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Finding 30 minutes in the marathon: a systematic approach to training design for the non-elite competitive marathon runner

   School of Psychology and Sport Science

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  Dr D Gordon, Dr J Roberts, Dr M Ferrandino  Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

Research Group: Cambridge Centre for Sport and Exercise Sciences -

Proposed supervisory team: Dr Dan Gordon ([Email Address Removed]), Dr Justin Roberts ([Email Address Removed]), Michael Ferrandino ([Email Address Removed])

Theme: Endurance Physiology, Exercise

Summary of the research project

Marathon running is one of the biggest mass participation sports in the world, with the London marathon alone attracting around 38,000 runners each year. Within this population the largest grouping are the non-elite runners who are either running for personal goals or for charity.

When considering the physiology of the marathon runner, three components dominate, maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max), aerobic capacity as denoted by the lactate turn-point and the economy of the athlete. Yet when we consider the wealth of literature that has been published in this field the majority either uses small sample sizes or focuses on athletes who complete the distance in times of 2 ½ - 3 ½ hours.

Recent work from our group has focused on how runners pace the marathon, in respect of age, experience and sex across a sample of 1900 runners. Additionally we have amassed a data set from 97 non-elite runners relating to their training habits, underlying physiology and race performance. This project would aim to move from this laboratory data set and apply the findings to athletes wishing to increase their race speed (#30minutes_faster).

The study will follow a group of 300 runners as they prepare over a 9 month period for a spring to summer marathon. The runners will be required to follow prescribed programs based on bespoke training loads which have been derived from our previous works. The study will compare different modalities of training whilst ensuring that the load across groups remains the same. A sub-sample will be assessed on a regular basis for key physiological responses including cardiac function, haematology, respiratory responses, and metabolic responses and training characteristics. This project has an enormous real—world application as the outcomes will better inform the mass participation runner how to use their training time effectively whilst avoiding the negative consequences of training.

Where you’ll study

Cambridge (


This project is self-funded.

Details of studentships for which funding is available are selected by a competitive process and are advertised on our jobs website ( as they become available.

Next steps

If you wish to be considered for this project, you will need to apply for our Sport and Exercise Sciences MPhil, PhD ( In the section of the application form entitled ’Outline research proposal’, please quote the above title and include a research proposal.
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