"There's only one hard and fast rule in running: sometimes you have to run one hard and fast."

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

VO2 Max Myth

Recent training

11/26. 10 in 90 Dead on my feet.

11/27. 10 in 87 Not bad for sub-zero windchills.

11/28. 12 in 88 (HRav=154, pk=167) Freezing early, started getting comfortable later.

VO2 Max: The Last Gasp

Entire philosophies have been built around the concept of maximal oxygen uptake, but there are a number of caveats to the idea that this is the major predictor of running ability. Derek Clayton, who lowered the world record in the marathon from 2:12 to 2:08 had a VO2 Max of 68 (Jack Daniels' charts suggest 2:26) and Yiannis Kouros, holder of multiple ultradistance world records had a VO2 max of only 63 (suggesting a marathon in 2:36)> Top cross-country skiers have the highest reliably recorded measurements, but they are not great runners. VO2 Max is simply a measure of how well one performs under the conditions of the test and, if a measure of running ability, correlates well only to races that approximate the test in duration - about 3000 meters.

VO2 max is measured in units of milliliters of oxygen per minute per kilogram body weight, so the easiest way to improve one's number is to lose weight. Clayton and Kouros, both solidly muscled, tested low. Carboloading, salt ingestion and other bloating agents (creatine, glycerine) will lower one's number. The elevation, humidity and temperature all affect the oxygen saturation of the air during the test.

One factor in VO2 max is maximal heart rate, which can't be increased (I've tried). Another is stroke volume, which is inversely correlated to resting heart rate. 2,3-bisphosphoglycerate and proton gradients are involved, but manipulating these is counter-productive (again, I've tried). Lung capacity is theoretically important; whether breathing exercises (pranayama, buccal pumping) help is unknown. Training at or near one's maximum heart rate slows the decline with age of the maximum, increases stroke volume and positiovely affects all the other factors.

One way to increase the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood is to increase the hemoglobin content. This has led to practices legal (altitude training) and illegal (blood doping, erythropoietin injections). Other methods not usually discussed are training in the cold and on a full stomach; the increased need for blood for training, heat and digestion should increase the number of red blood cells.

The reason cross-country skiers have high VO2 max measurements may be due to altitude and cold, but is more likely due to the fact that training on hills causes them to exercise at or near maximal heart rate more often than most runners.

What's my VO2 max? I have no idea. I think one's last race is the best predictor of one's next race. And, if you look carefully, you'll see the experts agree.


WynnMan said...

Hey Steve! I think you should get some new decor in your bedroom and have one of those custom made altitude sleeping chamber. Basically a big glass aquarium around your bed :)

This is some good info. Looks like you have a pretty rich running schedule for 2008! you'll be a busy man. Anyone who can come out unscathed after a list like that is impressive regardless.

Yeah I am still doing quite a bit of touch-ups on the awards, but wanted to show an idea of what they looked like. They look better in real life. I need to get a "left antler" for the male award so it will look better. I still need to wood burn the award emblem as well.

take care

northwoods bryan said...

Show me the science! Glad to see this skeptical review of the VO-this-and-that hype. The upshot is, now I can eat a big meal right before running, and call it part of the training, right?

SteveQ said...

Wynn, you're too young to remember when guys tried running with facemasks and tanks that scrubbed some of the oxygen out of the air they breathed (which shows they didn't work). I'd be willing to try an altitude simulator, but they cost more than my car, so I won't hold my breath...

Brian, go ahead and eat that big meal - but you have to run in weather like today's too (It's 5 degrees as I type).

Runner Brewer said...

Great to hear,

I think tomorrow I will do a vo2 workout.

I will drink beer until I am full, and then run my butt off. By then I might butt my run off.

I stopped doing vo2 as the benefits were only twofold
1 Injury
2 Overtraining fatigue.

LT is way more valuable.