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Is It Time to Consider a New Performance Classification for High-Level Male Marathon Runners?

Torre, Antonio La1,2; Vernillo, Gianluca1,2; Agnello, Luca3; Berardelli, Claudio2; Rampinini, Ermanno4

Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research: December 2011 - Volume 25 - Issue 12 - pp 3242-3247
doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e31821bf2bd
Original Research

La Torre, A, Vernillo, G, Agnello, L, Berardelli, C, and Rampinini, E. Is it time to consider a new performance classification for high-level male marathon runners? J Strength Cond Res 25(12): 3242–3247, 2011—Studies have attempted to describe human running performances by the analysis of world-record times. However, to date, no study has analyzed the evolution of high-level marathon performances over time. Thus, the purpose of this study was to analyze these performances across the past 42 years with the aim of delineating a time-based classification. To identify the nature of the phenomenon represented by the sequence of observations, we examined the data collected (i.e., 8,400 times from 1969 to 2010) as a time series. The leading time (LT) and the mean 200 times (T200) per year underwent a nonlinear but significant decrement (r = −0.92, p < 0.001 and r = −0.98, p < 0.001, respectively). In fact, from 1969 to 2010, the mean time differences were 3 minutes 20 seconds ± 1 minute 59 seconds and 7 minutes 1 second ± 2 minutes 48 seconds, corresponding to an improvement of 5 and 10 seconds per year for LT and T200, respectively. Furthermore, trend analysis suggested a disruption in marathon time improvements, indicating the presence of 3 points in the time series in which the performance significantly improved with respect to that of the previous years, corresponding to the years 1983–1984 (p < 0.001), 1997–1998 (p < 0.003), and 2003 (p < 0.001). In conclusion, despite the trend in high-level marathon performances being better explained by a nonlinear tendency, significant improvements in the ability of the high-level marathon runners to complete the distance were observed. These improvements are likely to be related to sociological, environmental, physiological, and training-method factors. Researchers and coaches should take into account these enhancements by using the time classification proposed in this study to better reflect the marathon performance profile of their athletes.

1Department of Sport, Nutrition and Health Sciences, University of Milan, Milan, Italy; 2Faculty of Exercise Sciences, University of Milan, Milan, Italy; 3Department of Basic and Applied Medical Sciences, Chieti-Pescara University, Chieti Pescara, Italy; and 4Human Performance Laboratory, Mapei Sport Research Center, Castellanza, Varese, Italy

Address correspondence to Gianluca Vernillo,

© 2011 National Strength and Conditioning Association