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Steve Way Made Me Quit!

Don't let genetics beat you!

Unless you've been living under a rock for the last year, or have no interest at all in running (in which case, this maybe isn't the best website for you), you'll have heard all about Steve Way... or, as we call him round these parts, Marigold.

The legend goes something like this. Overweight couch potato in his mid thirties, weighing 16 stone and smoking 20 a day, gives running a go.

And discovers he's brilliant!

Turns up at the London marathon, off three weeks of training, and clocks 3:07. Within five years (and after LOTS of training) that marathon PB is 2:15. Steve's the British 100k record holder, and is lining up alongside Mo Farah.

It's an amazing, inspirational story. And from what I gather, it couldn't have happened to a nicer bloke. Plus, of course, if I was a coach potato, I can't think of anything more likely to get me off my backside and into some trainers. Because you never know until you try, do you?

But here's the thing. I'm not a couch potato. And there was one detail of the story that I kept coming back to.

I couldn't help thinking about that day when Steve stormed to his 3:07 marathon. You see, like many, many others, I'd have been about an hour behind him... having trained a hell of a lot more.

In fact, I'm pretty certain I will never run a 3:07 marathon. Ever.

Don't get me wrong: I'm taking nothing away from Steve's achievements. He's worked flipping hard for his 2:15. For the 100k record. He thoroughly deserves his standing in world athletics, and - more importantly - his status as a Fetch Everyone Member of the Month.

But 3:07, off next to no training? That's just not fair.

Call me naive, but I liked thinking running was fair. I liked thinking you work hard and you get your just rewards. You do your long runs. Your intervals. Your hill reps. You put the mileage in and you get better. And it's true: you do.

How much better, though? That's down to genetics.

You see, there's a school of thought that running results are pretty much down to training, and natural-born talent only really comes into play at the highest extremes of performance. And it's baloney.

What's more, it's pretty offensive to people in the back half of a race - most of whom do take it seriously, and do train hard for whatever gains they get.

From the little I understand, the stats - comparing race performances of people who have done similar training - suggest we're all pretty much born into a league division. It's just how well we do within those limits that's up to us.

For me, that thought started to colour every race. Every result. Every effort. I started looking at friends' PBs and wondering if they're just inevitably better than me. I even accidentally started a punch-up on Facebook by bitterly posting from a race presentation: "Let's give the same few people yet another prize and a round of applause for their choice of parents."

(Yes, it was nasty, childish and unfair. But at that moment I felt like I was born to be an also-ran, and it really hurt.)

Clearly, this isn't a good situation. Question is, what am I going to do about it?

I'm going to quit.

Quit running? Hardly. It's my one sort of exercise. My one release. My sanity... Besides, when I first took up this sport, I used to tell people "Running is horrible... but moobs are worse." As far as I'm aware, that still holds true.

Quit racing? Maybe. For now. While I get my head together. After all, running's supposed to be fun, and if racing makes me sad, why do it? But I do like having a race in the diary. It scares me into actually getting out when it's cold and wet.

But really, if there's one thing Steve Way has inspired me to quit, it's this: I need to quit comparing myself to other runners.

Any improvements I make aren't about beating other people (which is just as well really)... they're about being better than I was before. Or at any rate doing as well as I can.

That's not easy, because I'm a competitive sort of guy. But if I can do it, it'll really set me free to enjoy my running. After all, however much I improve, there'll always be someone faster. So I'd always be unsatisfied. And where's the fun in that?

If I'm going to keep running for years to come, and not hate it, this is a lesson I need to learn.

So here's to you, Marigold. No doubt your story has started a whole bunch of new running careers... it might end up saving one here, too.

