Mar 21, 2007 2:25 AM
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,
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.
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 house.....you 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.