The Perfect Runner


What make the perfect runner ??

It s a difficult answer because of the different types of runner , from short, middle to long, anyway is’nt  running  just fast walking ?Not really they are really quite distinct from each other based on transfer of weight and thus energy

Walking is  based on a physical concept termed the ‘double pendulum’.The first pendulum is the sweep that’s observed in forward motion of the leg,ie the leg leaves the ground and swings forward from the hip.This pendulum then is inverted when the leg strikes the ground with the heel and with a rolling motion the heel runs through to the toe.  Each leg is coordinated so one foot is always in contact with the ground moving in this double pendulum fashion. 60 percent of the energy used is recovered through this pendulum motion as it couples with ground reaction force.  Walking differs from a running gait in a number of ways. The most obvious is that during walking one leg always stays on the ground while the other is swinging  .In running there is typically a ballistic phase where the runner is airborne with both feet in the air (nbipedals).An interesting point which distinguishes the two movements is the changes in centre of mass. Centre of mass (the body) has to position itsself as the legs move and thus as it moves up or down as the legs move. The body drops forward in running as the muscles store up the energy in muscles and tendons over a bent leg. In walking the body is moving upwards at this point and as the leg is kept straight there is less storage up energy into the muscular system.  In walking about 60 per cent of the energy used is conserved because of the pendulum action. There is an  absolute limit on an individual’s speed of walking (without special techniques such as those employed in speed walking) due to the upwards acceleration of the centre of mass during a stride – if it’s greater than the acceleration due to gravity the person will become airborne as they vault over the leg on the ground.





The Phases of Walking


runing walking


Pelvic Position Centre of Mass position in Running and Walking, downward for running and upward for walking.


As far as the selection process for fast or efficent runners then this is obviously a result of school/club  and National  Competitions, even if someone was spotted with what looked like perfect characteristics proof would only be in ‘the pudding’ – results count !!!

Are there any characteristics genetic or otherwise ?? Tony Hadley an Athletics Coach from Birchfield Harriers in Birmingham, explained that long achilles tendons were definitely a well as tibial and femoral legnth, the sprinter needs large powerful muscular legs and for the distance runner light long thin legs . Paula Radcliffe the British distance runner   apparently ticks many of the  required ‘boxes’ when examining requirements for this distance,  record time for the marathon was 2 hours 15 minutes and 25 seconds. Some academics believe that we are reaching apeak of human ability and that only small differences in records will be observed in the future. Computer models of equine and canine ‘athletes’ demonstrate that thy have possibly reached their maximum already and that humans are getting closer to their full potential.

We are getting more analytical and scientific in our approach to performance. Most of the athletes ,I see now are taking some kind of supplement and looking at their diet in general . Also training methods like specialised ‘core training ‘ , also new advances in shoe technology as well as treatment for injury and rehabilitation. Performance is definitely improving . However just as there is genetic predisposition to disease ,there is also genetic predisposition to performance in sports. This may be true but ,one thing we don’t see is dynasties of athletic families dominating a particular sport which indicates a collection of factors beyond the natural tendencies.

Genetically however we would want the perfect muscle groups , the right kind of fibres making up those muscles . The right blood cells that allow for uptake of oxygen and we would want to ‘burn fuel’ efficently . Dr Wakerage a Senior Lecturer in Molecular Exercise Physiology at the University of Aberdeen says ‘ a good marathon runner needs to have hundreds, if not thousands of the right gene variants’ . Two gene variants worth mentioning are ACTN-3 and EPOR . ACTN-3 produces a protein known as alpha-actin-3 found in fast twitch muscles , the muscles we use for powerful movements like jumping or sprinting. A study completed in collaboration with the Australian Institute of Sport using the DNA from 400 athletes showed that sprinters had tow functioning copies of this gene (ACTN-3) and it was identified as the possible SPEED GENE. EPOR or EPO- Receptor Gene enables uptake of oxygen into red blood cells , the more dominant this gene is the better the uptake and hence endurance .


perfect runner 2

The idea that more gene analyisis may enable us to bio-engineer the perfect athlete is not entirely science fiction . Experiments have already created ‘mighty mice’ through manipulation of the gene PEPCK-C. Mice with this manipulated mutation eat 60 per cent more than other mice, remain fitter, trimmer and live longer. They are able to run for 3 miles on a treadmill at a speed of 20 meters per minute and can power through the mice equivalent of the ‘wall’ . All cats beware !!! mice have been emancipated !! If it all sound to Frankenstein to the more sensitive of you that believe we should’nt be researching this kind of stuff. Take heart, this kind of research can be used to save the lives of those sufferers of Muscular Dystrophy (muscle wasting disease) . The coding to change the gene in this case being delivered by ‘piggy backing ‘ it onto a harmless virus. I guess when we reach the limits of human endeavour there will always be a temptation to try and reach new goals with a little artificial help.

This question was examined recently in a film called the Perfect Runner . The conclusions of this film were that due to the evolution of running through the basic need to escape from predators hunt and populate across the planet we developed the ability to run , before we became more ‘brainy’ in fact that deep down inside all of us is a ‘great runner’ . Our running style is considered in light of the new development of ‘Barefoot Running’ considering this to be more natural than the more dominant style of running with shoes. It seems that not only barefoot running was efficient but also that ability was fuelled with a diet rich in animal protein . This film is definately on my Christmas Wish List 


the perfect runner

Good genes, long achilles, short toes , strong muscles , a big set of gluteus muscles (big bum) ,  appropriate muscle fibres ,good stamina could all be placed in the ingredient list for a good runner . However from personal observations in my  clinic  I would say you cant beat a good Mum or Dad that’s dedicated to your success : of course they must be car – owners, there will be many venues for training, therapy and competition.  I had this discussion a dancer from the Birmingham Royal Ballet described a  need for a self critical personality ( for all its potential demons) for dancers; I would say that the mature athlete certainly needs to have this ability to be able to analyse problems. We recommend a ‘training diary ‘ for all our runners so they can record their experiences and learn from them and maybe its a way of keeping the ‘self critical’ genie bottled up. Apparently collecting some of the ‘life -stories ‘ of famous African athletes who have astounded the world then the characteristic of a distance/middle distance runner is to be brought up in poverty on a farm in Africa and have to walk large distances to school every day. We may in the future be able to discover the genes that produce the perfect background for a runner , give them the best shoes and running style based on bio-mechanics and anthropology however a bit of hard work and a good Mum or Dad?  well there’ s no magic dust or scientific formula for that one!!