Are you just not built to run?

The latest figures released last week by Sport England show a marked upswing in those taking part in sporting activities, with more women than ever getting involved. Running remains ever popular, with a staggering one million more men and women running regularly compared to just ten years ago.

As organisations like Parkrun make running accessible to all, more and more of us are getting into this low-cost and highly beneficial form of exercise, but many of us struggle to take their running to the next level. Is it possible that we’re just not built to run?

Running and your genes

Your suitability to marathon running is dictated by a genetic element as proved by a study performed at Loughborough University two years ago. Researchers discovered a group of 30 genes that govern how the body responds to stamina training and its ability to run long distances. The study estimated that about 20 per cent of people will just not be able to increase their endurance, whatever the extent of their training, because their muscles just do not extract the same amount of oxygen.

Cambridge-based Sport & Exercise Medicine Specialist Professor Cathy Speed works with athletes at every level and from a wide range of sports, including top flight runners, and explains that understanding what makes an athlete ‘resilient’ is the main focus of anyone that works with and manages the health of our top sports men and women. Genetics do play a role, governing our cartilage strength, our adaption to training, our fitness and strength levels and bone, muscle and joint composition, but nature can be as much of a factor as nurture, particularly in terms of injury.

Running injury

Injury is a key factor in our running performance and it’s certainly true that some of us are more susceptible to injury than others. Joint laxity, also known as hypermobility, those with pre-existing or congenital joint abnormalities and those who are overweight are all at a higher risk of incurring injuries.

However, as Professor Speed explains, “Most injuries occur because much as someone might be built to run, they are not fit to run! When people pick up a new sport or activity they tend to do it partly because it will make them fitter. Overall that is true, but it also is the case that we need to get fit to do a sport.”

We lead increasingly sedentary lives and trying to cram a run into a spare hour is the biggest mistake that new runners can make. Invest the time in building your fitness levels even before you begin pounding the streets and focus on strengthening your core. When you start running you should mix it up with other forms of exercise. Trying to do too much too soon is also a common running injury problem so set yourself realistic goals.

If you do incur a running injury then turn it into a positive. “Being a ‘runner’ means gaining experience in how to recognise the warning signs of injuries,” Professor Speed often tells new runners she sees at her Cambridge sports injury clinic. “That first injury, however unpleasant it is, is an opportunity to learn from the experience and to return fitter and stronger than before.”

To arrange a consultation at Professor Speed’s Cambridge sports injury clinic, please call 01223 200 595.