Photo from Mount Royal, Frisco, Colorado.

"That is happiness; to be disolved into something complete and great. When it comes to one, it comes as naturally as sleep." - Willa Cather

Tuesday 27 April 2010


It's a concept that makes us lazy. We could look at any discipline: cooking, cleaning, music, etc. How absurd does it sound to say "My house is not clean because I'm not a talented cleaner." Well, quite absurd, right?

But who doesn't look at certain runners and think, "Well, they're just more talented than I am and that's why they are so fast"? When I think of the fastest female runner I personally know, Piccola Pinecone, it is tempting for me to think, well, she is just way more talented than me and that is why she has run a 2:54 marathon. But this is doing an injustice to her! I believe more and more that the reason she is so fast is that she has done everything right. Perhaps she started running at a young age and did some speed training in sports. Perhaps she has always had people to encourage her and thus believes she can be fast. But most importantly, she makes time to train, trains correctly and trains with intensity.

Even more proof of this is my friend Mette. A year and a half ago, her PR's were around a 43 min 10k and around a 1:34 half marathon, very similar to me a half a year ago. But then she started training better and following a strict marathon training plan. And I have watched her over the last year go from a 43 min 10k to a 38 min 10k and from a 1:34 half to a 1:22 half last Sunday. And if I chalked it all up to talent, it would be a lie and unfair to her.

So let's stop using talent as an excuse for believing we just can't get faster.

True, a lot of things have to fall into place for someone to be a super fast runner: support of family and friends, healthy weight and diet, self-confidence, guidance in training and time to train. But the idea of talent should be ignored, so we don't use it as a crutch.

On Saturday, I discussed my talent wagamama with SR (yes, I know wagamama is a restaurant, but isn't a good word for something you are trying to prove?). He agreed that my biggest natural talent was that I didn't get injured. But I have to wonder if that is due to yoga and resting and recovering for an adequate amount of time.

When I was a kid, I was the second slowest girl in the class. The only girl who was slower weighed twice as much as me, so it was hardly a fair comparison. And then in soccer and basketball, which I played in high school, though I was always technically good, I was an embarrassingly slow sprinter. But boy am I glad I didn't just say to myself, "running, well, I've got no talent for that" and then never even give it a try. But honestly, to get to the point I am now, where I can run a 3:27 marathon on a training day has been a long, long, long (though fun) process. And is not something that can be attributed to "natural talent" (yes, Michelle, your comment inspired me to write this, but don't be offended, I love it when people make me think, and I have made similar comments about others' talent in the past :)).

Menstrual cycles and instense training
And another excuse that we women can throw out he window is menstrual regularity. Granted the poll on my blog was very small, but intense training (or at least many miles) does not appear to affect menstrual cycles. Only 1/7 or 14% of women who ran > 60 miles per week had irregular periods (and that was me :)) and 5/18 or 28% of women who ran less than 60 miles per week had irregular periods, so if anything there is an inverse correlation! (Okay, I know this is not statistically significant)


Jesper Halvorsen said...

Here we don't agree - or maybe we do :)

Let me clarify: Your potential as a runner is to a very large degree dictated by your genes (another reason to blame your parents :)) – I can’t remember the percentage Noakes mentions in Lore of Running, but it is very significant.

But we do agree 100% that how much of your potential you reach is entirely up to yourself, and a lot of people are simply too complacent/not aware of how to train to reach anything near their full potential.

sea legs girl said...


Yes, good point. I agree that talent DOES exist, but that it just gets too much attention. I think I will have to read "Lore of Running". Thanks. :)

sea legs girl said...

I'm breaking my own rule that blog authors can't have more comments than their readers (!)...

But let me put it this way, while talent may explain some of the difference among the very elite athletes, it is initiative, knowledge and dedication (more than talent) that separates the rest of us.

Diana said...

Let me help with the ratio of reader comments to blog author comments.

I think I will agree with Jesper that natural talent is a factor. I was also struck by the comment SR made about your ability to remain injury free. I might be a faster runner if I trained harder, although I don't know how much the arthritis in my knees or my chronic back pain would go along with that. I'm not making excuses for my lack of speed, because I'm perfectly happy to be a slow runner, who remains mostly injury free.

I also agree with you and your wonderfully inspirational post that so much of our success is based on hard work and dedication. Victory, be it in the form of a running PR or the best cake I've ever made, feels even better when one has worked hard to attain it.

Olga said...

Totally disagree about talant as a non-existent idea. Talent is VO2max you're born with (which can be improved, but Lance A. and Matt Carpenter are in a league of their own due to this number). Talent is a ratio of fast-twitch fibers to slow-twitch fibers (which, again, can be trained, but there is a number Kenyan runners are born with, or Ephiopian, and most of us don't have it). Talent is a metabolism speed, whether your is based on glycogen only, or can consume fat rather fast. Talent is many things. But - talent can not be prospering if one is not training hard. And if one is training hard, that one can get better. Sadly, as hard as you train and as better as you get with time, you will not run 2:15 marathon. That's talent AND hard training to you. Although with dedication lots can be acheived. I know someone who has very little natural ability, but with incredilious (even ridiculous) amount and science of training had become a very, very good runner. However, that person, too, will never be a threat to Kami Semick or Devon C-H.

