Comparing natural talent

The more I look this year, the more I realise what natural talent for distance running is. And I don’t have much of it! But that’s not to say I can’t develop into a decent distance runner with good training.

Let’s talk about three runners. There’s me – whose talent is for speed and building muscle. There’s Slow-twitch Sam– who I believe has talent for distance – he’s light and thin. Then there’s Intermediate Ian who sits somewhere around the average – he’s got decent speed and endurance but doesn’t excel one way or the other. (Names have been changed).

Both Sam and Ian ran a half marathon last weekend. Ian ran sub-1:29 while Sam ran 1:24. My Personal Best – dating back to 2012-13, when I was at one of my running peaks, is 1hr31.

I’ve seen Ian’s training on Garmin and he generally trains five days per week.  Mondays and Wednesday are some kind of workout, either short intervals at fast paces, or longer intervals lasting 5-10 minutes at threshold or marathon pace. On a Friday he runs a 10-mile long run. On the days in between – Tuesday and Thursday he usually does an easy 5K. That’s it.

I looked back at his run training over the past year and he’s totalled 1,219 miles. Here’s the monthly totals from November to September, notably there’s only two months where he exceeded 100 miles.

I used to be a low volume runner barely eking out more than one hundred miles per month, same as he does now. A decent, concentrated block of training in 2010 reduced my half marathon PB from 1hr50 to 1hr38. I ran a decent marathon in 3hr41. The next year I upped my mileage to 150 per month, worked on my endurance and set my half marathon PB (1hr31). I had to do more mileage to get there.

The most notable thing about Ian’s ability to run a half marathon in under 1hr29 is that he never did the distance in training. His long runs topped out at ten mile runs. By comparison, if I don’t doing my long run for a few weeks, I’m struggling in the final miles when I next do one. Some years ago Ian’s first marathon was 3hr25, the next 3hr15 then he ran close to 3hrs a few times before finally breaking it.

Sam took up running again in April and got down to nineteen minutes at parkrun in six weeks. In July he ran a 1hr32 half off a total of around 500 miles training. Since then he has trained harder with back-to-back 200+ mile months in August and September but still hasn’t totalled a thousand miles this year. Yet he’s running even faster than Ian. And much quicker than I have ever even though I run close to two hundred miles every month with a variety of sessions. Of course my training is dedicated towards the 800m so I wouldn’t necessarily expect to run great times in a half at the moment.

What all this begins to show is how natural talent helps out at the beginning of your running career.

My early half marathons were 1hr51, Ian’s is 1hr29, Sam’s is 1hr24. But, due to my lack of natural talent I’ve been forced to figure out what needs to be done to get quicker. I’ve improved from 1hr51 to 1hr31. Ian has only gone from 1hr29 to 1hr25; Sam from 1hr24 to 1hr21. I’m sure they’ve trained hard to achieve what they have but what I’m seeing is how easily it comes with natural talent. Of course, that IS the definition of natural talent.

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