Extreme endurance races like ultramarathons (anything more than a 26.2-mile marathon), ragnar relays (~200 miles with a team), or IRONMAN (~140 miles swimming, biking, runnning) races are unbelievably taxing. You’re battling the elements, traversing difficult ever-changing terrain, and exhausting your physical limits. So, if you could do something to get an edge over the competition, you’d probably do it, yes?
Researchers at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia found those who post the fastest times across the finish line have something in common: they have a greater pre-race anaerobic fitness capacity. Anaerobic fitness refers to your body’s ability to exercise when there’s not enough oxygen (a sprint to the finish line). Aerobic fitness, on the other hand, refers to how your body uses and burns energy when there’s plenty of oxygen (i.e. running at a comfortable pace).
In the study, presented at the Experimental Biology 2016 meeting in San Diego, researchers recruited 10 healthy male mountain marathon competitors of similar age, weight, and height, and measured two levels of fitness: aerobic and anaerobic capacity. They then assessed participants’ aerobic capacity by having them run until exhaustion on a treadmill, while their anaerobic capacity was put to the test through seated cycling on an ergometer.
“Those with higher anaerobic capacity were predicted to have a faster finishing time,” study author Michael Rogers said in a press release. The researchers’ predictions were right about 54 percent of the time, warranting the need for further research to explain the 46 percent variance in race times. Still, it’s worth working on amping your aneorabic capacity, they suggest.
That goes for guys running shorter distance races as well, like 5 and 10-Ks. Even if you’re not running mountain ultramarathons or other endurance races that span 30 miles and last 5 to 10 hours, high anaerobic capacities are also associated with better performance and faster times in shorter duration races, Rogers and co-author Matt White told us.
“Typically, anaerobic capacity can be improved with high-intensity, shorter-duration training, such as in repetitive uphill sprint training,” Rogers says.
For tips on the proper form, workout plan, and benefits of hill sprints, read: How to Burn More Fat with Hill Sprints. For a killer hill sprint routine and other fat-burning workouts, read: 10 Best Outdoor Workouts to Burn Fat and Build Muscle. For a killer treadmill hill sprint workout, read: 4 Great Treadmill Workouts for Anyone.
Oh, and know that you can probably push yourself harder than you think. During these races, the researchers found high-intensity efforts at approximately 80 to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate were able to maintained for several hours. Typically events and races like a mountain ultramarathon are performed at lower exercise intensities, Rogers says, but the body is capable of exceeding that.
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