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2968 Views 45 Replies Latest reply: Apr 1, 2007 8:30 PM by the kenyan 1 2 3 4 Previous Next
the kenyan Legend 1,152 posts since
Aug 15, 2007
Currently Being Moderated

Mar 21, 2007 2:25 AM

the formula for a world champion (long sticky-ish post)

I've heard a lot of discussion in here about the role of genetics vs. hard work, etc. in being a good runner, so I thought I'd bring it all together in  compromising fashion that'll make everybody happy.  I've already brought this up before, but people come and go and forget quickly, and quite frankly, the narcissism in me just likes to hear the sound of my own fingers typing, so here goes.....

I've broken it down into a combination of 4 key factors:

1) natural talent
Now I've heard a lot of rambling from the hardy Prefontainesque souls out there about how they have no talent whatsoever and accomplish everything purely through guts (or Jesus, depending on your schiziod levels). While this is certainly an optimistic and ego-boosting notion, it is simply not feasible. To be among the best, one needs a certain degree of genetic predisposition to long distance running, and this is one of the reasons why the Africans are all over the international scene. They grow up in the mountains at altitude, developing the ability to use oxygen more efficiently, and hammer it out every day running to and from school and just for the hell of it, not having many of the modern american sports to distract them. As time progresses, runners breed faster runners with the necessary traits needed to run well. Many are hesitant to admit that genetics matter when it comes to african dominance, but the fact is that they do, a lot. Now that the americans are starting to attempt to equalize this with their emphasis on high altitude training bases, and even training in africa, we'll see how the playing field looks in another 20 years or so,

2) dedication
this is perhaps the most important piece of the puzzle. Perhaps the most infuriating type of runner is the one who can randomly go out and bust a 4:30 mile at will with essentially no training, but thinks it's kinda boring and not worth the time. Not that he cares, but he's never getting anywhere, because to make the most out of your potential and compete at an elite level takes complete commitment and the sometimes unpleasant life adjustments that come with it. Diet, sleep, and training schedules must be stuck to rigidly, with the end reward always being kept in mind.

*I'd recommend everyone go through a goal setting phase at the beginning of every season, determining what their season expectations are and making adjustments to longterm goals as needed, while determining what you are willing to do to achieve them.  To be the best takes a clear vision and willingness to sacrifice in order to realize it.*

Ultimately, you wont win unless you are 'hungry' for it. I ran my best races in high school and college when i was hungry. It's the best feeling in the world....your objective is clear, you've done the work, and nothing can come between you and whats yours. Hunger has produced some amazing things on the track....if you've watched Haile and Kenny B. race in the all the recent olympics you know what I mean. Just look in their eyes.

3) tactical aptitude
This is where the mental aspect comes in. Know your opppents and their tendencies, know your own tendencies, do a lot of self-visualization before races trying to envision possible scenarios. Learn to think quickly on your feet (literally) and how to adjust based on the situation, as every race presents an entirely unique one. You need to have a clear certainity of when to hold back and when to be out front, execute without hesitancy and not be afraid to take risks when the time is right. Smart tactics get you to the podium, risks get you the gold.

4) durability
you can have ungodly abilities and be the hungriest guy in the world, but it wont get you too far if you are injury prone. To maximize your talent, you need lengthy periods of uninterrupted training, or you'll always be having to revert back to the beginning again in a perpetual cycle of train-pop a big one or two- get injured- start over. This is what you tend to see with guys like Ritzenhein who certainly have the tools to go all the way, but just cant build the wall high enough before the bricks come tumbling down. Such cases illustrate the importance of individualization of training plans, and adaptive approaches to those considered to be injury prone. (i.e. 300 miles a week might be all good for Kenenisa Bekele, but poor Dathan would need an artificial lower body by wednesday). It's kind of like building a card need to find just the right place to stop pushing it where it's high enough for people to call you a crazy dork without taking it too high and making it all crash down again.

the disclaimer is that obviously a vast majority of you have no intension of being world champions, but i think it always helps to have a model of perfection to strive towards. Dont view this as a discouraging post, because one can still be weak in one or two areas and be a very solid runner. Ultimately, no one knows how far they can go until they push themselves. So push, be smart, and have fun.

If you read all of this you're sick.

  • bruncle Legend 725 posts since
    Sep 26, 2005

    I find it really interesting the way genetics has a role in running. I read somewhere that the reason why the Kalenjin tribe is so successful (75% of all kenyan medal winners come from this tribe) is because of artificial selection. This tribe used to be cattle (or horse?) thieves, so they'd grab a cow and sprint off with it. The slow ones would get killed by the cowherds, so only the really fast guys would be left to breed.

