Is VO2max correlated with running performance?

Artistic scatterplot showing 3k race times as a function of VO2max

Quite often I hear people claiming that “VO2max is not correlated with running performance.” Is that true?

What about similar correlation-based claims about metrics like body composition, running economy, mileage, and maximum heart rate?

Usually, when people make these kinds of claims, they link to a study showing that, among a certain group of runners, the metric in question (e.g. VO2max) does not accurately distinguish between the fastest and slowest runners in the group.

Another version of these claims comes in the form of statements like “among runners with a similar VO2max, those with better (running economy / lactate threshold / some other performance metric) have faster race times.”

So, what should we make of these kinds of claims? My goal in this article is to show why correlations will always become weaker when you restrict your analysis to a small subset of a population, like elite athletes.

Let's dig in and see why.

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