Written by Chloe Dooley, MyoMaster Ambassador
Chloe is is practising physiotherapist, triathlete and multisport athlete based in London, UK. Chloe recently stepped up from racing at the age group level, winning the 2022 British Aquathlon Championships in July, to racing at the elite level. Chloe’s first elite competition was last month at the Europe Triathlon Multisport Championships in Bilbao where she secured 9th in the U23 category - a very respectable first outing at the elite level amongst a very competitive field. Chloe also supports the wider sporting community in activities such as being a roadside physio for races, most recently the London Marathon.
As a triathlete, endurance runner and physiotherapist I was really excited to get to attend the London Marathon medicine conference on the Saturday before the big race. Any opportunity to learn from some of the world leads in the field of endurance running was one not to be missed. We’re all looking for ways to maximise our performance, whether that be through training, nutrition, recovery etc. and sports science research is at the forefront of finding out what works and what doesn’t. To keep things simple and quick to read I’m going to focus on my 3 favourite takeaway learning points from the event and the points I think are most relevant and interesting for endurance athletes.
So What Makes Kipchoge so Fast?
It’s no secret that Eliud Kipchoge is the greatest marathon runner of this decade, having broken the 2-hour barrier in Vienna in October 2019, the reigning Olympic champion and world record holder which he set in Berlin in September 2022. We all marvel at how not only Kipchoge, but other endurance athletes manage to complete these seemingly impossible performances, but what is the secret behind them? Running performance can be calculated by looking at maximal oxygen uptake (V02max), lactate threshold and running economy and can help predict race performance. All three of these factors can determine the critical speed an athlete can sustain for the marathon distance. However, those 3 factors aren’t static and change throughout the race, particularly during the accumulated fatigue that comes with racing a marathon. The more resistant someone is to fatigue, the longer they can sustain their critical speed and so some of the greatness could be down to the physiology of the athlete allowing them to go for longer before fatiguing. It’s likely a combination of good running economy, mental resilience and fatigue resistance that allow athletes like Kipchoge to produce the performances they do.
How can we Build Resilience in Masters Athletes?
Masters runners make up a huge proportion of athletes competing in a wide range of sports both socially, at a club level and even internationally. However, simply running is insufficient to maintain both muscle mass and function in the ageing athlete. Tendons become less stiff, muscle mass reduces, step length shortens – all of which alter the biomechanics and therefore increase the injury risk. To try and overcome this it's key to keep the intensity within sessions e.g. hill sprints or a track workout and to couple this with a strength training programme. This should be a programme which includes plyos, weight training and a gradual increase of loading. While this doesn’t remove the injury risk completely it helps to maintain strength to support the body while it performs. It's also increasingly important to plan in rest and recovery after the high intensity work as a 20-year-old athlete can regain their pre-workout tendon stiffness within 1 hour. It takes a 40+ athlete 24-36 hours to regain the tendon stiffness.
And what about Recovery?
A running theme throughout all of the talks was just how key recovery is in maximising and enhancing performance. Whether that be for elite athletes such as Kipchoge to the masters athletes trying to maintain performance as they age and even in postpartum female runners, recovery was stressed as being key.
Of course there are many methods that one can employ to aid recovery, the simplest of which is sleep. It has been widely shown that no matter how optimally athletes or individuals train, if their bodies build up underlying fatigue, they become less able to properly absorb the training and see the maximum possible recovery benefits. If you would like to read more about sleep and recovery you can read one of our previous articles here.
Equally… massage from a massage therapist or self massage using a massage gun, compression, taking appropriate supplements for your individual needs as well as rolling using a roller or ball were all highlighted. You can read more about these methods via the links above.
So to summarise, Kipchoge has incredible physiology, don’t neglect your strength training, especially as you get older and be sure to build in appropriate recovery strategies as part of your training schedule.
A big credit must go to the speakers from these talks at Marathon Medicine – it was a really insightful morning and I’m already looking forward to April's edition.
Prof Andy Jones, Prof Julie Greeves, Dr Isabel Moore, Dr Richard Willy and Prof Sanjay Sharma