Friday, August 15, 2008

How Long-Distance Runners Get to the Finish

Successful Ones Can Control Their Heart Rate, Study Finds

“Throughout a long-distance race, the runner's heart rate increases in a very controlled manner, and appears to be scaled to the race distance, said study author Carl Foster, a professor of exercise and sport science at the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse. The report is published in the August issue of Public Library of Science. Foster and his colleagues evaluated 211 male middle- and long-distance runners, who were, on average, 32 years old and had various running abilities. Foster's team evaluated the heart rate responses of the running during competitions ranging from 5 kilometers to 100 kilometers by using lab tests and heart rate recordings. All were serious competitors, although they were not of elite caliber. What happened? The runners were found to actively manage the increasing strain on their body in anticipation of getting to the finish line -- which requires constant reassessment of their fatigue levels. The heart rate increased in a consistent pattern during the events, they found, and seems to be scaled proportionally to the distance of the event. As the authors write: ‘Athletes are continually in a dialogue or negotiation with themselves, assessing how fatigued they feel. Then they adjust the pace to be sure muscle fatigue doesn't get out of control. This suggests, the authors write, that ‘adept runners are faster due to their underlying physiological capacity rather than because they put more relative effort into their competition.’ The finding that the runners' heart rates increased in a very controlled way is a positive one, Foster said. ‘It gives us hope we aren't going to kill ourselves.’”

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