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Comments

  • Spot on DD. I think its why many of us come to running later in life (that and the onset of moobs), as its only then that we can accept that we are never going to be an England Rugby payer (or whatever) and that the challenge is just making yourself better (or slowing the rate of decline in some cases :-) )
  • I too have to put a lot of effort in to be this Sh*t (sorry to steal a catchphrase Marigold) but it's my level that is important to me - I know I'll never win a prize other than the raffle but every race I know whether I beat me or not. This week's marathon talk interview mentioned slower runners - and a line that if we haven't set a world record then we are all slower than someone! But running and racing are our hobby, exercise, life etc and how we enjoy them is the reason why we are not Sh*t and shouldn't quit.
  • Absolutely. That's what I like about running, it doesn't have to be comparing yourself against others (if you don't want to). It's about comparing yourself to yourself.
  • Your article really resonates with me. I have been running since 2003 and train hard and now with even more specificity, only to see other women my age (50) crack out 40 minute or better 10ks at local races - I remain lower middle of the pack! I have improved with training, but it's ultimately the genetics that determines how good you are (from how your body is put together to how good your VO2 max is). And that's the rub!
  • You're so right, Dave. I haven't quite managed to stop comparing myself to others yet but I'm getting there and I know darn well that there's an awful lot more I can do to achieve improvements, even small ones. Thanks for this :-)
  • Absolutely agree with you what other sport can you participate with world champions or world record breakers am I ever likely to get on the team in the England running team but I can be in the same race as Jo Pavey.
  • I can understand this, but I use my competitiveness to keep trying to get PB's although it is very hard to not compare yourself with others. I do that in my age group with Parkrun aaarghh I must stop that. Beat yourself not others. :-)
  • 'I need to quit comparing myself to other runners'. And you can remove the word runner, it still works. :-)
  • Nice article, thanks. Reminds me of the swimmer's body illusion.

    Link (roll over me to see where I go)
  • Maybe the only comparison that we should ever make is that even your slowest run is ALWAYS faster than the very fastest DNS.
  • Great article. I once tried to encourage a friend to enter a race, to which they responded 'why, I have no chance of winning'. I suspect about 90% of people who enter running races do so with the full knowledge that they have no chance of winning, but they are racing themselves.
  • Yes! That's why I like being slow....'cos then the only competition is who was slower than me!!!...and sometimes how many more were slower than me :-)
  • Yup. In January '06, I ran a 25:something 5k off 200 miles training in the previous 12 months. With more than 5 times the mileage over the previous year (and much more focused training, at that), I can now run one slightly under 90 seconds faster. I'm just not going to get that much faster.

    Anyway, last time I was in the same race as Marigold, he didn't win either :-)

    (The volume has made a big difference to *longer* distances, but that's another conversation).
  • Spot on. I take pleasure in beating 'old me'. But, I confess, I also take pleasure in routinely finishing ahead of someone who is both younger and slimmer than me. Just as only one person is ever going to be the fastest, most of us are also not going to be the slowest.....
  • Every day I thank my lucky stars I can run. Unless you're Steve or Mo, does time really matter?
  • Everyday I'm happy I ca. Run as many can't but at the same time I do get pissed off when no one wated around for us slower runners. But I just chase my own times and true not to worry about what others do but it's bloody hard when a 69 yr old can run faster them me .
  • Thank you so much for that, DD, you have put it so much better than I could! Many of us fall into the trap of comparing ourselves with others, but as others have said, a period of layoff due to injury or illness makes you really appreciate being able to run again at all - and whilst I wouldn't wish injury or illness on anyone, it's a lesson worth learning.
  • The reality is that in a race you are really only competing with yourself, and maybe a handful of people that you know who have a similar standard - oh, and the person(s) just in front of you as you near the finish. That is why you can be genuinely pleased for everyone else if they get a good time, a pb or even a prize, and that is what makes running the great sport that it is.
  • A great article. Running in our present era has become many things to many people, which is wonderful. Racing someone of your own standard is not to be taken too seriously, but can be exhilarating. I am amused and delighted by the memory of the sight of a 53 year old friend (over 6 feet tall, and a bit haggard) and a 13 year old girl (less than 5 feet, and fresh faced), battling for all the spirit they could muster in the home straight of an 800m race. They actually raced 800m three times that season. She won twice and he won once.
  • I've never cared about the person winning the race, and if he or she (because we have a fantastic female Cornish athlete who might yet eclipse Steve Way's achievement) only started running last week, so be it, some people win the lottery, and I don't but it doesn't mean I'll stop playing even though I KNOW I'll never win. I'm reminded of an old footballing friend talking about his son. So he went to primary school, and he was the best footballer there and dad thought wow, so he went to secondary school and he was the best footballer there, so they've moved him up and he joined a Sunday league team and he was the best footballer there, and the local non-league took him on, and he was excellent in the youth team, so they promoted him into the reserves.... and there he found his level, because they were equal or better than him. And at 20 in the non-league reserves he realised, he was never going any higher, to everyone else a superman, but he felt he was a failure and gave it up pretty much.

