Genetic Limitations



  • I recently read the "Training Secrets of the Kenyan Runners", (available on Amazon for anyone interested), in which the author stated that one key factor in their success was their relatively light bones, thin legs and ankles, meaning less weight to pick up. I would assume this would be equally valid for Ethiopians and the like.
  • OK I will try to make some predictions based on VO2 max, as this can be used to roughly predict times for endurance races.

    This website says that your sedentary VO2 max value is primarily determined by genetics and it can be anywhere from a value of 20 to 50 with the average sedentary American being 35. Note this is your VO2 max before you do any training.

    So take a ‘top elite’ marathon runner. This lucky git is born with a VO2 max of 50 and by the time he runs his fastest marathon he has a VO2 max of 80 (say, I’m making this up!) which would give him a predicted marathon time of 2 hours 8 mins. I got these numbers by using this. So optimum training has improved this guys VO2 max by 60%.

    So if an average person starts with a VO2 max of 35 and trains exactly like the elite guy and assuming they get the same improvement of 60%, then they would end up with a VO2 max of 56. This predicts a marathon time of 2 hours 53 minutes.

    So the best possible marathon time for someone of average natural talent is 2h 53?

    And the poor person with zero natural talent and a sedentary VO2 max of 20 ends up with a best possible marathon time of 4h 35?

    I must admit that I have made a lot of assumptions here! What do people think?
  • I wouldn't believe those VO2max predictors

    I have a vo2max of 68 with a LT threashold of 81% at 169 bpm & I am not even close to the times these thing predict
  • (I'm much, much slower)
  • I'll stand by my earlier estimates for YOUNG, HEALTHY, people doing all they can in terms of training - though they are still nothing more than opinion.

    Humans are far more overwhelmingly more genetically similar than they are different. Discluding the real outlier (i.e. those you would not describe as normal and healthy), I think a 20% range is quite substantial. 10 to 12% seems to be the difference between top men and top women (gonna assume this is representative of the sexes in general). I wouldn't expect genetic differences within the sexes to be much greater than the genetic / genetic expression differences between the sexes.

  • It doesn't help us much to look at 'the finished article' IMO. When you see someone like Carl Lewis looking so great, you are seeing the culmination of all factors - there is no way to decompose the performance to see how much is down to genetics.

    Coe and Ovett are a good example. At a young age most observers would have said that Ovett was naturally gifted and Coe much less so. But they performed similarly (Coe slightly better by pbs).

    This either means that Coes genetic talent isn't as important as we might think


    it underlines how impossibly hard it is to identify genetic talent.

    It seems to me that in the early 1980s we would have been as sure that whites (particularly the british gene pool) were as superbly suited to middle distance running, as we are now that east africans are to long distance running.

  • IIRC from GCSE Biology, the top Kenyan athletes mostly all come from the same tribe from a bit that's very high up, therefore evolutionarily high oxygen carrying capacity.
    Some body shapes are faster than others at running (tall, long legs...) & i expect that there are differences in things like metabolism, which might for example make the average Chinese person faster than the average Indian person. Of course, for most people the overlap is so big & they are so far off potential that it makes no practical difference.
  • I think there must be some genetic or natural component to elite athletes. The Austrialia Institute of Sport screens school/ college kids for certain physical attributes before they take them anywhere near a coach. For example, the rowing team tested Haemaglobin (and other parameters) concentrations of all the appropriately aged kids and found one guy with amazingly high levels. He'd never rowed before in his life, but they took him on to teach him. Their rational was that they can teach you to row, and get you fit with training, but you need that extra, special something (that comes from genes) to excel.

    Just another reason why Australia will continue to wipe the floor with the UK in so many events...
  • Flyaway. It would be wrong to suggest that some people aren' graced with some natural talent. That goes without saying. The question initially relates to the limiting factor, who or what determines that.

    Frank Dick (Former Coach of UK athletics) says in his book; (paraphrase) the most talented junior athletes were not the most successful because when it came to the graft, they gave up!

    Food for thought ?

  • "therefore evolutionarily high oxygen carrying capacity"

    The word 'therefore' is not justified, it doesn't NECESSARILY follow.

    "Some body shapes are faster than others at running (tall, long legs...)"

    I do think certain extremes of body size and build will adversely affect running potential, but exactly what body type is best is far from clear.

    Was the "tall, long legs" phrase written when kenyans were winning everything? (Tergat and Ngugi spring to mind in particular) What about now where many top runners tend to be quite short (e.g. Geb, Bekele - Bekele is even quite chunky compared to many).

    There has just been too much diversity in the top runners over the years to really confidently say one body type is best for running (short, tall, slender, more powerful).

    just remember it was "IIRC from GCSE Biology." Its going to be rather simplified at GCSE level.

    I don't think the case for that is very clear at all. Top men's distance runners have tended to be short in recent years.
  • Like the 'tall' stuff... and observe as Alex does that the mass that needs moving must be low.

