How do I find out the events where I have the greatest potential? Where should I put my effort? Given my abilities, what distance should I focus on? These are the questions that come up again and again in the world of running? Here are my answers.
Knowing one's Physical Abilities
Like everything else, we are not the same when it comes to running. We all know sportsmen and women who can run the marathon almost as fast as they would a half marathon or even a 10 km run. Others produce good results over short distances (e.g. 10 km), yet they are incapable of achieving their estimated time over a marathon distance.
From birth, we are programmed for short or long periods of effort. Put more simply we have slow and fast fibres in our muscles, the percentage of which varies from one individual to another. For example, you could have a high percentage of slow fibres (70%, which means that your percentage of fast
fibres is 30%), in which case you will be naturally predisposed for long periods of effort. What's more, if your training is designed for improving your performance in long-distance events – half marathon, marathon, long trail run, etc. – your percentage of slow fibres will increase to the detriment of the fast fibres. As you will have realised, in this case, you are optimising your chances of success over long distances. On the contrary, if you are aiming at shorter distances – 3, 5, 10km – and you are training accordingly, then you will increase your percentage of fast fibres, but it will not adequately compensate for what nature has given you. And the final result will probably not measure up to the effort you put into it…
Also bear in mind that, when you stop training, your natural bias will take over again and the quantity of slow and fast fibres in your muscles will return to their initial percentages. In order to find out your genetic make-up, all that is required is a little exercise: you will quickly realise what "species" you belong to and where you feel more comfortable.
Tailoring your distance to your age
Another key factor in choosing your distance is… your age! After the age of 40, it is unfortunately not necessarily possible to train for any distance. At this age, however difficult it is to admit, our natural abilities in terms of speed decline more noticeably (even if the process begins at the age of 20…).
What's more, it makes sense to turn to the longer distances: half marathon, marathon and trail runs. This is because our endurance abilities do not deteriorate and can even improve!
Male or Female? What is the difference?
What about the relationship between your favourite distance and your sex? The female sex actually performs better than their male counterparts over long distances, which women choose more readily.
This situation is more easily observed at a high level where the performance of women approaches that of men: in certain events, a woman will sometimes even get on the podium of a race that is open to men and women! How can this be? This is probably due to a higher pain threshold than men and an incredibly developed mental strength. If you are still in any doubt, check out the number of withdrawals in a race and look at the male-female ratio…
Seeking the pleasure of running
Despite this, running is and should remain a pleasure. So take part in the event in which you feel best! If performance is not your primary motivation, maybe the fact that you enjoy running a particular distance very much will compensate for the minor genetic disadvantage of your muscles.
Whether it is sprinting, middle distance, 10 km, half marathon, long trail run etc., test yourself and explore the different disciplines before choosing your favourite one. This will almost certainly be your best distance!