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June 27, 2014

World Cup Facts Only a Runner Could Love

Written by Dena Evans

665098756-03012011095529_largeHaving a hard time understanding the FIFA World Cup? Wondering how you can relate to 11 men kicking a ball past 11 other men into a rectangular frame with an onion bag attached? What does it all have to do with the regular runner?  Consider the following facts and gain a little insight into how the World Cup players compare to our own efforts and output.


Even goalkeepers run almost a 5K during a match

Estimates for the distance run by soccer players had widely varied through the years, but newer technology has allowed us to zone in fairly accurately on the range of distances covered by each player.  In the first match played by the US, FIFA furnished information to indicate Michael Bradley ran the furthest at 7.9 miles over the course of the match, followed closely by fellow center mid Kyle Beckerman and the combined efforts of Alejandro Bedoya and his sub Grant Zusi at 7.8.  The biggest surprise might be that Tim Howard traveled 2.9 miles, even as a goalkeeper!  A soccer match is essentially a 90 minute fartlek.  That might mean their average pace is 12 minutes a mile or more, but a lot of the running done is quite quickly.


The fastest soccer players are about the same speed as Allyson Felix

Arjen Robben, the Dutch goal scorer with the “dodgy flapper” running arm carriage, has already clocked runs of up to 19.3 miles per hour, which just about matches Olympic Gold 200m medalist Allyson Felix in spikes and at full flight.  Ramires of Brazil also hit 19.3 mph, and Jermaine Jones of the US actually hit 20 mph against Ghana.  The fastest footballer of all time, according to FIFA data gathered by Yahoo!, is Antonio Valencia, who had a run of 22 mph while playing for Manchester United.  In comparison, Usain Bolt hits about 27 mph at full steam.   Not bad!

Referees have to pass a strict fitness test

Referees might have different training plans, but they must all pass some fitness tests given by FIFA before they take the field.  These include two tasks.  The first is 6x40m dash with a max of 90 sec rest while walking back.  Men have to run 6.2 seconds each, and women are required to run 6.6 seconds.  That’s about 14 second 100m pace six times in a row on 90 sec rest.  The second test is 10 laps around a track, running 150m, walking 50m, running 150m, walking 50m.  At the international level, men have to run each 150m in 30 seconds with 35 seconds to walk each 50 meters, while women must his 35 seconds for the 150m, and 40 seconds for the 50m walk.  We may disagree with their decision making, but if they are out there, at least we know they are fit.   Mark Geiger, the first American referee to blow the whistle at the FIFA World Cup, told Runner’s World that his training included fartlek, tempos, speed work, and mental training, which allowed him to pass his FIFA test easily and arrive even better prepared than required.  He ran track and cross country in high school, and continues to help out as an assistant cross country coach at his local high school.


Soccer players might have a better VO2 Max than you!

A Dutch study reported on by Scott Douglas of Runner’s World found that the average footballer’s VO2 max was about 63.  Many times, these measurements are extrapolated from a “beep” or “bleep” test, an exercise where an athlete runs back and forth across a 20 meter stretch between pre-recorded beeps.  The beeps progress in rapidity through 21 levels of approximately a minute each.  When an athlete fails to reach the line twice in a row, they are stopped.  Exact stats on the VO2 max test results from these back and forth beep tests and other measurements are hard to come by as clubs and countries are reluctant to release the information, but Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal is rumored to have registered 75, while Neymar of Brazil reportedly has reached 73.  David Beckham also legendarily actually beaten the beep test, as Michael Bradley has reportedly done just before the World Cup.  Like many other sports, the variance of soccer player fitness measured in this way is wide, with defenders typically registering lower scores than rangy midfielders, etc.  We might never know the actual scores for these professional athletes, and although neither skill will likely ever be needed it is fun to consider what Neymar’s half marathon pace might be on his runcoach pace chart, just as we might like to know if we could put a penalty shot past Tim Howard.  Keep dreaming!