    It's about the competition around you, the man or lady next to you, maybe next race they are, 5 minutes in front, or behind, and it's someone else. I know so many people just because they finished just ahead of me, or just behind, and they come over and talk, and the camaraderie is fantastic. I coach kids and I try and remind them 1 person wins the race, that ,means everyone else loses, but it doesn't mean they 'lose', it just means they have to accept there will always be someone better, but that doesn't mean they give up, or not try their hardest. I know some excellent runners who don't run now, because they know how good they *used to be* and they can't be bothered because everything they do now is mediocre or rubbish in comparison. That to me would seem to be a greater curse.
  • Excellent article! Run to your own ability and if a competitive edge comes your way then deal with it accordingly. If not just enjoy what everyone else does, by that I mean keep putting one foot in front of the other #simple
  • Great article - and applies to many other things in life.
    EdJ
  • DD I think of it like this. You want to build a house, but your land isn't as smooth as your neighbours, you have the same tools, but your ground might be a little lumpier so it takes a bit longer or you need to use them differently. His house goes up quickly, it looks quite nice. It takes you a lot longer but you learns about your patch of land on the way, you learn how to eek out the best from it.

    If you like hard work for years on end maybe you finish your house and maybe its better than your neighbours, maybe it isn't. But its your house. You made it.

    That's the effect of training. It doesn't completely overcome genetics but it does overcome a much bigger factor. Giving up before your house is built factor. Never believe you wont get fit having a go, you might not get to 2:15, or 2:30, but maybe you will. No need to quit before you've even smoothed out the land just because it has a few stones in.

    That's my view anyway :-) Keeps me happy on the long dark runs ;-)
  • Bless you Curly. I won't get to 3.30.
  • I agree, comparing yourself with others only leads to unhappiness in many arenas, including running. I am inspired by some if the fetchies I know who have improved their times through sheer hard work (look at Bint!) but I also know there is a natural limit to what I can achieve through training. There's a huge satisfaction to be had in trying your hardest though :-)
  • A brilliant article DD, I agree wholeheartedly and try not to let it bother me when someone else can run faster than me with what appears to be less effort. Most of us are running against ourselves or with a friendly rivalry. Just be the best that you can be :-)
  • That's definitely something I need to quit doing. In many ways the problem is that prizes will only ever go to the people who have both the right genes and the right attitude and if you have the latter but not the former you're a bit stuffed if you want to win races. However, life isn't fair in that sense and it's an awful waste of energy wishing something unchangeable was different.
  • Hmm, well written and enjoyable article. However, bit concerned about the conclusion. We are limited (or enabled) by our genetics, sure. But how do we *know* what that limit is? And might we not sell ourselves short by saying, 'I'll never be able to do xx'? But I completely agree that having the correct attitude of 'I'm only racing myself' (or the bloke or lass near you, because outdipping yourself on the line is pretty much impossible! ;-) ) so you can recognise your achievements, and ultimately maintain your enjoyment of the sport you love, is a good thing. But don't stop training and trying so you push towards whatever that eventual genetic limit may be. It might be further away than you think! :-) G
  • I view the likes of Steve Way as the reason why running is fair. In all aspects of life there are some people who are just, for whatever reason, perfectly suited to things and can perform well. The problem occurs when there are people who, for whatever reason, cannot perform at all.

    Running is a very fair sport. If you do 20 miles per week, you'll do a 10K in at most XX; if you do 30 miles per week you'll do it in at the most YY; and with 40 miles per week you'll do it in at most ZZ.For the vast majority of us that's the case - looking at profiles, training and race times on here shows for most people you get the time for the effort you put in. Some people excelling doesn't mean I won't be rewarded.

    In other instances, effort doesn't lead to performance. I could play 10 hours of snooker per week and improve my game a lot, but not to the standard of mates who just instinctively know how to play. I could spend 10 hours per week learning a new language but get absolutely nowhere as I'm useless at learning them. Those are the sort of areas where it's frustrating to see others doing well with little effort.

