Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Some Thoughts on VO2Max

If you've been running for any length of time and become curious about the 'science' of running, then you are probably familiar with the term "VO2Max" which was popularized by (though certainly not coined by) Jack Daniels in his seminal book, "Daniels' Running Formula". VO2Max, in a nutshell, is basically the maximum amount of oxygen that your body can consume during incremental exercise. Put another way, it's your body's aerobic "limit". This maximum is different for every human and, generally speaking, the higher your VO2Max, the higher your potential is in endurance sports. I have included two charts below; one that allows a runner that is familiar with their typical racing speed to plot their VO2Max (based on time) and another chart that displays normal VO2Max ranges for men and women of different ages.

To figure your VDOT number, match your race time (a recent race on a fairly level course will give you the most accurate reading) to the VDOT number associated with that time. I didn't include anything above 60 on here, but 67 and above is considered "elite", the highest VDOT score ever recorded was 94. Source

With all this information in mind, I came across an interesting article today that gave me pause. The article, on a website called "thresholdsport.com" talked about how VO2Max is mostly a result of genetics and that, much like body type, one can work to optimize their VO2Max, but that any given runner's 'limit' is essentially beyond their control. To quote the article:

"Where we start with our VO2max is genetically determined and consequently, how high we can get it is genetically determined as well. The injustice of this is that there are many hard working age group athletes out there who, with all the intensive training they can muster, can work their VO2max all the way up to 45, while some cigarette smoking, sedentary slug may have the genetics that starts him off at 45 and he could train up to 63." (source)

This was very frustrating for me to read. It is essentially saying that no matter how hard I train, I will probably get to a point where I can no longer improve. While it unlikely that I will ever reach this point, given the limited time I have to train everyday, I don't like thinking that there is a limit to my running abilities. I would like to think that if I continued to train in an efficient and intelligent manner, that someday I would be at a level far beyond where I am now...possibly even to the point where I am able to win some of the smaller races I enter. Winning is not a driver for me, but IMPROVING is and it is a hard pill to swallow knowing that eventually I will reach my limit. Another quote from the article:

"If you have been competing in any sort of endurance sport for greater than 6 months, it is likely you will be able to train up your VO2max only about 5-15%.  If you are a couch potato who has never exercised a day in your life, it is possible to raise you VO2max close to 40%.  The reason for this is that when we first undertake some endurance training (of almost any intensity) our bodies go through a rapid compensatory phase in response to this exercise.  Motor recruitment is increased quickly which is why the early phases of our first training endeavors saw our greatest and fastest improvements.  It is because of this initial improvement in motor recruitment that our VO2max rises." (source)

If I am to take this at face value, then I may have already *almost* reached my limit. When I started back into racing in May, I ran a 5K in 21:37. This was after a few months of training specifically for distance running and after a few years straight of working out on a regular basis. According to the VDOT table, this would have put me around a 46 or so. Just a couple of weeks ago, I ran a shortened 5K and my likely time (had it been the full distance) would have been around 19:30, which is a 51. An improvement of 5 points percentage-wise, given my starting value of 46, would be about a 10% improvement. If I were to achieve a 15% increase, that would calculate to a 7 point increase, landing me at 53. Is a 53 VDOT value my maximum potential given my genetics? I certainly hope not! Will I stop training if, when I reach a 19:00 5K, I plateau and never again improve? Certainly not! That said, the knowledge is still disconcerting because I'd like to think that I will always be able to get better. I know that eventually my improvement increments will be quite small, but I want to think that the sky is the limit...and maybe that's an unrealistic expectation.

I don't mean to dampen anyone's spirits with these thoughts and observations. I want to see every runner I know improve and get faster the longer they race. I know that ultimately, running is a personal challenge and that even if I never win a race in my life, I can still derive satisfaction from going out there and doing my best....racing against myself. I guess this is probably why people join running clubs and run with others at some point, because if you make it too much about yourself and your abilities, it gets a little depressing.

No comments:

Post a Comment