The Science of the Marathon and the Art and Science of Variable Pace Running


In marathon running, we often hear, “above all, finish or get to the finish line!” Life is not only about racing and accepting the medal, but racing indeed adds a little spice to our lives. We must strive to perfectly integrate racing into our schedules and live life to the fullest. This book is an ode to running and racing, offering you the latest scientific innovations “put into practice.” We hope to save you time and add more pleasure in running. Unnecessary miles or kilometers lead to overtraining and stress fractures. We all have the choice to run and train differently, which is not the case in our other life activities. Our minimalist training approach will get you to the finish line, feeling good, and without the mindless miles at a constant pace. The training techniques and programs in this book will give you a new second wind, and you will be able to adapt our training regimen at any age or level of performance, from beginner to elite.

If you are among those racing enthusiasts who are part of the exploding popularity of marathon running (Figure 1) or think running a marathon seems out of reach, then this book is for you! In France, female Paris marathon participants increase about 25 percent annually (half as much as in American, European, and Japanese marathons). Also, 30 percent of women who ran the Paris marathon did not even run three years ago! For example, the average age of marathon runners in the Paris Marathon is forty-one and forty years old for men and women, and the dropout rate is low (less than 5 percent for both sexes).

Figure 2. The evolution of the marathon records for men and women since 1900. We can see the decrease in marathon times for women was the greatest between 1984 and 1990. It was only in recent history that women could compete in marathons (Senefeld 2016).  Cultural factors that lead to a difference in marathon times above 2:20 are work and professional factors and the globalization of marathon running. The differences between men and women running 2:20 and better, the most important factors are different body composition, level of hemoglobin, muscle mass, and VO2 max.

Figure 3. An extrapolative prediction of women’s ability to beat men in the 1998 marathon was solely based on the rapid rise of female marathon records without considering sociological factors (Whipp and Ward 1992).

Before the 1970s, there were no women’s distance running races in the Olympics. After the conquest of women’s right to run in the early 1970s, women have had an extremely rapid growth in their participation and performance (Figure 2), which shows the significant effects of social aspects on performance. These social aspects were dominant in the early 1900s, and as the quality of life changed, it strongly influenced marathon performance in both men and women.

We can see from the graph (Figure 2) that women have had an extremely rapid growth in their marathon times, which shows the importance of social aspects on performance. Quality of life strongly influences marathon performance, which prevails at the personal level for women. The lack of consideration of social and economic factors has led to misleading predictions about the possibility of a woman running a marathon faster than a man as early as 2050 (Figure 3). An article on this subject even appeared in the prestigious journal Nature (Whipp and Ward 1992). Tabloid magazines have sensationalized articles on this subject to increase its “impact factor,” contributing to the magazine ratings by the number of readers.