    I'd struggle to think of any opposites of Steve Way - people who are doing 30 miles per week but still struggling to do a sub-30-minute 5K. Aside from people with obvious medical reasons, it's generally the case that knowing mileage, gender and age can give a close estimate for people's race times. Once you get to stupid performance levels (such as sub-17 minute 5Ks) you can reach people's natural levels, but most of us won't get anywhere near there.

    The real inspiration of Steve Way for me is that he never realised he was an international class athlete as he never tried it before. I've never tried playing the piano and think I'd be useless, but who knows I might be naturally gifted. That can apply to running as well as other interests - I might be better at Ultras than I am at marathons; I might be better at hill-running than I am on roads; I might excel at interval training even though it seems like it will kill me. The lesson we should learn is we don't know our abilities until we try it, so should not be fearful of trying new challenges.
  • Hi Dave, nice post, but I disagree vehemently with this:

    'Running is a very fair sport. If you do 20 miles per week, you'll do a 10K in at most XX; if you do 30 miles per week you'll do it in at the most YY; and with 40 miles per week you'll do it in at most ZZ.For the vast majority of us that's the case - looking at profiles, training and race times on here shows for most people you get the time for the effort you put in.'

    I'd love to see Fetch crunch the numbers on this, because - based on my own experience and that of others - I think it's actually untrue. I'm not sure about your 30 mile / 30 minute point, but I do know at least one consistent *50* mile-a-week runner who's only dipped below 25 minutes the once.

    And correlation may not be causality: if there aren't many people running 30 miles a week without getting much quicker, it might simply be that it takes a lot longer, doing so much for so little (perceived) reward simply isn't a lot of fun.

    Maybe Fetch could follow up with some data?
  • Also...

    The current top of the training league (who runs 50% more miles than even Steve Way does) is significantly slower than any of the rest of the top ten (of their age and gender).

    Further down the top 10, there are other examples of people who are matching / outperforming others who run up to 50% more than them.

    Fetch is really good at this analysis stuff, but I'd bet money that training mileage is no guarantee of a good race time.
  • I'm with Curly. Yes genetics is important but so is training well. Also, training well and running a lot of mileage are not necessarily the same thing - I know GB standard distance runners who run 40-50 miles a week as well as those that do 140 miles a week.
  • 'Don't get too hung up on jealousy:
    The race is long, and in the end, it's only with yourself'

    Well, that's what I was left thinking about after reading this. Nice one Dave.
  • There's a definite tendency for those who achieve faster times to have run more mileage in training - but that doesn't necessarily imply cause and effect. If you've been dealt the genetic aces as far as running is concerned, then you might also be less injury prone, or just enjoy running more. If you look here (3rd graph down): Link (roll over me to see where I go) you'll see that for folks who run 40 minute 10k's, there's a wide range of mileages.

    I don't disagree that increasing mileage can lead to improved times, but I've read enough to believe that there are certain aspects of our bodies that we inherit, and therefore we're not 'equal'. Here's a bit more information on that: Link (roll over me to see where I go)

    I'd agree with HappyG's point, that we sometimes underestimate what we're capable of, but the point that Dave has rather excellently made is that a direct comparison between ones self and a faster athlete is essentially fruitless. It's all about beating yourself, not beating yourself up. Ooh, I quite like that :-)
  • Fab article. Its about being the best you can be, at the end of the day most of us are only competing against ourselves. I'll never be a Paula or a Jo, but as long as you have done your best, there's no better achievement.
  • I'm genetically shit Dave so I stuggle to be Average. If I was more like that Jock Itch Id be quick but then I might not have hair. Swings and roundabouts really
  • The way I see it, it's a lot easier for fast runners to put in lots of miles. Part of that is the simple fact that, when an elite runner goes on a long training run, they can demolish 20 miles in a couple of hours. It's never taken me less than twice as long as that to get the training in.

    On the subject of winning prizes: AKG turned up to a four mile race last year. She was pleased with her time as she looked through the results. Then she noticed that the only other LV35 finished behind her.
  • Love it! Great article!
  • Love it! Great article!
  • I'm with Lizzie W & Ed: it's not only running where comparing yourself with others is unhelpful, nor is it only running where your parents are more significant than your own efforts.
  • I have 3 aims in a race - 1. to finish, 2. to beat someone younger than me and possibley more atheletic looking. 3. Meet people offa Fetch.

    Running should be about you - the targets you set yourself are personal.
    Ace article.
  • Yes. And No.

