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U.S. Runners & Marathon Challenges

We look at a controversial push to change form with American long-distance runners — to get them back in the winner’s circle.

The elite women runners make the turn the corner of 59th Street during the New York City Marathon, Nov. 7, 2010. (AP)

A generation ago, American long-distance runners won the world’s big marathons year after year. Bill Rodgers, Alberto Salazar, Joan Benoit and more were indomitable champs. Boston Marathon, New York Marathon, you name it. 

Then, something changed. Americans fell off the map. The world rushed in: Kenyans, Ethiopians. Tremendous runners, in the winners circle — and not Americans. 

Now, Salazar and others are trying to change that, and change form.  

We speak with Bill Rodgers and more on what happened to America’s long distance runners, and how to bring them back. 

-Tom Ashbrook

Guests:

Jennifer Kahn, feature writer and lecturer at the University of California – Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. Her new article for The New Yorker is “The Perfect Stride: Can Alberto Salazar straighten out American distance running?” Check out this video where she compares the stride of American marathoner Dathan Ritzenhein to Ethiopian distance runner Kenenisa Bekele.

Scott Douglas, senior editor at Running Times and co-author, with Olympian Pete Pfitzinger, of “Advanced Marathoning.”

Jeremy Rasmussen, women’s cross-country coach and assistant track-and-field coach at the University of Illinois.  In 2009, he coached the Illini to a top-12 finish at the NCAA Cross Country Championships for their third consecutive year. 

Bill Rodgers, U.S. long-distance legend who won numerous Boston and New York City marathons in the late 1970s.

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • Rob (In NY)

    This effort has delivered at least some success with US marathon runners doing well in several high profile races, including several medal winners; Meb Keflezighi winning the NYC marathon in 2009; Shalane Flanagan coming in 2nd in NYC in 2010; and two American women rounding out the top 5 in NYC 2010.

    Tom, I am a recreational marathon runner and ironman triathlete who has completed 10 full ironman races and countless marathons, including both NYC and Boston several times. I would be interested in hearing your guests explore the relationship between increasing marathon participation among Americans at record numbers at the age group athlete level and success (or lack thereof) of elite athletes in this sport.

  • Rob (in NY)

    It would be also interesting to hear your guests apine on whether they believe blood doping (EPO) is frequent among elite marathon runners. Based on drug testing results, it seems to be less common than it is among professional cyclists and triathletes, but I think any effort in professional sport to produce better results (e.g. more elite winners) needs to be properly monitored to ensure the results are not “artificial”.

  • Tom Derderian

    Expecting that changing a runner’s form would cause a great improvement in racing is wishful thinking like hoping to find an island of flightless birds just waiting for a coach to teach them how to fly.

    Tom Derderian, Coach Greater Boston Track Club

  • Paul (NYC)

    The number of serious amateurs running sub-elite times is so low compared to what it was in the 1980s, even as we have many more regular amateurs participating in marathons. Do American runners need to run more training miles, like the countless doctors, lawyers and cops who used to run Boston in 2:35 back in 1979? Has American running lost its great athletes to the soccer programs? If so, maybe the pendulum swing back now that we have Meb, Deena, Shalane, Ryan Hall, Kara Goucher, and Ritz.
    Thanks for the show!

  • Marcus Alexander

    I believe over 20 of the top 25 times in the marathon are by an Ethiopian or Kenyan. Are there genetic factors involved as well as cultural factors. What explains the almost overwhelming dominance of African runners over trhe last 20 years in middle to long distance.

  • Robert Espinosa

    Has anyone ever considered that the marathon may have become more competitive? When American’s were dominating a generation ago what % of elite entrants in the Marathon were American? Now what % of elite entrants are American?

    In 2009 6 Americans placed in the top 10 in the mens race. I would be surprised if Americans comprised more than 60% of the elite athletes. Therefore the performance of America is no worse than I’d expect and likely better.

  • Chris Kealey

    I think there are simply are lot more runners (elite) worldwide competing today. In the 1960s 70s and even into the early 1980s running was mainly a Northern European – North American sport. This transformed when Africa became more connected with the running world specifically and the larger world as a whole starting with Kenya and then spreading to Ethiopia, Algeria, Morocco etc in the 1970s & 1980s. A lesson in globalization. It does beg the question why we never see elite distance runners from China and India given the enormous population base?

