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Experienced ultra-distance runners know that performance is improved by a reduction in body temperature. Or, cooling your body with water in the heat will make you run better. This practice has become a priority for long-distance runners.

Science has proved: that heat hurts endurance performance, even when it’s not very hot.

There are many studies on major marathons*. The findings agree that rising temperatures hurt performance – much earlier in a run than we realise. Reducing body temperature improves speed and is likely to reduce the effects on your health from ultra running.

How do we cool our bodies? Some of the following will give you an immediate advantage in your next race.

Keep your body wet, ideally with cold water. Don’t just drink at water stations. Spray yourself with the water. Focus on your head, neck, core and hamstrings. Male runners should tape their nipples securely. It may be loosened by water and become a bloody mess. When you wear compression socks, keep water away from them as they may pool water at your feet.

Light, reflective clothing keeps your skin surface temperature cool in extreme heat. Running vests are generally much better than shirts under extreme conditions.

Apply ice or water to your body using your clothing. Grab some ice at a water station and use your cap, buff, sleeves or pants to keep it near your skin. Stuff it wherever possible. You may have pockets you don’t use at some point. I use my buff to hold a broken water sachet on my head.

Apply cold water to your skin and head before the race on hot days. If core temperature increases in hot conditions, it is difficult to lower.

Remember to test the above in training to see what works for you.

* Studies were sourced from PLoS One, the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, Sports Medicine and the British Journal of Sports Medicine – from 2010 to 2019

Research from the Journal of the American College of Cardiology suggests running a marathon for the first time could have several health benefits. The study found that for first-time marathon runners, training and completion of the marathon was associated with reductions in blood pressure and aortic stiffening in healthy participants that were equivalent to a four-year reduction in vascular age, with the greatest benefits seen in older, slower male marathon runners with higher baseline blood pressure.

Arterial stiffening is a normal part of aging, but it also increases cardiovascular risk in otherwise healthy individuals by contributing to increased pulse pressure and ventricular overload, which are associated with dementia and cardiovascular and kidney diseases, even in the absence of plaque in the arteries. While blood pressure medication can modify arterial stiffness in established heart disease, more cardiovascular events occur in individuals without diagnosed high blood pressure.

Regular aerobic exercise is a lifestyle modification that has real-world implications, particularly with the growth in mass participation running as an increasingly popular form of non-prescribed exercise.

The research found training decreased systolic and diastolic blood pressure by 4 and 3 mmHg, respectively. Overall, aortic stiffness reduced with training and was most pronounced in the distal aorta with increases in distensibility–the capacity to swell with pressure–of 9%. This amounted to the equivalent of an almost four-year reduction in ‘aortic age.’ Older patients had greater changes with exercise training, with males and those running slower marathon times deriving the greatest benefit.

The study shows it is possible to reverse the consequences of ageing on our blood vessels with real-world exercise in just six months. These benefits were observed in overall healthy individuals across a broad age range and their marathon times are suggestive of achievable exercise training in novice participants.

Although the study only recruited healthy participants, those with hypertension and stiffer arteries might be expected to have an even greater cardiovascular response to exercise training.

By estimating a statistical model for male and female marathon world record progressions a study found that 1:58.05 is likely the fastest time that any living human being will be able to run this distance.

Published today in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, the American College of Sports Medicine’s flagship journal, results show that the chance of a female athlete ever breaking the two-hour mark is less than 1 in 100, with the fastest all-time female marathon time estimated to be 2:05.31.

The study by Monash Business School is the first to address all three related aspects of world record marathon performance in one modelling framework – the sub-two hour limit, the limits of human physiological running capacity and gender equivalence.

It also highlights the potential barriers elite female athletes face in marathon running resulting in a something of a “world record drought”, with Paula Radcliffe’s 2:15.25 mark, set in 2003, still standing. A ‘sub-130 minute’ project (2:10.00), advocated in this study, would empower female long-distance athletes.

The marathon has an official distance of 42.195 kilometres (26.219 miles) and was one of the original Olympic events in 1896. More than 800 marathons are held across the world each year, with tens of thousands of participants taking part in this physically gruelling event.

As part of the study, Dr Angus, Associate Professor of Economics at Monash Business School and ultramarathon runner, applied a robust non-linear economic model to all official IAAF world record marathon performances of men and women since 1950 in order to calculate record-breaking prediction intervals.

From there, Dr Angus was able to reconceptualise the ‘sub-two hour question’ as one of odds – for example, when will a given time be run with 1 in 10, or 10% likelihood.

Using these figures, Dr Angus was then able to determine the limits of human performance for the male and female marathon; the performance gap between the current male and female world record to the limiting times; and the equivalent of the ‘sub-two hour’ threshold for women and when this will be achieved.

The economic model is, on average, accurate to within 1% for men – or around 70 seconds – across a 66-year period which saw a 19 minute reduction in the world record time. For women, accuracy is within 3% – or roughly 200 seconds – across the same period where the world record dropped by one hour and 22 minutes.

A statistical findings for the sub-two hour male marathon are noted as:

1 in 425%March 2054
1 in 1010%May 2032
1 in 205%June 2024
1 in 502%April 2017
1 in 1001%January 2013
1 in 2000.5%June 2009

The current male world record holder, Eliud Kipchoge from Kenya, is just a fraction outside the sub-two-hour mark with a time of 2:01.39 – a record he set at the Berlin Marathon in 2018. By inspecting the prediction lines on the economic model, there was only a 2% chance that the sub-two-hour record would be broken at that point in time.

Using the same economic model and 10% likelihood approach, Dr Angus calculated that the likely human performance limit for male and female marathon times is 1:58.05 (performance gap to current world record of 2.9%) and 2:05.31 (performance gap of 8.6%) respectively.