    It's blindingly obvious that genetics is the ultimate limiting factor in performance; taking it to the extreme if you have a genetic defect that impacts leg development you'll never set a standard work record for a marathon no matter how much or how well you train. However I don't see that as a reason to not use the likes of Steve Way's performance to inspire and challenge our own efforts.

    How many of use actually get anywhere close to that ultimate potential best performance that is hard-coded by our genes? I'd wager that of the 'amateur' athletes that it's less than 1%. I can only think of a handful of people on here from the 70,000-odd registered who I'd put in that category. I firmly believe that virtually anyone without a serious medical/physiological impediment can run a sub-3 marathon. And, yes, that includes you DD. It may take a complete change of lifestyle, diet, training, career or whatever to achieve it but i strongly disagree that for that vast majority it is impossible. I'm sure I *could* do it, I'm also (reasonably) sure that I never will as the personal sacrifices it would require and the impact it would have on my personal life, and on those of my nearest and dearest, would be far too great. It's just not that important to me as to make such sacrifices.

    In the meantime I'll continue to be inspired by the greats, training hard within my own personal constraints (constraints, not limits) and competing with myself (and maybe using those who are slightly better than me as targets to help with that) but I'm certain I'll never hit the ceiling that is dictated by my genetic make-up.
  • I think we'll have to disagree on that one, chap. I don't think it's a genetic ceiling that's obscured behind mountains of training (though it's that *too*). I think it's from the moment you start: some people are just immediately better than others from day one, to an extend that often outweighs training and sacrifices. And that's fine (if you think about it the right way).

    But 'pretty much anyone can run GFA with the right work' is something I hear a lot, and usually from people who are naturally quite good at running. And I think it's demonstrably wrong. Maybe I *could* with the sacrifices you mention, but only just. And I'm not bad; I'm sort of average.
  • DD - I agree with the general tenet of the article - don't let the fact that others are more naturally talented get *you* down. In any aspect of life.

    But it's not as black and white as you write, at least as far as running is concerned. You and Marigold are not going to switch PBs if you switch training schedules. Obviously.

    I like the comments above by HappyG, Wirral Dave, and flanker. To continue the theme:

    You've put yourself up there by writing this, so you're the example. But this applies to many. Why do you write:
    ''In fact, I'm pretty certain I will never run a 3:07 marathon. Ever.''
    and
    ''Bless you Curly. I won't get to 3.30.''
    You've got a 20.xx 5km and a 45.xx 10k, and done that off pretty much 20 miles per week (looked at over a sustained period). That's pretty handy, isn't it?
    So - are you going to give 30, 40, 50 or 60 mpw a go? Or are you going to be honest and say that it's not that you *couldn't* run 3:07, it's that you don't want to try?

    Perhaps there are some folk like your example running 50mpw but not breaking 25min for a 5k. I'll bet it's not many.
  • And by the way - it's perfectly OK to not want to try higher mileage. But I don't like you characterising anyone faster than you as being more genetically talented. My PBs come from hard work and dedication, not natural talent.
  • Brilliant 'put it out there' article and love the discussion. As a recently ex-lapsed runner who both ran just for the fun of it but was also very competitive my tuppence worth is:

    OK, I'm not genetically up there with the best performers. But I (was) competent at what I did and I had my peers (and the next person in front) to race against. Meeting up at race time beforehand is fun, knowing who (my) competitors were and going out there and running a good race. Sometimes I 'win' sometimes I 'lose'. But then someone else is winning, so it's all swings and roundabouts. I enjoy the highs and deal with the lows. And what a great community to race with. Always the next time.

    And as with other comments. I'm not convinced I've reached my best yet. So how can I test that if I don't train to compete and compete to win?
  • Interesting data on whether there are Anti-Way's would be a scattergraph of people's training in 2014 and their highest WAVA. My expectation would be that most people are, or close to a diagonal line (milesrewards), some people are above that diagonal (naturally talented so more rewards than mileage suggests) and very very few would be below that diagonal (naturally untalented). If WAVA does control for age and gender, then it's perhaps a better indicator of miles v rewards than times would be.

    I've just had a look at the 1,000 miles in 2014 group and looked at the highest WAVA this year for the lowest 15 people on course to achieve that mileage (i.e., those closest to 1,000 and with very similar mileage).