    Chris Kealey
    Newburyport MA
    Director – High Street Mile

  • Michael from Waltham

    I hope you mention that the reason Bill Rodgers dominated the Boston Marathon was because the BAA (Boston Athletic Association) did not offer prize money, and so elite runners from around the world passed Boston by. As soon as the big prize money was put up, the REAL runners came in and have dominated ever since.

  • Rob Mitchell

    Is our culture of “instant gratification” reflected in our results in distance races? What would Pre(fontaine) Do? to energize the sport?

  • Mike Derhammer

    I personally have changed my running form and have benefited greatly (increased cadence, shortened stride.) I went from being a 5K “duffer” to completing my first marathon in relatively good time. I have yet to qualify for Boston but “yet” is the operative word.
    As for American runners I think the tanking of the economy will help help us. I love that my work out is free and something so meditative. Our national current angst may be the fuel for our re-emergence.

  • Ann

    I don’t know about running, but:

    IN WALKING, it’s HIP ROTATION that moves you ahead a greater distance.

    Altho extreme rotation, can probably slow you down, less hip rotation will mean your legs can’t take as long a stride.

    (I’m SURE the experts already know this.)

    Rhode Island

  • Ann

    Oh, I forgot to add:

    It doesn’t look like they are thinking in the direction that I mentioned above (11:21). Sounds like they do NOT want a long stride. Interesting.

  • Nick

    I’m sure there is much advantage in addressing bio-mechanics for runners, but perhaps the real issue is: America’s marathon-winning dominance has passed.

  • Ken

    Listening in Central Virginia via XMPR

    Christopher McDougall debunks the myths about American marathon runners promoted by your guests in his book “Born to Run.” In part he blames the shoes.

    My question is “What is the association of the panel members with shoe companies? Do any of them have or have ever had contracts or receive support from shoe manufacturers of any kind?”

  • Kevin Yoder

    While I agree that Americans are behind the best in the world, don’t distort the facts for dramatic effect.

    Jennifer Kahn said no American has run as fast as Salazar and Beardsley did at Boston in 1982. Salazar won in 2:08:52. Ryan Hall ran 2010 Boston in 2:08:40.

    Kevin Yoder
    Harrisonburg, VA

  • Rob (in NY)

    If genetics plays such an important role, please explain the success of European women, including Paula Radcliffe?

  • http://www.theblizzardof78.net Chris

    Can you discuss nutrition? I have read that East Africans have much lower animal protien intake, with much more emphasis on carbs.

  • Nick

    I’m having a Forrest Gump moment!

    It’s also a factor of genetics/lifestyle/diet:
    I doubt many Africans eat McDonalds, KFC, or Dominoes Wisconsin (7 cheese) pizzas daily!!

  • Kerry

    Maybe I missed it, but i have heard nothing yet about the most important factor – how you fuel the body.

    Animal products will interfere with with the body.
    Raw plant food diet will increase endurance and recovery rate. These are more important than form the longer the race is.

  • Mike

    You are spending a lot of time on “form” issues. I think all or most of your guests would agree that “form” accounts for about 5% of the 100% of difference between Americans and the current top distance runners.

  • Scot C.

    It’s not limited to just running – just look at cycling and triathlons, Armstrong is an anomaly. Perhaps it’s an American approach to training problem??

  • A Listener

    We won the America’s cup by an extreme technological edge. In the Tour de France, people cheat all the time.

    Why can’t we win via unfair technological edge? Can’t we design a shoe that can absorbs the shock-energy of planting one’s foot and re-emit the energy when on lifting of foot?

  • Nick

    I concur w/Ken @ 11:29am:

    who’s running footwear are the guests contracted to wear/promote?!?

  • Stephanie

    I agree with a previous post referencing the “Born to Run” book. Form has a lot to do with shoes. What are the thoughts about barefoot training? We evolved as distance runners. We all have that capacity to do it regardless of race.

