Reader To Reader: Go Faster


Are fast marathoners a breed apart, or can the rest of us be as fast if we work hard enough?

"Are fast runners naturally fast, or can you teach yourself to be fast, through pure dedication and training? I'm a long way off a 3:15 marathon, but with a few years of hard training would this be possible?"
I Will Do It!


Your best answers

  • It's a mixture of fast genes and hard work
    It's a mixture of genetics and hard work. There's obviously a limit to how good a runner you can be. Some people are "natural runners" and can run jaw-dropping times with minimal training, while others put in vast amounts of training and end up running pretty average times. The only way you'll find out how much talent you have is by trying. I'd heartily recommend it: one of the great joys of running is pushing yourself and seeing just how good you can be. – Silver shadow
  • For mere mortals, it's about training and technique
    For the majority of people, genetics only plays a minor part. The major areas that can lead to fast running are: 1. Training approach (sensible schedules, nutrition, rest etc), 2. Realistic objectives, personal commitment, consistency, positive attitude, discipline etc, 3. Running style and technique, which anyone can learn. The importance of trained skills is hardly ever mentioned. – nrg-b
  • Don't focus on natural limits – train and you'll get faster
    As far I'm aware no-one has ever produced a definitive answer to this question. There's no clear way to measure what makes someone 'naturally fast', because fast-twitch muscle fibres will not in themselves make someone a fast runner. The one thing that is consistently proven to improve fitness (and speed) is training. Generally the more you train the better you get. Less is NOT more! Don't get worked up about what your limits may or may not be. Try to train (run) as much as you can. Work out how much you can fit in and do it well, stick with it and be patient. Running will get easier and your times will get quicker. – bazza
  • Hard work outweighs genes – only just
    Speed is relative: training maximises whatever talent is there. Some people are naturally faster in the same way that some can naturally jump higher or are good at maths or languages. However, an untrained runner with bags of ability could be beaten by a hard worker with less ability. – amadeus
  • It's nature plus training – here's why
    Olympic sprinters have been shown to possess about 80 per cent fast-twitch muscle fibres, while those who excel in marathons tend to have have 80 per cent slow-twitch fibres. But at the same time, there's some evidence that human skeletal muscle switches fibre types from "fast" to "slow" due to training. But how's a beginner to know which race length suits their biology best? Probably a case of experimenting with different distances. I think I'm better suited to shorter races. I did some sprints with my (elite) running pal, and she was surprised by my speed – but I found my first half marathon very hard. – Namaste
  • Look inside your muscles
    You could always have a muscle biopsy to assess your proportion of slow-twitch type-A and fast-twitch type-B muscle fibres. Doesn't sound like a barrel of laughs though. – PhilPub
  • Training boosts speed – but you have a natural limit
    With a lot of hard training I went from running a 2-hour half marathon to being able to run a 1:15 half and a 2:41 marathon. But because I didn’t have the genetic build that some of my club mates and training partners had, that was my limit. – Grendel
  • Blaming genes is a cop-out
    I like to tell myself that it's all about genetic make-up when I'm struggling to get my times down, but that's utter rubbish. At the very highest level of elite running it's about genetics, but for the rest of us it's about hard work, determination and a willingness to make sacrifices. – Pico
  • Experiment with distances
    Play around with distances, find what you're naturally better at, and work damned hard at it. – Little lizard
  • Remind your body how it feels to sprint
    I believe that training slow makes you a slow runner. There are times when you have to put the effort into short sharp runs and go quicker than you would normally, and this educates your mind, your lungs and your muscles. It reminds them what it felt like to be 10 years younger! – johnsten
  • Bodyweight plays a big role
    Some of us are more predisposed to fast running, but far more likely to make someone naturally slow is poor diet and/or excess weight. The lighter you are the easier it is to run fast (to a point of course), and even a few pounds makes a difference. – Jason X
  • Short legs needn't slow you down
    Size certainly doesn't matter - a friend of mine is 4'8" and she runs 8 min miles. My OH who runs 6.5-7 min miles was humbled recently when a tiny female trotted past him up hill on a race, and he never saw her again. It's a great leveller, running! – Siance


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