    Their highest WAVAs are:
    56,60,60,61,62,62,63,64,66,68,69,70,70,73

    That suggests that if you put 1,000 miles per year in you'll achieve a WAVA of at least 60, although some will do much better. There is one person who doesn't quite get there, but if we regard typical as 60-64, then there's six who over-achieve.

    A sample of 15 is, of course, nonsense, but it would make a nice blog to see what typical WAVAs we would expect per milage.
  • Reposting my earlier comment - have a look at third graph in this article: Link (roll over me to see where I go) - it shows the variation in pre-race mileage by 490 runners who all ran 40 minutes for a 10k.
  • Good article...and thought provoking.

    I agree with the main thrust of the argument...that genetics are the fundamental boundary condition to the limits of possible performance...so get over it if you don't want to burn yourself up in a ball of rage. However, I think Flatlander's point is also valid...the constraints (not boundaries) that we recreational runners put on ourselves (time devoted ; training regime; diet) will probably kick in and affect recorded performances well BEFORE we hit the genetic wall.

    In my head I reconciled these two as follows:
    ...IF we assume that the self imposed constraints are (relatively) constant over a period of time, THEN comparing our performance against ourselves through time is a good method of retaining a balanced view of our own achievements.

    PtheB's points then kick in...keep your constraints in the same place...that's ok...want to move to another level ?...shift the self imposed constraints (run more; eat differently etc).

    For me, I have run on and off for nearly 45 years (....and got married, had a family, changed jobs, and moved house along the way .....just the usual life stuff same as most folk on here) and so now as an ageing recreational Vet (old runner, not occupation) who likes numbers and analysis (see name !) then WAVA % is my new best friend. I also play golf...and my handicap works to keep me interested in the game in the same way. I can see my improvements (or otherwise) over a season, and I can take on the Club Champion and beat him/lose to him on any given day using the NET score after deducting our individual handicaps.

    Measurement matters...but absolute comparisons can be misleading or even damaging without context or 'normalisation'.
  • Fetch, that's a good graph as far as it goes, but Wirral Dave's point about needing to use WAVA to adjust for age and gender is important, isn't it? i.e. that 40 min for a 10K could be from 'slowish' for a 20 year old fit lad to 'flippin incredible' for an 80 year old granny. So the fact that the 60 year old granny was doing enormous mileage, and spending all her pension on massages, physio and coaching and the lad had just stepped off the footy pitch, done a 10K cos someone bet him he wouldn't, would be lost.

    DDD, you're written a great article, and provoked some excellent discussion. Thanks as always. :-) G
  • But...

    My whole point is that the idea that genetics is *only* a wall or limit which is somewhere the other side of lots of training - which would be conveniently fair(ish) - is really sort of undermined when Steve Way turns up off three weeks' training and runs a 3.07 marathon that (sorry Steve) he hasn't worked for at all.

    You can say 'well, there are always exceptions', and yes Steve is an extreme example, but nature doesn't work on the basis that you're either normal or a far outlier. As Fetch's graph shows, nature tends to deal in Bell curves and normal distribution. So yes Steve's at the extreme end, but he demonstrates that we DON'T all need to do equal work for equal results (and/or we will get wildly divergent results from similar work).
  • No-one's denying the bell curve idea, or suggesting that Steve hasn't been fortunate in his position on that curve. But I feel you've expanded on that and created an off-the-peg excuse for anyone who runs a couple of times a week to say to themselves 'I'll never go sub-(whatever) because I'm not naturally talented'. If that (whatever) is a 2:20 marathon (or equivalent level, you get my point), then fair enough. If it's 3:07, it's absurd to say that unless you've spent a couple of years at 50-60 miles per week and can prove you're an outlier the other way.
  • It's less about finding excuses, really; more working out what kind of running I enjoy. If I have to make sacrifices I don't want to make in order to enjoy racing (or at any rate not feel like a comparative failure), then maybe I shouldn't be racing. I didn't say I couldn't run 3.07, I said I won't (though with my injury restricting me to three runs a week to allow recovery time from now on, both may be true). This is still just a hobby.
  • I tend to agree with ptb etc, and do agree with the anyone can run GFA argument with the massive caveat flanker puts in of a shed load of dedication. If you can run GFA straight off the sofa you are obviously gifted, if you run GFA off several years of continuous hard work it's a different story.
  • I need to get this off my chest, and what is really upsetting me is the accusation from the 'faster' runners, that 'slower' runners use genetics as an EXCUSE. It ain't a bloody excuse, I look at those that take 5 hours to complete a marathon and visually they look to be utterly spent. Just last weekend a guy at the Foxy Fireworks did a 2:52 and I saw him finish. He looked like it was just a 'jog'. I still had two laps to go and was utterly wrecked.