  • Mike

    There are 16 and 17 year olds in Kenya who are running better than American record times. The recent World Cross Country champion was discovered when he tagged along with an elite training group in Kenya, running barefoot with long pants on he was able to run with this group. One year later he is a World Champions. There are diamonds lying on the ground in East Africa. Not in the USA>

  • David Oldham

    Just back from NY Marathon, Scott Douglas, love your book Advanced Marathoning, thanks for the great contribution. Is it true that the Kenyans are doing huge volumes (160 mile weeks) and the folks we are seeing at the largest marathons are the survivors, and the best? Wouldn’t that work ethic explain some of the success?

  • Dave

    Since oxygen transfer ability must be key to performance

    It would be interesting to identify perhaps through testing and then recruit those individuals with high transfer capacity. For example the great American mountaineer Ed Viesters is apparently off the charts in his oxygenation ability.

  • Doug Nickerson

    I’m curious what the experts have to say about whether the race times have been significantly lowered or not.
    It seems to me that Joan Samuelson ran some pretty fast marathons even compared to times today. Connected to this… is the east african “advantage” the same in the women’s races?

  • Philip

    One word: shoes. We didn’t start putting cushioning in our running shoes until the 70s. I know it may be post hoc to draw a connection, but isn’t that right about the time we started to see a fall-off in US dominance of the sport? We know that cushioning encourages heel-striking and other form changes, and we know that, say, African runners often grow up shoeless. What do you think?

  • Nick

    Yay, let’s “throw money at this problem!” (Jennifer Kahn).

    How American!!!

    Ugh.

  • Mark Mayall

    The Hanson brothers in Michigan, running shoe store owners who sponsor and coach a team of marathon-centric athletes, have proven that you can produce a slew of solid but not spectacular marathoners in a sea level environment (with harsh winters to boot). Their success can be ascribed to relentless high mileage at a relatively moderate to high intensity. In other words, similar training to what the east Africans do, only the Africans do it at altitude with a different genetic makeup. Seems pretty obvious what the two main factors are here. American marathoners still have the puncher’s chance of medalling at international competitions, as evidenced by the likes of Keflezighi and Kastor. However, it’s indisputable that for every truly elite, world class US marathoner there are 10 east Africans running at the same level. Success is still possible, it’s just a lot harder with much less room for error than in the “salad days” of US hegemony when east Africans weren’t yet on the scene. American athletes should be ecstatic over making the podium at any major championship, it’s a huge deal and nothing to be sneezed at.

    To the earlier commenter who asked about the relatively higher success of European/N. American women in the sport, that’s mainly cultural. Wait another decade or two and what we’ve seen happen on the men’s side over the last 20 years will have happened with the women. Already, the Ethiopian and Kenyan women are in the process of establishing dominance in the sport. I for one applaud this trend.

  • Jennifer Kahn

    Thanks to Kevin Yoder for his comment. He’s right that I misspoke when I said that no American-born runner had beaten Alberto Salazar’s time in the Boston marathon, set in 1982. Ryan Hall did finally eclipse that record this spring, running 2:08:40 to Salazar’s 2:08:52. Thanks much for the correction, Kevin.

  • http://HanoverNH,03755,VPR Joseph Inselburg

    I’m a retired prof. Dartmouth Med. Hanover NH and am recalling a Vermont Pub TV documentary I saw”?5-10 years ago about a team of Scandanavian (?Danish) marathoners who lived and trained with the Kenyan runners for a training season at their training camp in Kenya where all were studied physiologically, anatomically, nutritionally etc. etc to discover causes of significant differences in performance.
    My lasting recollection, because it was so startling, was that the most(only) important difference was to be found in the anatomy of the legs, and particularly the mass(?) of the lower legs of the Kenyans, that gave them a large mechanical advantage when they ran.

    I hope this recollection is useful to one of your guests.

    Thanks for your stimulating programs and NPR for broadcasting them.

  • Ann

    I should NOT be commenting here, because I am NOT a runner, nor do I know any. However, thinking about this subject IS fun.