    Mrs I wasn't too pleased when I pointed out Tirunesh Dibaba was exactly the same height (well, lack of it rather) and weight as she was.
  • So the reason why some of those fast African lasses are the same height as I am and weigh around 10kg less really is to do with me having "heavy bones"!

    Alex's figures are the sort of information I'm looking for, but this has turned into an interesting discussion generally.
  • This thread has been a stonking good read!

    If a couple of anoraks can come up with an algorithm on all the various ways to tie a necktie then surely we must be able to cobble something together....

    Assuming we keep the environmental reference conditions constant - altitude, humidity, temperature etc ...

    Bone density
    Blood chemistry
    cell thermodynamics

    ....... add to the list and when we reach 50 we can hand it over to Carol Vooderman or the guy who compiles the Sudoku puzzles

    Personally I think the biggest variable is between the ears. Think of all the great tallents who have self destructed, not just in sport...

    Ho hum... brain hurts now....

  • It’s not an advantage to be tall and have long legs. If it were than elite marathon runners would all look like basket ball players.

    I’m 6’4" and always get the “it’s easy for you, you have long legs” comments from non-runners. :-)

    In the Lore of Running he shows that there is an ideal height for distance runners. (The average height of winning marathon runners has not changed through the years despite the fact that the average height of the population as a whole has increased.)

    For men the ideal height is slightly shorter than the average man’s height. For women it is slightly taller than the average woman’s height.
  • Unethical Experiment #2

    Pick 10,000 people at random...

    Put them on IDENTICAL diets and stick them on treadmills and zap them with cattle-prods if they start slacking.

    Find out what is the SLOWEST mins/mile pace (say over 5 miles) that 95% of them can manage after say 1 year of forced training.

    I think this was Vrap's original question that she wanted answered.

    Maybe a TV reality show could take this up.

    I'd watch it.
  • what unethical about that? Sounds like a good idea...
  • Re unethical experiment No2

    LOL Lots!

    I think it should be hosted by Noel Edmunds... Prod or No Prod....
  • I wonder how this thread would read if it was in Ethiopia;
    Something like this perhaps.

    I love to run, I run to school, and run with my friends and when I come back I run with the 'athletes' One day I want to be like Haille. When he came to our school, he said we could all be great runners one day. I know I will be when I grow up!

    Am I just a fantasist or does this ring true????
  • Only for the privileged, TC. For most Ethiopian children, it might be "I run because if I walked I couldn't bring enough water to my family and we would die. Haile who?"
  • i wasn't being totally serious - quoting GCSEs should be some indication of that :)

    I dunno about absolute potential, but in club running terms i think most of it will always be motivation & opportunity rather than talent.
    I was the slowest kid in primary school for several years running, & i'm dyspraxic - which probably puts me well in the bottom 1% of the population.
    Don't know where doing an IM puts me, but I wouldn't be surprised if it's top 1% of population.

    So without actually getting to the Olympics, I don't think it's that important.
  • Either way VRap, compare it to our teenagers.
    'I don't wanna run, I can't be boverred. When is big bruvver on!!!'
  • I'd also really like to see the unethical study done.

    I think part of that is why I had such high hope for a marathon show that was on last year that was coaching a few obese people to run a marathon in 3 months (Sally Gunnell hosting) turned out to be a lame duck.

    I think people need to be motivated. I think if the TV companies could put a million pounds up for grabs & have a competition where a handful of people have a year to train for an event (with proper coaching help & advice on diet etc) wee might see some real improvements.

    It could kind of be a big brother thing but rather than the jobless dossers laying about in a tiney house they would be working towards improving their lifestyle, realising personal goals & perhaps being an inspiration to many
  • Just read through this. Very interesting discussion. Can I chuck in some thoughts replying to the question as I think it was originally in Vrap's head ie how far can she get now ?
    I reckon, in real terms the key factors are

    1) optimal bodyweight. Most runners in Britain are well above this. Looking at the Kenyans etc in the flesh, at races, they are even skinnier than they seem on telly, though this applies to our elite women, for instance, too eg Paula, Liz & Hayley Yelling. Eat like a traditional Kenyan, or a Chinese etc person.

    2) lifetime miles in you legs, and consistency of high mileage, injury free training. Paula had been training, I reckon 12 yrs+ at a very intense level before her marathon WR, and the same could be said of most of the elites. I, for instance, have been running for most of 23 years now, but I'd discount the first 4, and about 10 in the middle when I was cruising, and can really only say I've done 5 or 6 years, and not consecuctive of hard training.

    c) age - relevant to the point made on the first page, discussing potential as a proportion of world records. I think the age-graded tables are useful pointers here, but I (age 53) don't think training needs to be limited by age nearly as much as some 'authorities' suggest.

    d) motivation. Will you have the motivation, never mind other practical life isuues, to train as hard/optimal as poss for the next 10 years ? That has certainly been the main reason why I haven't done so; some years, or spells of years I do fine, then something comes along to distract me, and give running a slightly lower priority - not necessarily a bad thing, but clearly a limiting factor in reaching optimal potential.
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