Saturday, August 30, 2008

What running "talent" means to me

I've often heard guys ask, "what exactly constitutes 'talent' when it comes to running?"  Well, I'm no marathoner - I was always a track guy, and to me how much natural talent a runner had could always be answered by one simple question:  "how fast can you go out and run a 200m?"  

A great natural runner will always perform well in the 200m almost regardless of experience.  The 100m is much more technical - a lot of the race depends on the start.  If you're inexperienced, or simply have poor technique out of the blocks, even if you're faster than your competitors you will lose because there isn't enough time to make up for your poor first 20 meters.  And the 400m as anyone who has run that event competitively knows, is not "natural" for any human being.  I don't care how great an athlete you are, getting around that track in 40-something seconds requires a great deal of endurance, desire, and an ability to block out all kinds of discomfort in addition to natural talent.  Guys don't typically just show up and run a great 400m.  It requires a good deal of training.

But the 200m is where the inexperienced, almost untrained natural runner can still shine.  Sure it would be better if he had terrific technique out of the blocks, but if not, no big deal - he has plenty of time to make up for it.  And the fact that he has little to no endurance, not a problem.  You don't need much endurance to run a 200m.  

I saw this first hand on too many occasions in my T&F days.  I was not an overly "talented" runner.  I could beat some of the top tier guys in the 100m because I was much better out of the blocks and had enough speed to hold them off until we hit the tape.  I could beat these same guys in the 400m because I was in much better shape and as these guys hit the wall at 320m I could zoom on past them like they were standing still.  But in the 200m there was nowhere for me to hide.  The fact that I could get out ahead of them in the first 50m didn't matter all that much, as by 120m, the more talented guys would begin to pass me.  And my higher level of endurance didn't help either because these oftentimes inexperienced and lightly trained runners clearly had enough gas in the tank to finish a 200m strong.  No, the 200m was the race where I felt helpless against the top tier athletes.  There was no technique I could use or training I could do to combat the raw talent these state finalists had.  Sure, some of them were also good technical runners and/or endurance trained, but even the ones who weren't would pass me somewhere between 120m and 180m if they were talented enough runners, and there was simply nothing I could do to stop it.  

As an example, there was one guy in our conference who had never run competitively in his life, but I guess his track coach convinced him to try T&F his senior year.  He was awful out of the blocks as you might expect from a newbie (but he could still run a 100m in 10.8) and he was a miserable 400m runner because he hated to train (53 seconds or so), but in the 200m. . . . 21.2 and I believe the state champion.  His teammate who was a much more polished runner w/ 4-years of HS T&F experience ran about 21.8 in the 200m, but he ran the 400m in 47.5 and the 100m in 10.6 - 10.7.  The second guy went on to have a much better college career probably due to his greater work ethic, but in terms of raw talent - no question the first guy had a lot more of it.


5 x 1000m:  avg pace - 3:43 w/ 1-minute rests.

1 comment:

Ewen said...

Hi Mike,

That's an interesting observation about 'talent'. 200m speed I agree, is a good measure of one type of talent - probably a good measure of muscle fibre composition more than anything. Often, being too talented in this area is a negative if a runner wants to do well at longer distances (5k+). I agree that 'good' 200 speed is totally necessary for 800 runners.

Kathy for instance, can only just break 32 out of blocks - probably only ever ran 28+ as a kid. She does have talent in other areas (a high pain threshold for one), being able to tolerate large volumes of interval work (e.g. lots of 200s at 34-5)... yet she can't tolerate high mileage (only runs 50k/week).

One of the City to Surf winners (who did a lot of track racing), was a very slow 200 runner, and had a PB of 1.57 for 800. Yet he had the talented muscles/body type/head space, which enabled him to win our biggest race.