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Sports Med. 2001;31(9):679-89.

Physiological demands of running during long distance runs and triathlons.

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  • 1Laboratory of Biomechanics and Physiology, French National Institute of Sport and Physical Education, Paris, France.


The aim of this review article is to identify the main metabolic factors which have an influence on the energy cost of running (Cr) during prolonged exercise runs and triathlons. This article proposes a physiological comparison of these 2 exercises and the relationship between running economy and performance. Many terms are used as the equivalent of 'running economy' such as 'oxygen cost', 'metabolic cost', 'energy cost of running', and 'oxygen consumption'. It has been suggested that these expressions may be defined by the rate of oxygen uptake (VO2) at a steady state (i.e. between 60 to 90% of maximal VO2) at a submaximal running speed. Endurance events such as triathlon or marathon running are known to modify biological constants of athletes and should have an influence on their running efficiency. The Cr appears to contribute to the variation found in distance running performance among runners of homogeneous level. This has been shown to be important in sports performance, especially in events like long distance running. In addition, many factors are known or hypothesised to influence Cr such as environmental conditions, participant specificity, and metabolic modifications (e.g. training status, fatigue). The decrease in running economy during a triathlon and/or a marathon could be largely linked to physiological factors such as the enhancement of core temperature and a lack of fluid balance. Moreover, the increase in circulating free fatty acids and glycerol at the end of these long exercise durations bear witness to the decrease in Cr values. The combination of these factors alters the Cr during exercise and hence could modify the athlete's performance in triathlons or a prolonged run.

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