Health knowledge made personal
Join this community!
› Share page:
Search posts:

Running on Faith; Every Body Welcome

Posted Aug 09 2012 12:00am

Before today’s official post, a few odds and ends that are somewhat related to recent subjects around here, and that will potentially keep you reading for a very long time.

In my last post I described how running has become an increasingly spiritual activity for me over the past several years.  Coincidentally, last month the New York Times published a feature length article about U.S. Olympic marathoner Ryan Hall – among other things, it details how he uses Biblical tenets to guide his training program, how he feels more connected to God through his workouts, and how he uses his considerable talent as a platform to demonstrate his faith to others.  Even if you’re not the religious type, it’s a fascinating depiction of the mindset of one of America’s best marathoners. 

Ryan Hall; photo from New York Times

If I told you that Malcolm Gladwell wrote a piece about distance running that is framed around an extended profile of Alberto Salazar, would you be interested?  And if the piece also included Gladwell’s remembrance of his own distance running days, or details about how Salazar’s faith influenced his training regimen (are you sensing a theme here?), would that pique your interest further?  And finally, how about if the piece were called “Slackers”?

Alberto Salazar; photo from The New Yorker

I may have mentioned once or twice before that I’m a stark raving Gladwell fan – not to mention an almost religiously-dedicated slacker – so needless to say,  this New Yorker piece doesn’t do anything to dissuade me of that opinion.  Do yourself a favor and check it out; my own mediocre scribbling will be here when you get back.

One more item on the subject: lest you think that either Ryan Hall, Malcolm Gladwell, or I were the first people to delve into the communion of running and spirituality,  of books on the topic.  Most curiously of all on that list is a book called , which, based on the synopsis, has absolutely nothing to do specifically with either running or being barefoot.  I suppose sometimes the ways of the spirit are quite convoluted.

My offering for today was inspired by watching the Olympics: more specifically, the large degree that one’s physical stature predisposes him or her to excellence in certain sports – with the curious exception of running.  I’ve always bought into the conventional notion that I was too tall to be an elite runner, but when I started paying attention to the stats on some world class runners, the numbers revealed a different story - one which is told in the Monterey Herald piece which follows below.

As an entertaining aside, if you want to see what Olympic sport your own body is best suited for, take a look at this Olympic Body Type Match site created by the BBC.  Although it’s a cool little game, I kind of regret that I did it myself; when I plugged in my height and weight, the closest match it could find for me was a Turkish Greco-Roman wrestler.  That’s not exactly the comparison that a guy who’s getting ready to run 100 miles is looking to hear - but at this point there’s really nothing I can do about it, so this is just another one of those things I have to learn to let go.

Running Life 8/9/12                                           “Every Body Welcome”

A frequently-played VISA spot during this year’s Olympic Games features world-class pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva; it describes how she “grew up dreaming of hearing the roar of the crowd as a gymnast … but she grew too tall.”

Apparently once Isinbayeva crested 5 feet, her chances of becoming an Olympic gymnast became rather slim.  Indeed, female all-around champion Gabby Douglas stands a mere 4’11” – and she’s actually tall in comparison to the 4’9” average height of the Chinese women’s team.

Chinese women (girls?) in 2008; photo from Reuters

Other sports are exclusive on the opposite extreme.  Imagine being a swimmer trying to reach the wall ahead of 6’1” Missy Franklin or Michael Phelps’s 6’7” wingspan.  Basketball players, volleyball players, rowers, and countless other sports filter out hopeful participants through prohibitive size and strength requirements.

And then there’s distance running, which is pretty much open to anyone who wants to try it.

This may sound odd at first, as conventional wisdom usually holds that runners should be small and skinny, but a closer look at world class athletes tells a different story.  Just like recreational plodders, elite runners come in a wide variety of heights, and it’s unlikely that someone’s stature should ever disqualify him or her from competing.

Consider female marathoners.  In the 2000’s the sport was dominated by Kenyan Tegla Loroupe, who stands barely five feet tall and might weigh 90 pounds dripping wet.  However, Loroupe isn’t the world record holder; that honor goes to 5’8” Paula Radcliffe, an indomitable force who represented Great Britain at four Olympic Games.

Paula Radcliffe; photo from The Guardian

The men’s marathon record is held by 5’5” Patrick Makau, but for many years it was the property of 6’ Paul Tergat.  The record books of most major marathons will show an even wider range: the shortest champion in the 116-year history of the Boston Marathon is 5’1” Yun Bok Soh of South Korea, who is more than a full foot shorter than the tallest winner, 6’3” Kenyan Robert Cheruiyot, who won the race four times in the last decade.

Last weekend’s men’s 10K gold and silver medals weren’t won by tiny African runners, but by 5’9” Mo Farah of England and 5’11” American Galen Rupp.  As impressive as Rupp is, he only recently became the US 10K record holder; until last year it belonged to 6’1” Chris Solinsky, whose best 5K time is slower than 6’3” Craig “Buster” Mottram of Australia.  And if Buster ever lined up against America’s best 1500m runners, he’d be two inches shorter than 6’5” Andrew Wheating.  Incidentally, one of Wheating’s 1500m teammates in London is 5’5” Leo Manzano.  Do you still think height makes a difference for speed?

Andrew Wheating, Matt Centrowitz, and Leo Manzano; photo from Runner's World

Even over extreme distances, smaller isn’t necessarily better.  One of the brightest talents in ultrarunning is 5’7” Kilian Jornet, but his accomplishments pale in comparison to 6’3” Scott Jurek, who won the brutal Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run a record seven times.

Granted, many world-class distance runners are remarkably skinny: Buster Mottram carries only 160 pounds on his 6’3” frame, and Cheruiyot is even more slender at 150lbs.  Galen Rupp looks like he might snap in half if you hug him forcefully.  However, this is one of those chicken-and-egg scenarios that’s difficult to quantify.  Are they elite runners because they are naturally skinny, or are they skinny because of all the miles they’ve logged to become elite runners?

The answer isn’t that important; what’s more critical to realize is that there’s virtually no body type that’s unsuitable for running.  In other words, don’t worry about what you look like – just get out there and do it!

Get updates as soon as they're posted! Click here to subscribe to Running and Rambling. 
Check out the Running Life book for a collection of our most popular columns.

Post a comment
Write a comment:

Related Searches