An interesting article published in Current Biology by Selinger and others on 28th April 2022 looks at this issue.
They found that free living runners prefer a particular speed, largely independent of distance.
They found that free living runners preferred speeds which were energy optimal, although runners may run to burn calories, they move at a speed to minimise them.
Humans, like other animals, have a free living preference for energy optimal gait.
Human runners have long been thought to have the ability to consume a near constant amount of energy for distance travelled, regardless of speed, allowing speed to be adapted to particular task demands with minimal energetic consequence.
However, recent and more precise laboratory measures indicate that humans may in fact have an energy optimal running speed.
Here, the authors characterised runners’ speeds in a free living environment and determined if preferred speed was consistent with task or energy dependent objectives.
They analysed a large scale data set of free living runners, which were collected via a commercial fitness tracking device, and they found that individual runners preferred a particular speed that did not change across commonly run distances.
They compared the data from lab experiments that measured participants’ energy optimal running speeds for the free living preferred speeds of age and gender matched runners in their data set and found the speeds to be indistinguishable.
Human runners prefer a particular running speed that is independent of task distance and is consistent with the objective of minimising energy expenditure.
Their findings offered an insight into the biological objectives that shape human running preferences in the real world – an important consideration when examining human ecology or creating training strategies to improve performance and prevent injury.
Dr Paul Ettlinger
BM, DRCOG, FRCGP, FRIPH, DOccMed