin (1985) reported that running economy can differ by as much as 30% even in trained athletes.
Other studies showed that marathon runners tend to be more efficient than other runners (Boileau et al, 1982; Costill & Fox, 1969; Costill et al, 1973; J. Daniels & Oldridge, 1970; Dill, 1965; Pollock, 1977; Pugh et al, 1967) and that world- class middle-distance runners tend to be more efficient than other lesser athletes (J. Daniels & Oldridge, 1970; Dill, 1965; Kollias et al, 1967). When tested on a bicycle, distance runners are more efficient than are sprinters (Stuart et al, 1981).
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From D.L. Conley and G.S. Krahenbuhl, “Running Economy and Distance Running Performance of Highly Trained Athletes,” Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 12(5), p. 359, 1980, © by American College of Sports Medicine. Adapted by permission.
In general, research has shown that the best athletes are usually the most efficient (Noakes, 1988b). This finding was most clearly shown by Conley and Krahenbuhl (1980), who studied a group of 12 runners whose best 10-km times were closely bunched between 30:31 and 33:33. The authors found that the runners’ V02max values, which ranged from 67 to 78 ml/kg/min, could not be used to predict their 10-km times. For example, the second fastest runner had the second lowest V02max value. However, the researchers found excellent correlations between the amounts of oxygen that the runners used at each of three submaximal running speeds (14.5, 16.1, and 17.7 km/hr) and their best times for the 10-km race. Thus, the runners who used the least oxygen at each of these running speeds and were therefore the most efficient had the fastest 10-km running times (see Exercises 2.3).
The authors suggested that they did not find V02max to be a good predictor of running ability because they were dealing with a homogeneous group of runners with very similar 10-km race times. The authors concluded that a high V02max (above 67 ml/kg/min) helped each athlete gain membership to this elite performance group, but within this selected group, running efficiency and not V02max was the factor discriminating success in the 10-km race.