    Just now, I went to the LINK from the New Yorker. One of the things I MAY have seen is this: it just LOOKS like the African runners have muscles that are more developed on the backside of their necks, shoulders, torso, pelvis (including gluts), thighs and calves…perhaps ankles/feet); AND on their lateral muscles (BOTH the flexion/extension lateral muscles AND the rotational lateral muscles). The Americans look weaker in their posterior and lateral muscles. (I know that “lean” does not mean weak, but I stand by my observation, tiny as the video screen is.) This is OFTEN a weakness ALSO in American amateur exercisers in all activities, including just going to the gym. Too many Americans focus too much on strengthening the muscles on the front of their bodies.

    Now, with what was just said — that the Africans may often be running in daily life over different surfaces and at different angles and levels — that would automatically call muscles into play, including the muscles on the back side of their bodies, and definitely on the lateral sides.

    Again, often, when we try to address a problem, we just throw more effort at what we think isn’t working, as opposed to looking at the larger context of our efforts, and working in that larger context. In this case, perhaps there should be more emphasis on running on odd surfaces (perhaps there is: I suspect so), but also, on getting those American BACKS (head to toe, including neck) and LATERAL MUSCLES (flexion/extension and rotational lateral muscles) to just LOOK as strong as the backs of the Africans on this video. No one would have to change their stride, but their strides would BE changed, because their muscle balance between front, back, and sides would be better.

    On the New Yorker video: look at the Africans, especially at their lateral hip muscles: can you SEE how much stronger the Africans’ lateral hip muscles look than those of the previous runner on the video? Again: also look at the Africans’ posterior neck and shoulder areas: see the strength? That pulls all the muscles, including those in the front, into a stronger balance. The Africans’ anterior chest muscles seem to be held up higher, too (perhaps held there by strong posterior shoulder/neck muscles?)

    Too much bulk wouldn’t be good, of course.

    Before I got sick in my bones, I enjoyed dancing. I was astounded by how many American men are almost immobile when it comes to hip rotation (lateral) and pelvic rotation. Perhaps the African runners don’t JUST grow up running, but ALSO grow up dancing??!! From some PBS and NPR special reports, I have learned that there IS a lot of singing and dancing in daily life in Africa; those areas of expression are not just for performances for tourists.

    Now, if Americans danced consistently from childhood thru old age, men’s musculature would probably not get “stuck” in ways that prevent hip and pelvic rotation. MAYBE the BEST way to train American runners is by re-introducing dancing into American lives from early, early childhood thru old age, in the schools, but also in private and civic life. There ARE cultures where that is the case (as an aside, I hope and pray that if we open up to Cuba more, that we don’t WRECK that aspect of their culture!) Really, how many Americans train for one sport, perhaps rigorously, and, increasingly, with coaching from childhood; yet, who otherwise drive in cars, or sit and watch TV, play video games, or drink/worse, instead of keeping moving thru each day, in varied movements required for different physical activities?

    Musculature and the surrounding tissues CAN get “stuck”, including in athletes. Alternately, some excessive flexibility can be dangerous: think about the extra flexibility kids in acrobatics have if they started young. Ligaments that are over-stretched allow remarkable range of motion, but won’t protect the joint enough over time, and especially with aging. But dancing (regular social dancing, no matter what the culture and/or reaching out to other cultures, including: swing dancing, cajun, zydeco, tango, hip hop, Afro-Caribbean, middle eastern, other ethnic dances) from early childhood could keep some of those joints flexible enough to help athletic performance in later life, according to my theory!

    I dream of community dance halls in every town and community where people of all ages congregate to dance with each other on a regular basis. I saw this in Scandinavia in 1974. It is the basis for some of my theory here. Plus, instead of paying money to “famous” people, we would encourage our local talent, bringing back a regional renaissance that would enhance the pool of musical and dance ideas thruout the country! And, again, the dance halls might give us our marathoners! (Please don’t tease me by saying that you don’t see any Swedes winning marathons!)

    Just some thoughts from a NON-runner. And, altho I say the above, I loved and appreciated the comment from the one caller who suggested that we consider that perhaps Americans just can’t expect to be best at everything and that we could consider graciously conceding to the talents of others.

