If You Don’t Look Like a Runner, Can You Still Run?

An old joke about running goes like this:
Q: What is the best method for making the Olympic team?
A: Make sensible parental choices!

It’s humorous because it has a kernel of scientific reality: No prospective athlete has ever been held back by superior genetics.

Take into account a recent study from Spain that looked at the connection between the capacity to run quickly and the size of the trunk, including the ribcage and waist.

Researchers measured the trunks of 27 male volunteers who ran on a treadmill at various speeds using a 3D surface scanner. Men with various torso shapes performed equally well at modest speeds.

However, the fastest body type became apparent when they achieved 85% effort (working hard) or perceived 100% effort (all-out race pace): “a somewhat thin, flat torso.”

So, you may have an advantage due to your inherited torso form. Or not.
At the Olympics, you may see a lot of those flat, slender torsos. This body type can play a significant role in what coaches refer to as running efficiency, which is one aspect of fast running but not the only one. How well your body uses oxygen is known as VO2 max. The ratio of fast-twitch to slow-twitch muscle fibres is important for sprinting (distance running). Additionally, there are intangible concepts like incentive and mental toughness.

To possess or enhance these qualities, you don’t need to have the ideal torso. That’s fantastic news for all runners because studies show that exercise can enhance your health and lengthen your life.

How Exercise Benefits Your Health

An investigation conducted in 2014 under the direction of Duck-Chul Lee, PhD, of Iowa State University, found that even modest quantities of running lower the chance of dying from a heart attack or stroke.

For 15 years, researchers monitored 55,000 people. Running for just 5 to 10 minutes, several times a week, even at slow rates (6 mph, or a 10-minute-mile pace), moved the health scale in the right direction. In general, runners lived three years longer than non-runners.

According to Russell Pate, PhD, a research colleague of Lee’s, running lowers the chances of cardiovascular disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes.

Additionally, he adds, “we discovered during the pandemic that fit persons typically had better outcomes against COVID-19.”

Pate, a research professor in the department of exercise science at the University of South Carolina, is currently 76 years old. You might probably predict what his torso looks like because he’s a seasoned distance runner with three top-10 results in the Boston Marathon.

But as a researcher, he is most interested in encouraging all ages to adopt lifetime exercise practises. Running is a wise choice, according to Pate, because it is “very accessible, relatively cheap, and the U.S. generally includes ‘community support systems’ like local running clubs or planned trail systems that recreational runners find enticing.

Pate contributed to the creation of the 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, which call for 150 minutes or more of moderate-intensity exercise per week. If you want to get active and stay healthy, that should be feasible in approximately 20 minutes a day, according to him.

That could be less than 20 miles each week for runners, but it could easily be more for someone training for a half-marathon or even a 5K.

But before you begin a running program—or resume one after a break—get the go-ahead from medical experts.

Whatever Your Body Type, Improve Your Running

Running coaches are aware of the value of running effectiveness. And your “centre,” not your legs, is where it all begins.

George Buckheit, a former All-American runner at Bucknell University and the founder of the Capital Area Runners club in the Washington, DC, region, argues that a strong core helps a runner maintain their centre of gravity late in the race, when running form starts to deteriorate due to tiredness.

Simple at-home plank exercises can help you develop your core.

In addition to running more miles, Buckheit suggests doing the following activities to increase your speed:

  • Form exercises like “high knees” and “butt kicks” improve range of motion and reinforce appropriate mechanics. While butt kicks pull the foot up from straight underneath, near to the buttocks, high knees are similar to skipping. He suggests watching the video by Lauren Fleshman to learn how to perform these and other drills.
  • Running up hills helps to maintain good form. An vigorous, rhythmic arm swing and a precise knee lift are needed for even a mild uphill.
  • Your body’s maximum oxygen consumption during intense exercise, or VO2 max, might rise as a result of interval training. A speedier session on a track or a level, measured path should be attempted once every seven to ten days. Jog for 10 to 15 minutes, then do some stretching or drills before performing four 800-meter runs at (or a little quicker than) your real 5K speed. Each 800-meter run should be followed by a 2- or 3-minute walk/jog “recovery,” and a final 10 to 15 minutes of jogging should be used to cool down.
  • Encourage yourself to work harder and longer in order to develop your confidence and mental resilience. Your longest run should be extended by a few miles and should include some sloping hills. Enter some 5K or 10K races if you’re considering running a marathon to become accustomed to the physical and mental demands of competition.
  • Speed training will help you make up for any weaknesses in your fast-twitch and slow-twitch muscles, which are just a result of genetics. You can eventually become faster and more explosive by performing short, fast sprints (five or six bursts over 40 or 50 metres), while increasing your weekly mileage or the distance of your long, steady-pace runs will stimulate your “slow twitch” endurance muscles.

Running from a prescription

One of the members of Buckheit’s jogging group wouldn’t have passed the Spanish “trunk test”; he was in his late 20s, weighed well over 200 pounds, and was taking heart medication.

According to Buckheit, “I was concerned that I might need my CPR training for this guy.”

However, a well-thought-out running regimen and a competitor who was willing to run changed the course of the narrative. After careful training, Buckheit’s novice ran a marathon in under 3 hours a few years after running one in 4 hours for the first time. This is less than 7 minutes per mile.

When he did that, I assumed he couldn’t move any faster, said Buckheit.

However, the former novice with heart troubles most recently decreased his personal best for the marathon to 2 hours, 37 minutes (running at 6 minutes per mile for 26 miles).

According to Buckheit, “I think he really benefited from the accountability and friendship of being in a running group.” And one day he said, “My cardiologist wants to know what the heck I’ve been doing,” when he arrived at the office. He removed me from my cardiac medication.

But may exercising help you cut back on or perhaps stop taking your medications altogether? Yes, according to research conducted in London and released in 2020.

Before the London Marathon, the study put 138 first-time marathon runners—men and women between the ages of 21 and 69—on a 17-week regimen of fewer than 30 miles per week. Before and after measurements of blood pressure and arteries were taken.

They concluded that healthy subjects experienced decreases in blood pressure and aortic stiffness. It appeared as though their blood vessels had aged 4 years less. In older, slower male runners with higher baseline blood pressure, the advantage was greater.

The London Marathon research findings and Coach Buckheit’s “unexpected star” serve as welcome reminders that not all of our successes are commemorated on top of the medals stand.

A Runner’s Body Can Be Any Body.

Gnarly, wiry guys led the 1970s’ first running boom. Today, women now make up 44% of marathon finishers. Mid-pack (or back-of-pack) runners have recently received encouragement from celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and John Bingham, a Runner’s World columnist also known as “The Penguin” due to his waddling pace.

Both lacked the impressive torso measurements that the Spanish researchers were looking for. Oprah ran a marathon, however, and did so in 4 hours, 29 minutes.

According to 1968 Boston Marathon champion Amby Burfoot, “Oprah made a lot of people believers.” “She was once a very unlikely candidate to succeed, and when she did, many people questioned why they couldn’t do the same. ’”

And thanks to Bingham’s column, he became the Pied Piper of the Plodder, encouraging and entertaining slower runners on their way to healthier physical and mental well-being.

At a marathon expo, a fan gushed to him, “We wouldn’t have dared enter a race like this, with all these fast runners, if it wasn’t for your column.”

Just keep in mind that there are many more of us than there are of them, Bingham remarked with a smile.

The Quotable Runner’s editor and writer is Mark Will-Weber, a former senior editor at Runner’s World.

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