Skeletal muscle plasticity with marathon training in novice runners


Corresponding author: Scott Trappe, Human Performance Laboratory, Ball State University, Muncie, IN 47306, USA. Tel: +1 765 285 1145, E-mail:


The purpose of this study was to investigate leg muscle adaptation in runners preparing for their first marathon. Soleus and vastus lateralis (VL) biopsies were obtained from six recreational runners (23 ± 1 years, 61 ± 3 kg) before (T1), after 13 weeks of run training (T2), and after 3 weeks of taper and marathon (T3). Single muscle fiber size, contractile function (strength, speed, and power) and oxidative enzyme activity [citrate synthase (CS)] were measured at all three time points, and fiber type distribution was determined before and after the 16-week intervention. Training increased VO2max∼9% (P<0.05). All soleus parameters were unchanged. VL MHC I fiber diameter increased (+8%; P<0.05) from T1 to T2. VL MHC I Vo (−12%), MHC I power (−22%) and MHC IIa power (−29%) were reduced from T1 to T2 (P<0.05). No changes in VL single fiber contractile properties were observed from T2 to T3. No change was observed in soleus CS activity, whereas VL CS activity increased 66% (P<0.05). Our observations indicate that modest marathon training elicits very specific skeletal muscle adaptations that likely support the ability to perform 42.2 km of continuous running – further strengthening the existing body of evidence for skeletal muscle specificity.