Roi, G. S., Giacometti, M., & Von Duvillard, S. P. (1999). Marathons in altitude. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 31, 723-758.

The effects of altitude on marathon performance were evaluated in trained male runners (N = 12) in the 1994 Everest FILA Marathon (4,300 m) and a further five elite runners in the same marathon and another race on the Tibetan Plateau (5,300 m) in 1995. Maximal aerobic power (VO2max) was determined indirectly at both altitudes by a 12-minute running test. The fractions of VO2max used during races were calculated from the linear relationship between running speed and VO2.

VO2max significantly decreased with altitude. A linear relationship was found between the speed of each participant in a sea level marathon and speed at 4,300 m. Speeds decreased by 35 + 9% at 4,300 m. Elite runners used a much greater proportion of VO2max at 4,300 m altitude (63 + 8%) than lesser performers 52 + 8%.

Heart rates were also higher in elite runners than good runners, but both performed at about the same percentage (80+%) of maximum heart rate no matter what the altitude.

Running economy at altitude was lowered because of the higher mechanical work of breathing.

Marathon performance at altitude was affected mainly by a lower VO2max. Performance differences between elite and good runners were related to the higher % of VO2max maintained during every marathon. Acclimatization slightly increased the fractional utilization of VO2max.

Implication. Better sea level marathoners will also be better altitude marathoners. Altitude appears to affect all levels of marathon runners in a proportionately similar manner.

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