  • http://www.runningtimes.com Scott Douglas

    Ken and others wondering about panelists’ financial relationships with shoe companies:

    I can speak only for myself, and the answer is no. But if I were you I wouldn’t be so sure that Mr. Christopher McDougall doesn’t have a financial relationship with Vibram. And I’ve been writing and assigning articles in Running Times for the last 15 years arguing that most modern running shoes are vastly overbuilt (despite many of the magazine’s advertisers being the makers of those shoes). Despite what McDougall might want you to think, there’s no need for conspiracy theories and paranoia here. As Bill Rodgers noted on the show, many long-time runners, myself included, were running in as little shoe as possible long before McDougall hit the scene.

    For the record, I had on a really comfortable pair of Sanuk street shoes while the show was taped. Sanuk execs, send me a check!

  • Jim

    Nobody seems to be looking at one of the root causes for the decline with American marathoners. As I see it the decline and/or elimination of physical education in our schools has a major impact. The kids today do not have any where near the aerobic base as those in the past.The marathoners/distance runners today may start out 18,000 miles behind the Africans this is a gap that is almost impossible to close.

  • Ann

    Ooops. I really meant to say that joint tissues can get “stuck”, and that the muscles can get shortened.

  • Anne Hird

    Yet another issue is the cost of road racing. Distance running used to be highly accessible; all one needed was a pair of running shoes, less than $10 for a race entry fee, and the willingness to work hard. Current entry fees, which tend to range from $30+ for a 5k to well over $100 for a marathon, are far too high for young runners, who are our next generation of stars.

  • Bill

    One can also look at running particpation as a pyramid where the larger the base, the more likely you will get elite runners at the top.

    Running was a baby boomer sport and the average overall quality has fallen off a cliff. At local road races runners in their 40s and 50s are often winning outright and taking half or more of the top 20 now.

    Races like the New York City Marathon may have twice the participation from 30 years ago, but only half as many people running under 3 hours and the average time has gonme from about 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 hours.

  • Tim C.

    Totally unrelated to the discussion here, but a suggestion for a future show. I actually listen to the shows on podcast (not live) so I really wouldn’t be able to make a comment, though I have thought I would on a number of other subjects.

    I work at a Bank. Not a Wall Street bank, and I think you would have a great discussion on that. You’ve had guests, particularly Economists come on (I am trained as an Economist too) who have suggested that the “banks should lend more” or “more stimulus will cause a bank to lend”. Speaking as the Bank, we’d LOVE to make loans, but there are no good projects. Borrowers don’t have the Balance Sheets or Cash Flows to make prudent loans. Regulators require banks to hold capital specifically tied to the quality of the loan. So, making a loan to a poor credit not only may be a poor decision for the shareholder, but could come with severe restrictions on capital based on that loan.

    So what to do?

    First of all, question the premise of more lending will get the economy going. The Balance Sheet of my bank shows what happens when the economy is based on cheap loans – speculation and crash. We, like most others are digging out, and bonuses in our business reflected (and continue to reflect) the state of bread and butter banking. So, again, we don’t want to add more bad (risky) loans.

    Businesses, particularly small businesses, are looking for improved growth prospects (and frankly, so are banks who lend to them). Loans with zero percent interest are unattractive if there is no way to deploy them to earn a higher return (hence large companies with large stockpiles of cash).

    The one thing that could get things going is certainty. Not certainty of tax cuts or Obamacare or anything in particular – just certainty of something. Thus, the most destabilizing thing would be a Congress that seeks to repeal previous legislation for partisan gain.

    Not to turn political, though one could, but tax cuts for the wealthy do almost nothing to stimulate demand for small businesses, but extension of unemployment benefits certainly would. I guess I’m with Krugman on this.

    Anyway, sorry to hijack this thread, but this is the suggested way to communicate with On Point, my favorite NPR show.

    Tim C.
    Atlanta, GA

  • Jeff Clark

    The idea that me running a 4:46 marathon somehow slows down the elite runners is nuts! I am an over the road trucker and my job does make it hard to run my best. However, getting 45,000 runners post up $100 entrance fees should help the elites train.

