sprinting vs running

If you are a really bad sprinter, does that mean you are a very bad runner too, or can that predict you to be a very runner


  • a very runner what?
  • @td43 - your questions are amazing.

  • sorry i mean if you are a very bad sprinter, can that be a good prediction of you to be a very bad runner

  • No, lots of people who are good at one are bad at the other. Sprinting requires a lot of fast-twitch muscle, longer distances require more slow-twitch muscle. Also, longer distances require a lower overall body weight in order to prevent over-heating, whereas bulkier muscles are worth the extra body heat for sprinting because of the power they give you.

    At the professional level, as far as I'm aware, all runners specialise in either sprints or long/middle distance, for the above reasons. You can't be 'the best' at both, but that doesn't mean you can't do both for a hobby. I enjoy fartlek and other interval training because this is actually better for you than steady state running and because I'd get bored doing the same kinds of speeds all the time.

  • So how do you get fast or slow twitch muscles?
  • WilkieWilkie ✭✭✭

    You're born with them, as I understand it.  Like blue eyes, or brown.

  • Yeah, according to what I was taught in A Level Biology, genes influence your ratio of the two muscle types but your use of them is also very important. Usain Bolt probably had a headstart with his genes but he still wouldn't have those biceps without working for them.

  • Fast twitch muscle fibres also decline in numbers with age. whereas slow twitch numbers tend to remain the same, although fast twitch can be converted to slow twitch, which is why older people tend to favour endurance events.

  • So are fast or slow twitch muscles the only influence in sprinting?
  • There's an article with some other factors involved here:


    It mentions that elite sprinters aren't as bulky as they used to be and that it's helping them. You can see though, that they're still a lot more beefy than the marathoners and even the middle distance runners. You could never mistake one for the other.

  • So why are descendants of African slaves better at sprinting?
  • not sure, my question, y couldnt everyone just be good at running

  • It was mentioned in my Biology class that people descending from certain parts of Africa (including Ethiopia and Kenya judging by the Olympics) are more likely to have a particular gene that's associated with more slow-twitch muscles, although the gene is found everywhere else as well. Descendents of other parts of Africa are the opposite, they're predisposed to good sprinting ability. It was a few years ago now and I don't have the text book to hand hence I'm very hazy on the details, but I'm sure there are research abstracts online if you're interested.

  • So why descendants of slaves rather than Africans themselves. Why Jamaicans? How come Steve Ovett had a good kick? He wasn't western African? Was he born with a good kick?
  • RatzerRatzer ✭✭✭

    Free Africans are sensible people.  They don't go out in the sun if they can help it.  It's too hot!  Slaves had to go out in the sun, they were forced out to work on the plantations.  Dark colours absorb light better than light ones which are more reflective.  Light is the fastest thing in the universe.  So, over time, the African slaves became quicker through their exposure to it.  Now the descendants of African slaves are the quickest people on Earth, and Jamaicans are still getting faster because they have the best beaches and spend a lot of time on them playing cricket.

    Steve Ovett was simply a hero.  He got a good kick through sheer British guts and determination.

  • Brilliant. Top answer!!
  • Africans themselves are very well represented in long distance running; I don't know why there aren't many sprinters actually born on the continent. It does seem to be mostly Carribeans. I don't know if there's a connection to the slave trade, it seems plausible, but that's much harder to prove scientifically. All we know is, certain genes are over-represented in certain geographic areas, and I remember the textbook even told you what the long-distance gene was called, so it's been formally identified. Who knows, maybe there are still populations in West Africa who have the genes for sprinting like the Carribeans but don't get into it for cultural or lifestyle reasons (meaning, bulking up with muscle requires resources and advice that most youngsters in Africa aren't going to have, while endurance requires mostly what Africa does have: open, flat space and societies in which travelling long distances on foot, in the heat, and as fast as you can, is fairly normal).

  • I read somewher that Africa is still, for humans, the most genetically diverse continent so its probably not unexpected that there are some very good African athletes for all types of running. I expect with more funding and better facilities there would be even more. 

    As for the Jamaicans: I would go with Michael Johnson's comment that for Jamiaica running, and especially sprinting, is the national sport and that's why they do so well.

    I think in most countries children try to emulate their heroes and I hope to see a whole generation of UKcyclists emulating Wiggo, Hoy and Trott over the next few years.

  • But there are very good west African sprinters, especially from Nigeria. I suspect there are less opportunities for them to develop (equipment, good quality tracks, coaching). If you look at the alltime lists for 100m there are several Nigerians up there.

  • And other west Africans too.  Frankie Fredericks of Namibia for example.  But Joe Volcano is right that the general standard of (mis)governance in west Africa drags down their athletes' prospects in much the same way as it does their wider economies and societies. 

    As for long distance running, the interesting thing is that even in Kenya and Ethiopia, it's a relatively limited group of communities that produce the top athletes.  This makes most people think immediately of a genetic factor.  But some  scientists say there's no evidence of a particular genetic variation in these communities and that a strong running tradition where everyone wants to be the next star, plus hard work and commitment from an early age, are much more important.

  • if you want to be the very, very best, you can't get away with being a poor sprinter - if you can't break 16 for the 100m you can't do 18 sec 100m pace for 5k and go sub 15. However, you can be a very good distance runner with poor sprinting speed, i.e: sub 17:30 5k off 16.5 sec 100m speed.

  • 16.5 100m equates to a 13:12 5k, not 17:30, which is an insane pace. image

    As for the genetics side of things, genes play a part but up to a certain point, you need to put the hardwork in and dedication which is why africans are generally better than everyone else at distance running, its not necessarily their genes, they find running their only way out of poverty so they work hard at it from a young age, plus the training at altitude. 

  • Mike, you misunderstand . Isaac isn't saying that. Please listen to the advice you've been ignoring lately and refer to those pace calculators i.e to run 17.30 you only (perhaps) need to run a 16ish 100 m
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