Understanding Running Economy

I’m not going to lie. I really nerd out when I get to teach my middle school kiddos concepts that I can relate to running, or exercising in some way . We have been recently learning about how our body converts food energy into a usable form of energy called adenine triphosphate, or ATP. This process is called cellular respiration.img_2269

Our body goes through two types of cellular respiration, aerobic and anaerobic. Most adults have heard of the two different types of exercises before. Aerobic respiration occurs when the body uses oxygen while anaerobic occurs without the use of  oxygen. The difference is mostly dependent on the pace and duration you are going when you are exercising.

The difference also breaks down the different types of fuel the body can use as fuel and how quickly. This can help a weight conscious runner fuel more effectively and still maintain energy through the training cycle. This can also help runners understand running economy.

What is running economy?

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An overly simplified analogy, commonly used,to understand running economy is fuel economy of a car. Which is, how much fuel it takes to get your car to travel a specific distance. The difference is the fuel used when talking about running economy is calories and oxygen. As both are ingredients for the same aerobic process for cellular respiration they are fairly interchangeable and most often the consumption of oxygen is the primary focus. However, there can be some slight variation depending on the fuel source being used, such as carbohydrates being easier to break down than fat.  That is why endurance athletes will turn to simple sugars for mid race fuel,  because it is a more economical fuel source .

Why is it important?

Running economy is a measurable factor that plays a role in performance outcome . Essentially, the more economical a runner is at a given speed the better they become. There are of course other factors, both physiological and psychological that will play in the outcome of an athletes performance.img_1265

Running economy is often looked at alongside a runners VO2 max . Which is another measurable factor the plays a role in performance outcome. If you have two runners A&B, both having the same VO2 max, but runner B has a better running economy. Most likely, runner B will also have a better performance than runner A. The difference is seen in greater proportions in the long distance races verse middle distance.


Can you improve running economy?

Absolutely! Simple things like increasing a runners mileage base can improve running economy. One training aspect often neglected or even avoided by runners is strength training, which is an excellent way to improve running economy.  Greatly undervalued and non-time consuming form drills , strides and short intervals are other great ways to improve running economy.   The development of running economy can be quite simple or complex depending on the need of the individual runner.

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Published by RunCanvas

Avid Runner, mother, wife and teacher. On a wonderful journey, taking it one mile at a time.

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