  • Bill

    I always respected Salazars approach to training his heart out but technology isn’t the big answer here. He sometimes had some crazy ideas which lead nowhere. Like once when he avoided getting cooled down in a hot race with water because some test showed it closed his pores and caused overheating. No, it’s the simple answer..training and participation. Both Al and Joannie had odd gaits and both of them kicked butt because they trained their asses off. Africans have genetics, environment and participation. Running is a big deal there. When we had the running boom here there was no big prize money and participation was there and we had a lot of very good runners with a few elite coming out of them…sheer probability. And as for times…Billys 2:09s from the 70s would still be competitive today, as would Greg Meyer, Tony Sandoval, Jeff Wells, Craig Virgin, Frank Shorter and a whole bunch of others. Throwing money at the problem is not the answer. Interest has just swung over to other sports…Lacrosse, Soccer….Video games :(. Those who like to ignore genetics are avoiding the obvious though. Genetics can make you taller, shorter, darker, lighter, fatter…so foolish to say it can’t make you physically faster or at least give you better tools to work with. Lungs and heart aren’t genetic material? Pointing to Paula Radcliffe as an antigenetic arguement is like saying just because some lifelong smoker lived to be 100 that smoking is good for you. No amount of training is gonna let Shaq beat Geb in the marathon. If America wants to match the Kenyans in the marathon then I suggest we market the 5000m as heavily to our youth as say…the NFL, NBA, MLB and NASCAR.

  • http://theRunningBarefoot.com Barefoot Ken Bob Saxton

    There is another big factor that stems indirectly from these issues; that most american runners are injured much of the time. So, while technique might make a bit of difference in speed, and technique is certainly altered by wearing shoes, especially if one learns how to run while wearing shoes, without the advantage of being able to instantly feel, with each and every step, how their feet are interacting with the ground (which lets us know if we’re running the way we are designed to run), changing the biomechanics, and it’s really simple, just run barefoot on rough surfaces (for maximum feedback), until you figure out how to do it without pain, and you will be running in a way that doesn’t cause the kinds of injuries that take runners out of practice for weeks, or months at a time. When things are working smoothly, we can practice more, and we can get closer to our individual potential.

  • http://www.greatblazes.com Stella W

    I’m not a runner either, but I’ve been in the horse breeding and training business a long time, where there are various competitions, including but not limited to racing, that deal with short and long distances(and a few 100 mile endurance rides too).

    I was therefore surprised, that while narrowly dealing with lung capacity/conditioning, there really wasn’t much discussion about the proportion of short-twitch vs. long-twitch muscling, heart size as well as lungs, etc. like there is in horses.

    While there might be some body types that give some individuals an advantage over others given a particular sport, its probably not a good idea to have a “one size fits all” training program, food regimen, etc. Its more a matter of assessing the individual’s strengths vs weaknesses, and working on developing and elevating the weaker aspects. I got to watch a bit of the race, and it was apparent early that the American second place female would do well, because her style was in keeping with her bodytype, yet different from the winner, a larger, longer-strided person, yet they both had similar muscle types, more long twitch
    .
    And yes, I listen best I can to this, my favorite show, with headphones while working with horses down on the lower 40….literally!

    Stella W

  • David C.

    To Michael from Waltham. Sorry, but your statement about Bill was false. When Bill was winning the Boston Marathon in 75, 78,79,80, who were all of these foreigners that you speak of who weren’t at Boston because of prize money? At that time Bill was one of the best, if not the best in the world. When they brought Seko in to run Boston in 1979, Bill Rodgers beat him and how much was the prize money then? See my point? Bill ripped everyone apart in 76 at NY following Montreal where he was injured. Bill diced the field in 77, 78, and 79 at NY as well. Foreigners? Bill Rodgers was overall the best marathoner at that time, period. Shahanga, Ikangaa, Kamau, etc…came in the 80′s.

    Respectfully,

    David

  • als

    This discussion brings a sort of positivist approach here, distant and cynical. “They” are “studied” in labs to learn about their phisical strenghts, in this way “we” will be able to compete in better form. What about their social and cultural environment? We look for expensive programs to improve performances on behalf of podiums, this could be Ok. But in learning from them, we can retribute somehow exchanging programs to reach more people there as well as here.

