A theoretical analysis of the effect of altitude on running performance is presented using a mathematical model we have recently described and validated (J. Appl. Physiol. 67: 453–465, 1989). This model relates the average power output available over a given running time for a given combination of anaerobic capacity, maximal aerobic power, and endurance capability. For short sprinting distances, the contribution of aerobic metabolism to the energy requirement is small and the speed sustained is high. The reduction of maximal aerobic power with altitude is, thus, negligible, whereas the reduction of aerodynamic resistance is beneficial. Accordingly the performance steadily increases with altitude (e.g., average speed for 100 m at Mexico City is 101.9% of the average speed at sea level). On the other hand, the reduction in maximal aerobic power with altitude is associated with a reduction in performance over middle and long distances (800 m to marathon). For 400 m an improvement in performance is observed up to an altitude of approximately 2,400–2,500 m (average speed approximately 101.4% of sea level speed). Beyond this altitude the reduction in air density cannot compensate for the reduction in maximal aerobic power, and the performance deteriorates. Tables of performances equivalent to the current world records for selected altitudes ranging from 0 to 4,000 m are proposed.
- Copyright © 1991 the American Physiological Society