The genetics of marathon running (and other sports)

An interesting article in this week’s Globe and Mail discusses the genetic makeup of your typical elite marathoner.


An interesting article in this week’s Globe and Mail discusses the genetic makeup of your typical elite marathoner: They’re around five foot seven and weigh about 140 pounds. Sounds like a slightly taller Tom Cruise.

The article talks about how being lean is critical, and how extra weight is “useless.” I’ll testify to that, as although I strive to maintain a low body fat percentage, I’ve got a lot of extra muscle that I’ve worked hard to obtain, and this serves to slow me down when I run. There are also the short legs I have in relation to the rest of my body. I’d imagine that doesn’t help much either.

Still, I try hard.

And I rack up a lot of kilometers running. I’ve taught myself to love it even though I’m not programmed to excel at this activity. I just took the slow and steady approach to building up my mileage, as the article recommends for those who aren’t lean and programmed for this type of activity. Some take to water, others take to running, and others are built for sumo wrestling, and others make good gymnasts. We’re all different, but unless you’re planning on competing then genetics should not play a huge role in what activities you choose; likeability should.

Granted, if you’re good at something quickly then it seems as though you have a genetic tendency towards that activity. Therefore, you get a quicker confidence boost and are more likely to generate positive reinforcement and end up sticking to that activity. However, there’s nothing wrong with a little perseverance either. You don’t have to be great at something to enjoy it, and you don’t have to be better than everyone else.

If your kid wants to grow up to be an Olympian, then some investigation might be a good idea to find out what type of sport he or she will excel most at. For you, however, just finding activities that you like doing – whether you’ve got a genetic tendency to be great at them or not – is what is critical.

I’m not genetically programmed for marathons, but I’m still going to do one, and I’m going to strive for finishing it in under four hours, heredity be damned.

Visit James at Body For Wife.