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 Not created equal
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home » not created equal

Several factors must come together to create an elite athlete. Some we can control, some not. Measuring personal progress by the ones we can control is the only valid measure of success as an endurance athlete.

What I term genetic talent is the factor we can't control. While I don't know of studies testing the general population for aerobic efficiency at a young age prior to aerobic training, there's plenty of testing data for young endurance athletes in training. There's too much variation to conclude that we were all created equal for endurance sport performance potential.

Some studies suggest that 10% is the difference between humans all else remaining equal (same age and gender). This may be low, but regardless, it poses another question: If there's only 10% difference between human endurance sport potential, why do some finish an IronMan in 8 hours, while others in 16+?

The answer is that non-genetic factors make more difference than 'the cards we're dealt' at birth. It's the nature vs. nurture conundrum in play again.

The ability to maintain a consistent training load over time is crucial. Some thrive with the workload, while others struggle. On some level training must be enjoyable, or at least satisfying—unless one is a professional athlete who calls training work.

Another factor is the ability to 'rise to the occasion' on race days. I've coached athletes who race at 75% of their max, while others in the same event hold 90%. The difference is due to experience, tolerance for fatigue and pain, and how competitive and driven the athlete is to excel. I coach athletes who desperately want to move up the results page, and athletes that are satisfied just to participate.

Closely related to the genetic talent factor are lifestyle choices, and the effect of these choices have progressively more influence as we get older.

I go to many events with top athletes competing. While it's fun to watch how fast the pros go, I'm equally impressed by less experienced endurance athletes who make their way up, starting from humble beginnings.


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