Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Recurrence of the Long Distance Runner as Lab Specimen

Greg Laden summarizes another study documenting the characteristics of distance runners:

Surprisingly, elite runners did not run proportionally harder than the run of the mill athletes and all the athletes had about the same heart rate responses despite a great deal of variation among them. This suggests that elite runners such as Paula Radcliffe are so good because of their basic physiological capacity, not because of the level of effort they expend. Apparently, training and innate ability both matter!
Anyone surprised with that result? Studies of this kind remind me of a parable about finding lost keys: when you lose your keys in a parking lot, you tend to search in the portions of the parking lot illuminated by overhead lights because it's easy to search there, not because there's any reasonable expectation that the keys happened to fall on a lighted patch of concrete.

Likewise, there seems to be no end to the studies establishing this or that about the physiology of distance running. I don't mean to say this research is useless or uninteresting, but I do think it tends to happen in relative profusion because it's easy to hook people up to a bunch of sensors and then have them run on a treadmill.

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