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One of the reasons runners have focused specifically on OBLA for so long is that it appears to be an important predictor of racing performance. ‘It gives some idea of where someone’s critical power is,’ says John Halliwill, an exercise physiologist at the University of Oregon, US, who defines ‘critical power’ as ‘how intensely you can exercise for a sustained time’.
OBLA is also one of the easier performance parameters to change – much more responsive to training than VO2 max, for example. In fact, in Sjodin’s study, the runners’ Vo2-max measurements didn’t budge.
Jack Daniels, legendary running coach and the author of Daniels’ Running
Formula, defines ‘critical power’ more specifically, as about the pace you can hold in a one-hour race – for most of us it’s between 10K and 15K.
Other studies have looked directly at the correlation between VOBLA and racing performance. The most recent comes from a group led by Jordan Santos-concejero, when he was a researcher at the University of the Basque Country in Spain. In a 2013 examination of 22 competitive runners (average 10K time 31:35), the researchers found a strong correlation between VOBLA and 10K times. Specifically, their data revealed that each 10 seconds per mile difference in VOBLA correlated to about a 70-second difference in 10K PB.
These correlations are why runners and coaches have long been interested in doing workouts at or around OBLA pace. That said, there has also been confusion over precisely what ‘at or around’ means.