Physiological Factors Associated with Running

Running performance is determined by various physiological factors and overall training preparation. There are many physiological processes that are involved in performance during prolonged exercise. A few common physiological factors that are typically discussed when it comes to long-distance running are maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max), running economy, and lactate threshold.1 These factors play a significant role in having the ability to sustain race speed throughout the duration of the run.2


VO2max essentially means maximal oxygen uptake. VO2max is a common measure of functional capacity of the cardiovascular system.3 Elite marathon runners have been shown to have a VO2max between 70 and 85 ml kg – 1 min – 1.1  VO2max is important for long distance running, however a good running economy and a high lactate threshold are important as well.4

Running Economy

Running economy has been described as the steady-state VO2 that is required at a given submaximal speed.3 Being able to maintain a high percentage of stroke volume and maximal cardiac output positively correlates with marathon performance. Improving running economy allows for the ability to run at a higher speed for the same oxygen uptake.1 The idea behind this, is that as steady-state oxygen consumption increases with running velocity, runners with a superior running economy should have better performance.5 The increase in performance is caused by being able to run at a faster velocity for longer periods of time with less physiological exertion.5 Training, environment, anthropometry, physiology, and biomechanics are examples of factors that influence running economy in distance runners.5

Lactate Threshold

Lactate threshold can be described as the intensity of training at which lactate acid begins to accumulate in the blood faster than it can be removed. It is the breaking point when aerobic training starts to transform to anaerobic training.

Coaches Corner

In order to improve these physiological factors, it’s important to adjust your training accordingly. Research has shown that interval training improves VO2max.2 The most common training approaches to improve running economy involve strength training, tapering, hill training, and pace-specific training.2 In terms of lactate threshold, trained athletes accumulate less lactate than untrained athletes at a particular submaximal workload.2


Having higher values of VO2max, running economy, and anaerobic threshold are directly related to performance.4 The EvoLab has a metric relating to marathon level. This metric measures how you perform on a flat road over the marathon distance. The data that’s involved includes VO2max, lactate threshold zones, and running efficiency. A higher score here will mean that you will complete a full marathon faster than when you have lower scores. It’s important to note that this metric improves gradually. 

You can also specifically assess your VO2max with the running VO2max in the EvoLab. This metric is estimated based on workout data including heart rate and pace from your recent outdoor runs.

Michelle Singleton
Michelle Singleton

Michelle has a diverse background in the exercise and sport science world. She is currently finishing her PhD focusing on Human and Sport Performance, with additional backgrounds in athletic training and nutrition. In addition to this, she is a certified and licensed athletic trainer, personal trainer, and educator. She utilizes her extensive education and clinical experience in athletic training, nutrition, and exercise science to help guide and educate others.


1. Elio V, Francesco G. Factors Influencing Running Performance During a Marathon: Breaking the 2-h Barrier. Frontiers in Cardiovascular Medicine. 2022;9.

2. Grivas G. Physiological predictors of distance runners’ performance: a narrative review. Trends in Sport Sciences. 2020;27(3):117-123.

3. Gordon D, Wightman S, Basevitch I, et al. Physiological and training characteristics of recreational marathon runners. Open Access Journal of Sports Medicine. 2020(1):231.

4. Gómez-Molina J, Ogueta-Alday A, Camara J, Stickley C, Rodríguez-Marroyo JA, García-López J. Predictive Variables of Half-Marathon Performance for Male Runners. Journal of Sports Science & Medicine. 2017;16(2):187-194.

5. Crago D, Bishop C, Arnold JB. The effect of foot orthoses and insoles on running economy and performance in distance runners: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Sports Sciences. 2019;37(22):2613-2624.

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