The elements that make the mile fun to watch make it tricky to study

Thursday, June 24th, 2021

The mile is the perfect distance for a foot race, Alex Hutchinson argues:

But the very elements that make the mile so much fun to watch also make it tricky for physiologists to study. Long-distance running is a maximization challenge: almost anything you can do to boost your VO2 max, lactate threshold, or running economy will make you better. Sprinting is also a maximation challenge, focused instead on the ability to generate the most powerful forces and release large amounts of anaerobic energy as quickly as possible. It’s relatively straightforward to study how to maximize these parameters.

In contrast, middle-distance events — 800 meters, 1,500 meters, and the mile — require a compromise between these two extremes. Increasing the force you transmit to the ground with each step, for example, might worsen your efficiency, and vice versa. Instead of a maximization challenge, middle-distance training is all about making the best trade-offs possible between the conflicting demands of speed and endurance. In other words, as an ambitious new paper in Sports Medicine argues, it’s an art.

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