sprinting vs running

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29/08/2012 at 13:24

If you are a really bad sprinter, does that mean you are a very bad runner too, or can that predict you to be a very runner

29/08/2012 at 13:35
a very runner what?
29/08/2012 at 13:55

@td43 - your questions are amazing.

29/08/2012 at 13:56

sorry i mean if you are a very bad sprinter, can that be a good prediction of you to be a very bad runner

29/08/2012 at 14:21

No, lots of people who are good at one are bad at the other. Sprinting requires a lot of fast-twitch muscle, longer distances require more slow-twitch muscle. Also, longer distances require a lower overall body weight in order to prevent over-heating, whereas bulkier muscles are worth the extra body heat for sprinting because of the power they give you.

At the professional level, as far as I'm aware, all runners specialise in either sprints or long/middle distance, for the above reasons. You can't be 'the best' at both, but that doesn't mean you can't do both for a hobby. I enjoy fartlek and other interval training because this is actually better for you than steady state running and because I'd get bored doing the same kinds of speeds all the time.

Edited: 29/08/2012 at 14:24
29/08/2012 at 14:27
So how do you get fast or slow twitch muscles?
29/08/2012 at 14:35

You're born with them, as I understand it.  Like blue eyes, or brown.

29/08/2012 at 14:43

Yeah, according to what I was taught in A Level Biology, genes influence your ratio of the two muscle types but your use of them is also very important. Usain Bolt probably had a headstart with his genes but he still wouldn't have those biceps without working for them.

Edited: 29/08/2012 at 14:43
29/08/2012 at 14:58

Fast twitch muscle fibres also decline in numbers with age. whereas slow twitch numbers tend to remain the same, although fast twitch can be converted to slow twitch, which is why older people tend to favour endurance events.

29/08/2012 at 15:04
So are fast or slow twitch muscles the only influence in sprinting?
29/08/2012 at 15:13

There's an article with some other factors involved here:


It mentions that elite sprinters aren't as bulky as they used to be and that it's helping them. You can see though, that they're still a lot more beefy than the marathoners and even the middle distance runners. You could never mistake one for the other.

29/08/2012 at 15:37
So why are descendants of African slaves better at sprinting?
29/08/2012 at 15:46

not sure, my question, y couldnt everyone just be good at running

29/08/2012 at 15:46

It was mentioned in my Biology class that people descending from certain parts of Africa (including Ethiopia and Kenya judging by the Olympics) are more likely to have a particular gene that's associated with more slow-twitch muscles, although the gene is found everywhere else as well. Descendents of other parts of Africa are the opposite, they're predisposed to good sprinting ability. It was a few years ago now and I don't have the text book to hand hence I'm very hazy on the details, but I'm sure there are research abstracts online if you're interested.

Edited: 29/08/2012 at 15:47
29/08/2012 at 15:55
So why descendants of slaves rather than Africans themselves. Why Jamaicans? How come Steve Ovett had a good kick? He wasn't western African? Was he born with a good kick?
29/08/2012 at 16:11

Free Africans are sensible people.  They don't go out in the sun if they can help it.  It's too hot!  Slaves had to go out in the sun, they were forced out to work on the plantations.  Dark colours absorb light better than light ones which are more reflective.  Light is the fastest thing in the universe.  So, over time, the African slaves became quicker through their exposure to it.  Now the descendants of African slaves are the quickest people on Earth, and Jamaicans are still getting faster because they have the best beaches and spend a lot of time on them playing cricket.

Steve Ovett was simply a hero.  He got a good kick through sheer British guts and determination.

29/08/2012 at 16:37
Brilliant. Top answer!!
29/08/2012 at 18:51

Africans themselves are very well represented in long distance running; I don't know why there aren't many sprinters actually born on the continent. It does seem to be mostly Carribeans. I don't know if there's a connection to the slave trade, it seems plausible, but that's much harder to prove scientifically. All we know is, certain genes are over-represented in certain geographic areas, and I remember the textbook even told you what the long-distance gene was called, so it's been formally identified. Who knows, maybe there are still populations in West Africa who have the genes for sprinting like the Carribeans but don't get into it for cultural or lifestyle reasons (meaning, bulking up with muscle requires resources and advice that most youngsters in Africa aren't going to have, while endurance requires mostly what Africa does have: open, flat space and societies in which travelling long distances on foot, in the heat, and as fast as you can, is fairly normal).

Edited: 29/08/2012 at 19:01
29/08/2012 at 19:17

I read somewher that Africa is still, for humans, the most genetically diverse continent so its probably not unexpected that there are some very good African athletes for all types of running. I expect with more funding and better facilities there would be even more. 

As for the Jamaicans: I would go with Michael Johnson's comment that for Jamiaica running, and especially sprinting, is the national sport and that's why they do so well.

I think in most countries children try to emulate their heroes and I hope to see a whole generation of UKcyclists emulating Wiggo, Hoy and Trott over the next few years.

30/08/2012 at 16:25

But there are very good west African sprinters, especially from Nigeria. I suspect there are less opportunities for them to develop (equipment, good quality tracks, coaching). If you look at the alltime lists for 100m there are several Nigerians up there.

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