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Modeling the Benefits of Cooperative Drafting: Is There an Optimal Strategy to Facilitate a Sub-2-Hour Marathon Performance?

Abstract

Background

During a race, competing cyclists often cooperate by alternating between leading and drafting positions. This approach allows them to maximize velocity by using the energy saved while drafting, a technique to reduce the overall drag by exploiting the leader’s slipstream. We have argued that a similar cooperative drafting approach could benefit elite marathon runners in their quest for the sub-2-hour marathon.

Objective

Our aim was to model the effects of various cooperative drafting scenarios on marathon performance by applying the critical velocity concept for intermittent high-intensity running.

Methods

We used the physiological characteristics of the world’s most elite long-distance runners and mathematically simulated the depletion and recovery of their distance capacity when running above and below their critical velocity throughout a marathon.

Results

Our simulations showed that with four of the most elite runners in the world, a 2:00:48 (h:min:s) marathon is possible, a whopping 2 min faster than the current world record. We also explored the possibility of a sub-2-hour marathon using multiple runners with the physiological characteristics of Eliud Kipchoge, arguably the best marathon runner of our time. We found that a team of eight Kipchoge-like runners could break the sub-2-hour marathon barrier.

Conclusion

In the context of cooperative drafting, we show that the best team strategy for improving marathon performance time can be optimized using a mathematical model that is based on the physiological characteristics of each athlete.

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Acknowledgements

We thank Rodger Kram and Shalaya Kipp for helpful feedback and comments regarding an earlier version of this manuscript. We also thank Andrew Jones and Philip Skiba for additional clarifications of their models.

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Correspondence to Wouter Hoogkamer.

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No sources of funding were used to assist in the preparation of this article.

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Wouter Hoogkamer, Kristine L. Snyder, and Christopher J. Arellano declare that they have no conflicts of interest relevant to the content of this article.

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Hoogkamer, W., Snyder, K.L. & Arellano, C.J. Modeling the Benefits of Cooperative Drafting: Is There an Optimal Strategy to Facilitate a Sub-2-Hour Marathon Performance?. Sports Med 48, 2859–2867 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-018-0991-4

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