Bottom line to me, talent exists, but it doens't make up for an excuse of being lazy.
It also shows that most of us will never know what our talents are because we can't try every single thing in life to figure it out.

And that is ok too.

Ewa said...

I would love to say that the mess in my house is because of luck of cleaning talents. Actually I think I might use that excuse.
I've been reading a book lately in which author claims that a talent is an interesting interplay of genes and hard work. Now that does not sound very novel except that through certain behaviors and environmental influences some of our genes turn on and off. His theory is that talent is a very fluid thing and genes might only mark the starting point in one's journey but rarely the end. As an example he gives all those genius kids musicians who rarely amount to much later in their music career.
The book is by David Shenk, The Genius in All of Us.
I still claim I have no talent for housework.

Danni said...

I agree with you. I'm a "soft" stocky terrible athlete who was always the slowest but when I've worked hard I've achieved things that seemed unachievable for someone like me (like my 3:37 marathon, which I'm quite proud of). I think there's a limit on my potential but I don't think I've gotten there yet. If I ever stop being so lazy I'll try to break 3:30. I know I can do it -- but it will take more work for me than it might take others. I've never consistently done stuff like mile intervals etc. like you are. Like I said, I'm also a lazy beer guzzling girl :-)

PiccolaPineCone said...

SLG - this is an interesting post. I have been thinking for awhile about what exactly does it mean to be talented. In running I think there are many aspects to talent. Physiologically I think talent is the extent to which an athlete improves with a given dose of training. Mental talent is, of course, the ability to push the body to perform faster.
One of Canada's greatest middle distance runners, Emilie Mondor, (to briefly summarize her brilliant career - olympian who was the first Canadian woman to break 15:00 for the 5 km, she was going to move up to the marathon but was tragically killed in an auto accident) used to be annoyed when people called her talented. She would say not to label her with having "lazy talent" as it denied the amount of hard work involved (though if I remember correctly she later conceded her success was due to an intersection of talent and extreme discipline and hard work). Then... speaking of discipline... isn't being disciplined another form of talent? It becomes very hard to separate talent from hard work - the disposition to work hard IS a form of talent. I always go around in circles on this issue but ultimately I think my first definition is what people mean when they talk about a talented runner i.e. the ability to improve for a given dose of training.

SteveQ said...

One of the lessons I try to teach those I coach is that talent almost always beats training. It's that "almost" that makes you do the race (otherwise, you'd just do physiological testing and declare the winner). I've beaten much more talented runners than myself, but never when they were having a good day. I used to pride myself that I'd never been beaten by someone less talented than myself, because I was always the best-trained.

Then I started doing ultras and regularly got trounced by people I couldn't bring myself to say were more talented than me. More talented (and perhaps more smartly trained) for that particular race, perhaps.

sea legs girl said...

These are wonderful comments and I couldn't pick a favorite if I had a gun held to my head. It would just be fun to sit around and chat with you guys about it.

I just have to clarify to Olga, yes, I do believe talent exists, but I don't think it should be focussed on so much (so we more or less agree as far as I can tell).

Ewa, thank you for the book recommendation. It sounds interesting and the interplay of genes and environment throughout life is a hot and fascinating topic. I really like the title and think it is true.

Danni, poor us!

Piccola, great story about Emilie Mondor. And glad you have also wasted as much brain energy on this topic as I have.

Steve, well, I still don't agree that talent almost always beats training. Perhaps we'll just agree to disagree.

Diana, I wish baking a great cake would count as a victory in my book. My family would like me a lot more.

cherelli said...

Good post SLG, interesting readers comments too. It's interesting to read posts by triathlon experts (eg Gordo Bryn always has interesting comments) about hard work only taking one so far, genes probably making up the final percent to "success" in terms of podiums. However I also believe that consistent hard work is something few have the time or mental tenacity to apply. If you can do that then you are streets ahead - as you are proving SLG!!

Michelle said...

Hey, at least I inspired a good dialogue! ;-)

I have always seen it as a mix of natural talent (ie: genetics) paired with training. I have the genetics of a clydesdale (thanks, Dad), and even when I was at the peak of my training I was still only s middle-of-the-pack runner. I am totally OK with that! I think we're all pretty amazing because we're out there competing! Not everyone can say that. :-)

Michelle said...

I have a typo in my post. I meant "A middle-of-the-pack runner." LOL.

Helen said...

100% agree with Olga's comment. Actually Olga - that is so well written I think you should post it on your blog :)

AND I want a copy of Mette's training plan.