    Hard work, training, effort is not the exclusive domain of 'faster' runners, and I find it insulting and dismissive, that if a 'slower' runner tried they would achieve some arbitrary goal.

    Rant over.
  • I suspect it ain't.

    Show me the training log of an average 5hr marathon finisher. I can't speak for your 2:52 runner, I know nothing of him. But I know an awful lot of folk training pretty much every day, running 2-2.5k miles/yr, to get GFA-ish results. Don't put down *our* efforts and achievements with the implication that we've got some major genetic advantage. We haven't.
  • I'm not the one throwing around the accusations of EXCUSES!!!

    I applaud those faster and those slower.

    If you want to look, they are there (e.g. 5-hr runners that have run 2,000-2,500 miles per year, year on year), but I'm not about to point the figure
  • In fact, not an excuse, just a matter of fact, I'm shit unyet have probably run in excess of 10,000 miles over the past five years. If I had an ounce of talent, surely I would be 'better'?
  • I'm sorry that you see yourself that way. I'd put you smack in the meaty bit of the bell curve, along with me and all the others I refer to above. 42.xx and 1.34.xx for an M45 are definitely 'GFA-ish'.
  • That's fine, Paul... my point is still that *some people* (not everybody who's fast) do have an advantage. And it doesn't only come to light after loads of training. Running is no fairer than any other part of life, and - for better or worse - we all have to deal with that fact our own way. That's the only thing the article was about really.
  • This made me think what can I achieve! I took up running last September and just checked my Garmin page to see what I have run. My first run with a GPS watch was on Nov 4th 2013. I done 72 miles until the end of 2013 and have so far done 942 this year. So 1014 mile in 54 weeks which is an average of 18.77 per week.

    I turned 40 recently and am surprised that you can keep improving. When does that stop?! I am guessing initial weight loss helps with times (I have lost 3st 2lb in last year)

    I have entered two 10k races so far, one in March and run 41:36 and then another in Oct where I run 37:21.

    My 5k time has come down since Feb from 21:21 to 17:45.

    I have started to increase mileage as the year has gone on. Aug, Sept and Oct were all a couple of miles either side of 110 for the month, so around 27 per week.

    I train with a club and do a fairly structured programme. Intervals, speedwork (200, 400, 800's), hills which is twice a week and then do one longer run myself plus maybe one other some weeks.

    I agree what people have been saying re you only race against yourself. I re-set my goals once one has been completed (currently aiming for Sub 17:30 5k, Sub 30 5 Mile and Sub 37 10k)

    I am looking to run longer distance races in 2015 with a 10 miler, half and then a marathon. Not really sure on what times to expect but looking at a predictor I have a rough idea as to what could be achievable.

    So will I need to do 50-60 miles a week to do a good marathon or could I get away with 30-40. I am really not sure. Finding the time to do all them miles is what is putting me off.

  • The main reason I started running is to lose a bit of beef and drop a cup size or 2 (moobs ref) and that was just over a year ago, I remember my first few runs trying like mad to get 2 miles done in under 20 mins! A 10 min mile target was what I had. Now a year later that is a distant memory. I may only be running a steady 9 min average now BUT I'm loving my runs and it gives me a real sence of enjoyment and not a sense of pain and near heart attack!!!I think my point is the speed and distance are relative to your own state of mind, I know my limitations but I make sure I push myself to the limits of them,so when it comes to a race I will run that race the best I can knowing some one will win the race but I will always win 'my' race :-)
  • Yep, exactly that. Daz, it all depends what 'a good marathon' means to you. Would you smash my marathon PB off 30-40 miles a week? On the evidence of the way you've comprehensively taken my 10k and 5k times apart in your first year, I'd say it seems likely.
  • You've inspired me to stop beating myself up about my pace (9ish) and distance (10k 4 times a week)before I had my hip replaced and now (11ish and 5k 3 times a week) 6 months down the line. Ta!
  • My first every half, I was beaten by a friend by 5 mins, my friend was half my age and an ectomorh (I am an endomorph). The same year, I took over 5 hrs to complete Snowdon. It was only after several real running friends reassured me of me achievement I continued. Inow only compete against myself. Enjoy the running!!!!
  • I used to play club chess but after a few years realised that in competition the only games I really enjoyed were close games that I won. So I stopped!
    For me the great thing about running and long distance walking is that I get satisfaction from doing it.
    O k I want to get better, faster? Hum, not so sure, to some extent I think that better should not only be about time. For a regular parkrun that maybe ok, however for LDWA events it can be more about enjoying the experience of running anew course,meeting old friends,not getting lost!etc.
    A lot to be said for leaving the watch at home sometimes.
  • DD - I think a good Marathon for me as a 1st timer based on my previous times in races would be Sub 3:15 however the predictors show me at 2:52, that I think is way off from what I am told about them last 6 miles!

