What Physiologic Qualities Make for a Great Endurance Athlete? Part I

TwilightCritLet’s qualify what I mean by endurance athlete: an individual that competes in events using large primary muscles in sustained motion lasting two and a half or more hours.

Is it a high aerobic engine with a VO2max score of 65 ml/kg/min-1  or more?  (Definition: The maximal oxygen uptake value captured at peak exercise in milliliters of O2 divided the weight of the individual in kilograms per minute of time).  More on this in a separate blog post.  While it sure doesn’t hurt to have a high VO2max number, the highest does not always win the race.


Is it the individual with that steel trap mind and blinders that tolerates the most pain seemingly without notice?

Though there are some people that seem to have more resistance to lactic acid production than others, eventually even they fatigue out over time.  As a great coach once said “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.”

Is it the individual that can perform at the lowest heart rate throughout the entirety of the race that wins?   Not necessarily.

People are like motorcycles, a Harley chugs and a Yamaha revs but both engines still deliver the same 80 HP to the rear wheel.  Engine cylinder size (cc’s) per stroke differs in displacement, just like two different human hearts eject different volumes of blood per beat called “stroke volume” expressed in milliliters of blood/beat. (Stroke Volume x Beats/min = Cardiac Output)

While everyone has heard of the 220 – Age = Maximal Heart Rate, this is simply not true in most cases.  Only direct measurement can really give you these values.  Two people of the same age and gender can be running at the same pace together and have as much as 20 beats/min differences in heart rate.  The size of the chamber and the ejection rate differs, it’s all relative.

How about fuel utilization?  The ratio of fat to carbohydrate burned during competition – now we are on to something!  We’ll delve into this in tomorrow’s post.

Saul Blau, MS is Director of Power to the Pedals, LLC, a Unit of the SoCal Endurance Lab at A Road Bike 4U

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