Running Economy,my log, and Echinacea.

Running Economy

RE is another one of those magical physiological markers that tell us how fast a runner should run. Just like it’s cousin VO2max, having a good RE is essential to becoming a great distance runner. In fact, if you combine it with other abbreviations, you have the ultimate running prediction calculator. Take a bit of RE, add some VO2max, and top it off with a high LT and you have yourself the equation to end all equations. Just by knowing these three variables (or any other abbreviated physiological terms out there) we can tell if you, yes you, are destined to be a world beater or that guy who is killing himself to beat the little old lady in the local 5k fun run.

Hopefully you caught the sarcasm… While some physiologists (generally NOT the good ones) or college students may like you to believe this, it’s simply not true. Once again, we simplify a much too complex system, hoping to find a nice easy answer. Unfortunately it does not work like that. There are no easy variables that can tell us how good of a runner you are or can be. We can get good guesses, but then again, I can go watch you do a set of 400 repeats on the track and give you a good guess. Following that notion, my favorite title to a research paper was one that was entitled something like “5k time trial is found as best predictor for a 5k race. Time Trial predicted better than VO2max, Lactate Threshold, etc.” Really? A time trial of the race distance is a good predictor?!?! WHAT?! Groundbreaking! Thank god for that info. That’s the sad state of a lot of physiology research out there. It is almost pointless and doesn’t help us out at all. There is way too much time spent on standardizing some interval training or adjusting some protocol, that little real world info comes out of it. But alas, that is a topic for another day.

Back to Running Economy. What is it? It is a measure of “the cost of the body’s movement (in terms of Oxygen uptake).” Or basically, it is how efficient you are. Think of it as how many miles per gallon you get for a certain speed. If your car is more efficient, you get better gas mileage, so you can go longer at that speed. When most people think of efficiency, they think of running form. So it would make sense that, the “better” ones running form, the more efficient a person is. Well that is true. BUT, then some guy will tell you that Alberto Salazar, who we can all agree had pretty bad running form, was a very efficient runner (according to RE). That is also true. Then they will point out how they once heard Jack Daniels (the guy, not the drink) say that a group of coaches could not pick out what runner had the best Running Economy. So if coaches, who were trained in looking at running form, couldn’t pick who was most efficient, that running form doesn’t seem to matter in terms of efficiency right? Wrong.

The problem with Running Economy, just like VO2max, is that it takes a large complex process, efficiency, and simplifies it way too much into a nice little number. Running Economy can be best thought of as a look at WHOLE BODY efficiency in terms of oxygen consumption. Going back to our Car and gas mileage analogy, the miles per gallon rating can be seen as a look at the WHOLE cars efficiency. However, we know that there are many components that go into improving gas mileage. One component may be how you drive your car, if you accelerate and decelerate rapidly or drive relatively constant with no sudden starts and stops. The better you drive your car, the better your gas mileage. Equate how you drive your car to how good your running form is.

Another factor might be if your tires are properly inflated or if you are using quality motor oil. If you do these things, your gas mileage will be better. Lastly, the performance and efficiency of your engine is another factor that affects gas mileage.

Knowing that these several factors affect gas mileage, what happens if you drive really inefficiently, with lots of speeding, stops, etc., yet you use the best motor oil and your engine is in perfect condition. Because you did the latter, you get very good mileage per gallon. Would you get better if you improved your driving skills? Most likely.

The same thing applies to the human body when we are talking about Running Economy. You are not simply efficient or not as a runner. Some parts of you will be very efficient while others won’t. RE reflects the sum of all of those parts, just like gas mileage represents the sum of the parts in a car’s efficiency. There are three basic types of efficiency that come in to play and effect Running Economy.

The first is mechanical efficiency. This is what most people think of when they hear “He’s an efficient runner.” It is best thought of as how good one’s running form is, or his outward appearance as a runner. Do his feet hit the right way, is his hip extension good, etc. There are other non-appearance items that fall under this category, such as the physiological factors like the tension in the muscle/tendon, how much energy return the runner gets, and a whole slew of other factors. But in general, mechanical efficiency can be seen as, and be improved by working on, the runner’s form.

The second type is what I’ll term (NOTE: I’m defining the terms because I don’t recall seeing RE split into different types of efficiency before) Physiological efficiency. This encompasses all of the processes that take place within the body’s circulatory and muscular system. A couple of examples would be how efficient the oxygen transport and utilization system is and how efficient the body is at breaking down energy sources.

The last type is neural efficiency. This refers to the processes that are dependent on the Nervous system. The creation of motor programs or engrams that essentially tell the body what to do and how to run is what this efficiency deals with. The more you run, the more efficient the body becomes at sending the neural signals from the brain to the muscles. The brain also becomes better at determining how many and what muscle fibers to fire to do a certain movement.

These three types of efficiencies are essentially what govern how efficient a runner is in a whole body sense. There interaction and the fact that you can be much more efficient in one area than another, shows why it is asinine to think that running form improvement do not make one more efficient (if they are correct improvements). At first, the athlete will become less efficient as he is learning a new skill because his neural efficiency will drop, but over time his neural efficiency will adapt to the new motion and his mechanical efficiency will improve. In the case of Alberto Salazar he was very efficient at running wrong. He’d run so many miles that his body had become very efficient at running the wrong way. You become better at what you practice, even if what you practice is wrong.

This is just one example of how some coaches and scientists have drawn the wrong conclusion from a set of data. Make sure you aren’t one of those who makes that mistake.

Another successful couple of days. Really coming around. Was very pleased with friday’s workout. It was a different type of workout but I liked the effects. We’ll see if I stick with the idea but it looks promising. It’s a Canova based idea so it’s worth looking into.

8.5mi steady+ 10x100m (2E,1G)

9mi at Burroughs, cold and raining
2mi w/up, 4xextensive circuit up green monster hill (took roughly 4:10) with jog back down recovery, 2mi c/d

Extensive Strength Circuit.

Reasoning- Combining elements of strength and endurance. Will progress to enhance high intensity strength endurance (maintaining high levels of strength for a longer period of time.).

800m hill Plus 200+m flat
55sec fast
10 quick double legged jumps
10sec hard
25sec skipping
40sec moderate
10 deep squat jumps
40sec moderate
30 ankle hops
35sec fast
4:10 range (covered 800m in 3:05 usually, so with strength exercises was running at a good clip during running sections)
rest 6min jog back

13mi easy- Sore like I expected.

8mi with Andy decent pace plus 10×100 (2E,1G)

Echinacea and EPO
I was doing some research today and came across 2 interesting studies that found that mega doses of echinacea increases EPO in the body by 50-70%. Pretty significant and interesting find. It’s weird that a failed cold cure would increase EPO. Hopefully there is more research coming.

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    1. Anonymous on April 19, 2009 at 8:59 pm

      A sports supplement has been developed around the finding of echinacea induced increases in body EPO levels. See

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    3. Anonymous on August 31, 2012 at 3:12 am

      Echinacea and EPO………But the study results clearly state that the RBC's and hemoglobin had no significant difference from the control group. The EPO was increased but without RBC's it means nothing.

    4. […] have to give credit to elite coach Steve Magness and two older studies on RE, one by Williams and Cavanagh and the other by Saunders et al. for […]

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