    I done a 16 mile casual run a few weeks ago and kept easily to avg pace of 7:09, its the extra ten miles that worries me!
  • Looking at the picture of the Tortoise and Hare, i think the Tortoise must be moving darned quick to leave footprints like that!!!
  • ...and overstriding like the rest of us!
  • Good article, great comments.
    Read Matthew Syed's book 'Bounce', the strapline is 'The myth of talent and the power of practice'. In short, it is how hard you practice (not how long) that determines results. For sure genetics is a factor that you can do nowt about, you accept and practice more. Chrissie Wellington won consecutive Iron Mans. The same guy kept winning The SA Comrades Marathon. I was Olympic, Commonwealth and World badminton champion. It is down to passion!
    At age 68, I have a new love - triathlon - 95% of entrants are there for participation and fun. Forget the Brownlees'. As Matthew Syed said Bill Gates was no genius, he simply worked hard at a time when being a nerd paid off. Kasparov, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Mo Farah etc, passionate, driven men, not born with 'God-given talent'.
    I agree with so many comments, running is fabulous. At the end of 23 years of international competition, to fill the void, I started running and I am crap - in terms of times, but brilliant in terms of relaxation and enjoyment.
    Madeline Ibbotson (married to Jonah Barrington there never was a less talented, alcoholic. He became a legendary squash player. His secret an incredible training schedule + passion) told me when I hung up my badminton racket and started running 'do not look at your watch, just run, you will get faster and smoother - just enjoy'
    She was so right. Please try mini triathlons 750 mts swim 20kms bike 5 kms run - for a marathon runner, it's a stroll in the park, and nobody cares how long it takes you - 1 hour - 2 hours who cares. The after triathlon get togethers, last one in Sagres (Portugal) are such fun! From an old guy, who was lucky in his chosen sport. Yes, forgot to mention LUCK is a huge factor - the environment, your friends and family. It's easy with hindsight.
  • Lovely post, but *of course* Mo Farah was born with talent. If success was all hard work alone, how do you explain the 3.07 marathon off 3 weeks' training that inspired this article? Or the fact that, from a few months of similar-ish training, Daz Love is achieving the kinds of time i'd have to train almost full time to get? Oh, and triathlons for me are unlikely in the extreme. I can't cycle and can barely swim.
  • I'm forever reading that runners improve their times, the farther they run in training. Absolutely not. By that premis we'd all be potential internationals if we put in the time. I've only been running 8 yrs but I've found (MV55) that I'm still running PB's this year on much less mileage than I used to. The key points for me are 1) quality training not quantity 2) there is a need to keep the whole body conditioned not just the legs. I spend nearly as much time in the gym as on the road and it works. Maybe it's an age thing and runners in their 20's do get better the more they run, but they may also be risking a greater chance of injury.
  • I have nothing to add to this discussion.
  • I love this. Thank you!
  • I would have thought mileage increases will lead to better times, I would have thought an increase in quality training will lead to better times, extra gym conditioning will lead to better times. It is all within the parameters of tiem an individual has to train, however there is no mention of the mental attitude that hs to go along with the training.
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About The Author

When he's not plodding round the wilds of Cornwall, Discovery Dave (formerly known as Fat Dave) runs Lungfish, a marketing copywriting agency. He also has a mildly entertaining blog about writing, marketing and PR.

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