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Why Do Some People Run Faster Than Others?

author image Andrea Cespedes
Andrea Cespedes is a professionally trained chef who has focused studies in nutrition. With more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, she coaches cycling and running and teaches Pilates and yoga. She is an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer, RYT-200 and has degrees from Princeton and Columbia University.
Why Do Some People Run Faster Than Others?
Speed has a lot to do with genetics. Photo Credit anton5146/iStock/Getty Images

Some people have the genetic gift of speed, while others are doomed to stay in the middle or back of the pack. The right training can help you achieve your potential, but whether you can run faster than others really comes down to your muscle-fiber makeup.

Make the most of what you have. You may be a speed demon and best suited to fast but short distances or have a body that prefers a slower pace but will go the distance.

Muscle Make Up

Your body has two primary types of muscle fibers: slow twitch and fast twitch. Slow-twitch muscle fibers are best suited for working at a moderate pace for long periods of time. Successful marathon runners usually have a high proportion of these.

Fast-twitch fibers are designed for strength, speed and power. Sprinters and fast 5K runners usually have a high proportion of these fibers — typically 65 percent to 85 percent. Fast-twitch fibers come in two forms: fast-twitch A, which are also called intermediate fast-twitch, and fast-twitch B, or super fast-twitch.

Read More: 20 Essential Checks to Help You Run Faster

It's debatable as to whether you can train to change slow twitch to fast twitch and vice versa. The average person has about 50 percent of each type of fiber and may be able to muster a 10 percent switch either way. Ultimately, gifted sprinters or marathoners were just lucky enough to be born with the higher ratio of muscle fibers that support their running abilities.

How you train is going to affect your speed, too. You can cultivate the muscle fibers you have with proper workouts.

For example, if you want to develop your fast twitch fibers, then do more speed work intervals, such as track workouts and short sprints at all-out speed. For people who want to develop their stamina to run long miles, develop slow twitch muscle fibers by covering more distance running at a slow and steady pace.

VO2 Max

VO2 max refers to the oxygen you consume during exercise. A high VO2 max means you're efficient at delivering oxygen to working muscles. Some people who naturally run fast were born with a higher baseline VO2 max level.

You can train to enhance your VO2 max with speed work. A beginner may experience notable changes in VO2 max with targeted training, but experienced, fit runners will get only micro gains with such training, as their VO2 max is already quite developed.

Track workouts develop lactate threshold and VO2 max.
Track workouts develop lactate threshold and VO2 max. Photo Credit FS-Stock/iStock/Getty Images

Lactate Threshold

Targeted training can also help you hone another marker of running speed — lactate threshold. This is the fastest pace that's possible for you to sustain before lactate — a muscle waste product — overwhelms your system and forces you to slow down.

Tempo runs performed at a sustained 80 to 90 percent of your maximum heart rate for 30 minutes or longer, as well as interval training performed at speeds higher than your current threshold can improve this marker and make you go faster.

Running Efficiency

Running efficiency describes your form and the energy it requires for you to take each step. Your weight and biomechanics play a role in your efficiency.

If you're carrying a few extra pounds, it's harder for your body to propel quickly through space. Also, the way you land on your foot, the longer your strides and sloppier your gait all affect the effort it takes for you to run. When running takes a lot of effort, you can only go so fast.

Read More: 10 Exercises to Increase Your Running Speed

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