My running coach in high school talked about the difference between speed and endurance training. They both increase the oxidative capacity of the muscles, but the leg muscles of a sprinter need to deliver oxygen fast while an endurance runner's muscles need to burn energy and oxygen in a sustained way. Sprinters' bodies also look different from endurance runners' bodies. The record holder for the world's fastest 100-metre sprint, Usain Bolt of Jamaica (9.69 seconds, or 37 kilometers per hour), is a large man almost two meters tall and 86 kg. Dean Karnazes, an American who ran 560 kilometers in 80 hours and 44 minutes without stopping, on the other hand, is a more compact 1.75 meters and 69 kg. In 2006, he ran 50 marathons in 50 consecutive days and ate a week's worth of food every day.
The longest certified footrace in the world is even longer than that.Its record-holder is an American woman named Suprabha Beckjord. She has run the race 12 times, usually averaging 100 kilometres per day. She is a lean 52 kilos. The Self-Transcendence 3100 Mile Race is a 5,000-kilometre race around a single city block in New York City. For six to eight weeks, about 15 people run 5,649 circuits around the block. The Bengali guru Sri Chinmoy who created the event was himself an athlete, and as a young man, won his ashram's 100-metre dash several years in a row. In the 1970s, he began to promote running as a means to self-transcendence.
We all start somewhere. Beckjord's first race in her 20s was only seven kilometers, and it was the longest she'd ever run in her life. She started in 1986; she's in her 50s now. And not all runners have to be skinny, either. In fact, in a recent study by researchers at the University of Alberta, lean muscle mass gave overweight people an advantage in battling cancer. Overweight people with lower activity levels during their illness and depleted lean muscle mass lived an average of 10 months less than their counterparts who were also overweight, but who had more muscle mass.
This week, I ran eight kilometres on my longest run. I am slowly working up to 10 kilometres in preparation for the Jan 16 Standard Chartered Dubai race. A reasonably fit person can run a 10K race without training, but I wasn't reasonably fit. Before this November, it had been a year since I participated in any aerobic activity; a year in which I gained 24 kg while pregnant with my daughter. Without an air conditioned gym membership, it was my most inactive summer.
In the Middle East, winter is the outdoor running season. I see sporty young abaya-clad women running around the track at Al Mushrif garden, as well as modest power-walking aunties. Come April, I'll sign up for that gym membership, but for now it's just pleasure to be outside.