Professor Jaak Jürimäe, PhD, University of Tartu
Lecturer and researcher Dr. Jesús Oliván Mallen, PhD, Universidad Europea de Madrid, Madrid, Spain
East African runners have dominated distance running for more than 40 years. Distance runners from Kenya hold over 55% of positions in all-time world top 20 list. Proposed explanations for the unprecedented success of Kenyan runners have included genetic, environmental, cultural, socioeconomic, lifestyle and training factors. From the early study conducted by Saltin et al. (1995) until to date there is lack of evidence for higher maximal oxygen uptake values (parameter determined in laboratory which characterise runners areobic capacity) in East African runners compared with Caucasian counterparts. Thus, it appears that elite East African runners do not have any specific advantage over non-African runners in terms of maximal oxygen uptake despite clear difference in performance. Therefore successful performance of distance runners, specifically those from East Africa, is generally attributed to better running economy. Altogether, to date there is no consensus which factors are responsible for superior running economy. In addition, there is equivocal data about how running economy is related to running performance, and about running economy between middle- and long-distance runners.
Scientific community has agreed that running economy is not determined only by one parameter but it is rather more complex of factors to look at, especially at the highest level of human performance and therefore for better understanding of the interaction between running economy, performance, body composition as well as body lengths and circumferences on different levels of distance running is needed. Thus, the aim of the current thesis was to investigate running economy and performance in recreational and national level Estonian runners as well as elite level Kenyan distance runners.
Present thesis concluded that running economy of Estonian competitive and recreational level runners cannot be explained by body composition and it can be argued that running economy is rather influenced by specific training than body composition variables. Inverse relationship between running economy and maximal oxygen uptake values in Kenyan runners would suggest that RE could be compensated for by maximal oxygen uptake to maintain high performance level.
In conclusion, present findings are in line with the idea that running economy is only one of many factors explaining elite running performance.