What is Running Economy?

What is Running Economy?

What is running economy?
Photo: Courtesy of Jeff Drongowski

Simply put, running economy is how efficiently a person uses oxygen while running at a particular pace. The more efficient a runner’s ability to use oxygen, the better the running efficiency.
Don’t confuse running economy or running efficiency with form, technique, or gait. This is about your body’s ability to perform, from a physiological standpoint, at a particular level of intensity or pace.
A much overused running economy analogy involves thinking about fuel efficiency in a car. At some speeds, the car is more efficient than others. For example, driving my 6 cylinder Mazda by myself down the road at 55mph is more efficient than driving it 100mph down the road (if it even would go that fast).
The same is true with you. You should notice certain paces just seem to come natural to you. Some paces you should just feel “efficient”.
To be honest with you, as a runner, I don’t worry that much about running economy. I’ve just learned to trust in my training enough to let it happen on its own. I don’t worry about all the details. Most sound training programs will increase you running economy as a result of the applied training itself.
If you’re a recreational runner, you probably don’t have to worry about running economy, other than to know that, the better you train, the more your running economy will improve over time. How much you improve is really a function of time, training, genetics, and so on.
All training that creates stress on the body (exercise, muscular activity, etc.) will allow for some adaptation by the body to adjust to that stress. Doing something is better than nothing.
The main differences between various marathon training plans are intensity, volume, rest, and experience level. The best practice is to match each athlete up with the proper training program, based on individual levels of experience, age, availability to train, ability to recover, etc. Then, the plan should be adjusted, based on what works for that individual and how he/she reacts to the training. This can be done easily with individualized coaching or, with more effort, via reading through past blog posts, listening to the podcasts, researching websites, and other independent methods.
Regardless, becoming a student of the sport is a good idea. Understanding the vocabulary will help you learn more about the sport and, ultimately, to become a more successful runner!


What running terms to do you struggle with?
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What is running economy?

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Steve is the founder and head running coach of RunBuzz.com. Steve is host of the RunBuzz podcast and founder of PaceBuilders, a complete online training program for runners. Steve is a RRCA / USA Track and Field Certified Running Coach and resides in Lewis Center, Ohio.