Saturday, September 18, 2010

Could my sister run as far as I can??

Reading Half Marathon 2010
My sister and I have run together in many previous races and in training runs from 5km to half marathon.  Now I run Ultramarathons and she has moved on from Marathons to Triathalons, where she and her friends do very well - for their age, sorry Lyn ;-) !

We’ve both been pretty fit for the past 20 years or so, and have now drifted down different paths as our activity of choice. Whilst running the other day the thought occurred to me that while we both are pretty healthy and fit (as are my two brothers – couldn’t leave them out for fear of jealous rivalry) How much of my running ability comes down to our genetics (nature) and how much is through training (nurture)?  Basically could I run as far or as fast as say Scott Jurek?

When you strip things down to the bare essentials we all have the same component parts, with the same biochemical reactions going on inside us to enable us to run. Admittedly these can be altered through training, so that your body gets more fuel, more quickly to the right places, so that you can perform better. Through training you can even change the structure and type of your muscle fibres, so that they are more effective for endurance rather than speed.

So put simply there should be nothing stopping me getting my physiology on a par with that of an elite ultra marathon runner.

What about my physique? Well there’s not much I can do there, yes  I can change my weight, but I can’t shorten bones, or drastically change my bone density. To a degree I am stuck with the skeleton I have, and I have to work with that. However as I have already said I can adjust my physiology to work as efficiently as possible, and still be able to challenge those boys at the top of the game – you can’t relax yet Mr Jurek!

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts we can all change our biomechanics to run more efficiently and therefore further. I’ve returned from my physio this week with a new set of exercises to correct a minor misalignment in my running gait, yet too many people believe that they run a particular way and that is something they are stuck with forever. Remember we learnt to walk and run the way we do, so we can learn a new way to do it too.

I guess my point there is that with effort and discipline was can all run with a neutral efficient running style, regardless of your genetics.

The last consideration when thinking of our running potential is that of the mind. In my opinion this is by far the most important factor. Even with a featherlike frame, sinewy muscles, an efficient engine, and perfect running form, without the right mindset you will not run far.

Every time we go running there are mental demons to overcome telling you to “slow down”,” take a break”, or “it’s ok to walk this hill”. Often these stop us stepping outside the door so strong is their conviction.

Their power stretches beyond training when there is the requirement for mental toughness and discipline to refuse that extra slice of cake, or to opt for sleep instead of watching a favourite TV show. This is where the elite have the upper hand, because they do this, and they do it consistently.

So all else being equal it is the mental strength you exhibit that limits your performance.

This does leave the question unanswered of how far can we run? There are very few people who when finishing an endurance event couldn’t actually travel any further. I mean if your life depended on it you’d be able to dig that little bit deeper and find a little something more, and then ask the same of yourself again – when would you stop?

So I’ll leave you with this to ponder...is that feeling of not being able to give any more just another of those lows you experience in an ultra, which you come out of feeling better than ever, if you only had the mental fortitude to push through?

Happy running
Andy

“When you get opportunities in life and you’re too afraid to take them, you strengthen that fear and keep yourself trapped in mediocrity.”

Training 14-7-2010 (11.0km Flat street run)
Training 15-7-2010 (14.5km Trail run)
Training 17-7-2010 (20.1km Trail run)
Training 18-7-2010 (26.8km Trail)

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