  • Jacob

    This ppl are stupid. Ryan hall ran faster on Boston than either Salizar or Beardsley

  • Jacob

    Alberto and beardsley would not be all that competitive and more race are far more negativly split with crazy fast 4:20 miles being thrown into race while when they ran the surges were not near as brutal. Also a 209 in most marathons these day wont cut it you have to be sub 207

  • James Anderson, Annapolis, MD

    This is a fun topic because of one wonderful thing we all share: the human body.

    Genetics – Keep in mind that the greatest genetic variation lies in Africa, the mother of us all. The Africans remind us of that (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/30502963/}. While America is diverse culturally and genetically, the greatest genetic variation lies in our common motherland, Africa. The East African distance runners remind us of that. The West African sprint runners remind us of that.

    Genetic Trait Selection – In East Africa, there is an ancient history of cattle herding. Among the cattle herders (in some modern periods, rustlers), cattle have long been payment for bridal dowries. The best distance runners had the most cattle, had more cattle for dowries, had the most wives, developed a gene pool with a strong specific trait: distance running stamina.

    Childhood Development – Regardless of genes, humans who spend their first 18 years developing their cardiovascular system are have a great advantage in their prime years from age 18 to 36.

    Mechanical Efficiency, Surfaces and Footwear – A child who has an abundance of natural surfaces and a warm climate is able to maximize his body’s mechanical efficiency by developing leg and foot strength and all of the neural coordination patterns as well.

    Personal Experience with Mechanical Improvement – I am an American of Swedish descent (67″ 138 lbs) who grew up running in a wooded area, swimming in swim leagues, and bicycling distances of 30 to 50 miles from age 13. At age 48 I cracked my left kneecap. Rehab took 6 months, during which I could only run uphill on at least a 4.5% grade with a light, sweeping forefoot touchdown using hamstrings much more than before. Soft surfaces were more comfortable, as were flat running shoes. I came to run on springy pine trails while wearing light, low-to-zero heel lift sandals (Nike Straprunners, then Nike Rayongs). I ran like this for 2 years through all seasons in a Maryland forest, and I had a few measured hills I kept meticulous training data on. The hills were 11.5% 880 yards, 8% 880 yards, 7% 0.2 miles, 3% 0.4 miles. My times dropped incredibly over 2 years. I began with a best on the 0.4 mile hill of 2:04; two years later that time was 1:49. 5 x 0.4 mile averaging 1:51, best 1:49. That was at age 50. Prior lifetime PR’s were 4:29 for the mile, 10:00 for 2 miles, and 16:04 for 5K (age 35). I will let you guess what my times are now.

    So I see genetics, genetic pool trait development, childhood cardiovascular developement and mechanical development are all important factors. Motivation is also very important.

    James Anderson
    Annapolis, MD

  • James Anderson, Annapolis, MD

    Hills Correction:

    The hills were 11.5% 880 feet, 8% 880 feet, 7% 0.2 miles, 3% 0.4 miles.

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Jul 25, 2014
Pallbearers carry a coffin out of a military transport plane during a ceremony to mark the return of the first bodies, of passengers and crew killed in the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, from Ukraine at Eindhoven military air base, Eindhoven, Netherlands, Wednesday, July 23, 2014. (AP)

Secretary of State Kerry to Israel. Obamacare back in the courts. Mourning as remains of Malaysia Flight 17 victims come home. Our weekly news roundtable goes behind the headlines.

On Point Blog
On Point Blog
Our Week In The Web: July 25, 2014
Friday, Jul 25, 2014

Why the key to web victory is often taking a break and looking around, and more pie for your viewing (not eating) pleasure.

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The Art Of The American Pie: Recipes
Friday, Jul 25, 2014

In the odd chance that our pie hour this week made you hungry — how could it not, right? — we asked our piemaking guests for some of their favorite pie recipes. Enjoy!

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Hillary Clinton: ‘The [Russian] Reset Worked’
Thursday, Jul 24, 2014

Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton took time out of her global book tour to talk to us about Russia, the press and the global crises shaking the administration she left two years ago.

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