Forget about your Vo2max number. Running economy is the name of the game!

Yep, we said it. Today, Coach Sage Canaday is going to explain why your running economy is the biggest difference maker in your ability to improve as a runner. Let’s dig in to today’s newsletter:


Today’s topic is running economy. When we discuss running economy, we’re focusing on efficiency (not investments or stock markets 😜) in distance running.

Defining Running Economy 

It’s like considering your car’s mileage fuel efficiency. Are you a monster truck or a Prius? This analogy has been used by coaches for decades because it’s a great indicator. Just like fuel efficiency in a car—miles per gallon or kilometers per liter—it varies based on our build, running form, and internal systems like cardiovascular efficiency, lung capacity, and muscle density.

Running economy measures how much oxygen you use to cover a kilometer or milliliters of oxygen per kilogram of body weight per minute of exercise. I had my running economy tested alongside my VO2max a few years ago at different paces, from a 6-minute mile to a 5-minute mile. Interestingly, running economy doesn’t always decline as you run faster. It’s about how efficiently you use oxygen to cover that distance, reflecting your running form, biomechanics, muscle efficiency, and oxygen processing by your heart, lungs, and blood vessels.

VO2 Max & Running Economy 

Running economy is also crucial for long-term improvement because, truthfully, your VO2 max, your maximum oxygen consumption, tends to peak in your early 20s. It decreases with age, but you can still enhance your running performances because your running economy and efficiency improve as you age. This improvement can take decades, especially evident in longer distances like the 10K and beyond, where we see people achieving personal bests in their 40s and 50s, depending on when they started running. You might have a high VO2 max like a Mustang with high horsepower, great for short races, but for sustained efforts like a marathon, efficiency matters more, akin to a Toyota Prius or a Tesla.

Improving running economy involves enhancing efficiency at specific race paces. For marathoners, this means being efficient at marathon pace and slightly faster or slower. Speed work, like kilometer or mile repeats and faster tempo runs, builds efficiency by stimulating neuromuscular coordination, muscle turnover, and force generation. This adaptation takes time and strength development.

Weight Training As It Relates to Running Economy 

There’s ongoing debate about weight training’s role in improving running economy. While it can help, so can drills, strides, and increasing mileage. However, the approach varies depending on the runner’s goals and specialization. Sprinters, for instance, focus on different aspects to enhance their running economy for short, powerful bursts.

Sprinters tend to focus more on weightlifting, while longer-distance runners, from 5k to ultramarathoners use the gym to address imbalances, strengthen core stability, and refine running form to boost running economy and reduce injury risk. Consistency is key in training, and avoiding injuries is crucial for long-term progress.

Furthermore, balancing different types of workouts is essential. Too much speed work might improve your 10k time but could compromise marathon performance if not balanced with sufficient long runs. It’s also worth mentioning that genetic differences also play a role, with some individuals naturally inclined towards sprinting while others excel in longer distances.

Variable running economy is another aspect influenced by factors like terrain (hills vs. flats), surface conditions (road, mud, sand), and individual preferences or strengths. It’s a dynamic process that requires careful training adjustments and understanding your body’s responses to different stimuli.

Improving running economy is a holistic process that involves various factors. It’s not just about hitting specific paces like 5k or 10k race speeds or VO2 max velocities but also about refining neuromuscular connections, optimizing running form, choosing suitable footwear and surfaces, and enhancing cardiovascular efficiency. Higher mileage training, coupled with proper nutrition and recovery, fosters positive adaptations at the cellular level, making oxygen processing and muscle performance more efficient.