    It can be a bit discouraging to think that probably none of us will ever get to that kind of level no matter how much effort we put into it. I guess you just kind of have to accept that there'll always be someone better than you. The best you can do is try and beat your own PBs.

  • kirby111 Legend 402 posts since
    Sep 22, 2007

    The only real thing that you cannot control is genetics. The other three points, all of which i agree with, are controllable. So although you will not be amazing unless you are a natural you can still be pretty darn good. If you are not naturally gifted you need to just, well, get over it and move on becasue those other three components need work and they will make you good, not great, but good. An excuse i always here is from a person that comes in second or slower and automatically assumes that to win is unatainable becasue you need to be a naturally born runner to be that good. There is nothing you can do about that now so just work harder, not too hard, thats where the durability part comes into play. Hard work will pay off.

  • Deadpixel Legend 321 posts since
    Dec 14, 2007

    Good thing I'm happy just competing with myself, because I don't have 3 of those 4 things 

  • xcrunner97 Pro 110 posts since
    Mar 18, 2006

    this might explain why i can't seem to break a 6 minute mile pace for a 5k (dont laugh i live in middletown, rhode island; 6  minute miles are pretty fast here). Neither of my parents, or for that matter anyone i got any genetics from are runners. I guess im just kind of an oddball in the family.

  • Crazy1004 Legend 1,032 posts since
    Jan 29, 2006

    I feel like locking this puppy just so the kenyan can't have another "the pact" thread

  • bruncle Legend 725 posts since
    Sep 26, 2005

    The thing is, it's kind of hard to know whether you're genetically talented or not. You can't go by race performance because the other guys might have been racing before you. There are many factors that could hold a runner back besides genetic talent, so just because you're not improving quickly doesn't mean you don't have talent. It could just be that you're not eating properly, or getting enough sleep or any number of things. You can't really find out whether you've got the genes until you go out there and train as hard as you possibly can for a decade. If you do that and still don't win a world championship, then it's probably safe to say the thing that's holding you back is your genes. Otherwise, you've still got a chance

  • SoFarGone Legend 551 posts since
    Dec 14, 2007

    <br /><br />The possibilities in racing tactics are almost unlimited, as in a game of chess, for every move there is a counter, for every attack there is a defense....The runner's greatest asset, apart from essential fitness of body, is a cool and calculating brain allied to confidence and courage. Above all, he must have a will to win.<br />-Franz Stampfl<br /><br />

    Wise words from Roger Bannister's coach.

  • runxc09 Legend 354 posts since
    Dec 14, 2007


    Originally posted by kirby111:

    The only real thing that you cannot control is genetics.


    Umm... How about the durability?? From personal experience, I can say that durability could almost be the same thing as genetics. If you're gonna be good naturally, you are obviously gonna be built for it. There are ways to get around the durability issues (cross training, less mileage) but you can't totally control when your legs are going to give up.

  • bruncle Legend 725 posts since
    Sep 26, 2005

    Well that's right. One of the main reasons why Lance Armstrong was such a good cyclist (let's leave the drugs out of it) was because he trained so much. If anyone else had tried to do the same kind of volume as him, they would've gotten injured. Durability is part of genetics.

  • Crazy1004 Legend 1,032 posts since
    Jan 29, 2006

    There is this story that passes down in cycling about overtraining and such.  It is called "the two new guys"

    So there where these two new guy on the postal team. Right out of the start they went to train with lance. for 2 week they road everywhere with him. Did exactly what he did as hard as he did. At the end of the 2 weeks they had major knee problem from which they never recovered.


    "Like you did as a child, take the quiet path, the scenic route. Pedal the back roads, slip through the neighborhoods. Suck in the sharp air.
    Smell the trees...."

    Mark Jenkins
    My User Profile[/URL" target="_blank">

    They didn’t know my shoulder was broken so I just kept riding

    People don't Understand how hard it is to win a bike race...That my problem...I make it look easy

  • kirby111 Legend 402 posts since
    Sep 22, 2007

    yeah you can control durability by doing things like stretching and making sure not to overtrain and being safe just in everyday activities.

  • bruncle Legend 725 posts since
    Sep 26, 2005

    But still there is an upper limit on how much you can train without injury and some people have higher upper limits due to their genetics. You can maximise the genetic potential you have for durability by training smart, but you can't change the upper limit.

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