What’s Your Running Potential?

by Daniel Johnston

A lot of times people seem to assume great runners have always been great runners, and that being only an okay runner now means you will always stay that way. Of course, nothing could possibly be further from the truth.

Although sprinting has to do with running ability, long distance running does not. As this article on Runners World based on a recent scientific study points out:

“Nobody becomes a world-class distance runner without a lot of natural ability, and in some people, that ability is apparent from their first run. But not always.”

This isn’t even talking about being merely a good or great distance runner. This is saying that even world-class runners have not always even been seen as talented. What does that say for you and me?

Let me give you some examples from my own personal experience. Although now I am a pretty good distance runner (winning several 5ks and placing in my first half marathon), I have hardly always been that good. In fact, in middle school I was one of the slowest runners there was. I couldn’t even do a quarter of a mile faster than 2 minutes on my best attempt. That’s slow.

Even when I started doing 5ks, I was still slow. My first 5k was 53 minutes. 53 minutes. Although I did lose a lot of time by getting lost, it is still easy to walk faster than that.

My second 5k was a little bit better, but still pretty slow. 28 minutes. It’s not like I was out of shape or anything. To the contrary at that time I was already running 6 minute miles and playing a ton of sports. I just wasn’t good at distance running for some reason.

With my third and fourth 5ks at 26 and a half and 26 minutes respectively, I certainly did not appear to be destined for running stardom. But that’s okay. I wasn’t running to be the fastest guy out there. I was just running for fun, that’s all. If I went fast, that was even better.

Suddenly, though, only week after my last 5k, I finished in a time of 20:45. 20:45! I cut my time by more than 5 minutes in one week!

I couldn’t believe it. I explain in this article more about the exact reasons I believe my time dropped so dramatically, but in the end it comes down to doing basic training and being patient. That’s all.

If you had told me anytime before I crossed the finish line and saw the timer that I could run that fast a 5k, I would’ve said you were crazy. All the sudden, my running world expanded infinitely. Not long after I placed in my first half marathon with a speedy 1:35. Wow, only a few months before I would’ve never imagined that possible!

So running is not a predictable or linear thing. You may have bad races for inexplicable reasons, and progress most often does not happen incrementally; it happens in big spurts like it did for me. Nothing seemed to be happening, and then BOOM!

Besides, running is mostly mental, and it’s not overly difficult to consciously improve your personal will and mental strength in running (I talk about how to do it here). Just by doing that your running is guaranteed to improve; at the very least become much more enjoyable, and will most certainly take you to completely new heights.

The most important thing is to keep an open mind and go wherever your running takes you, because wherever it takes you is great. There’s no point in being overly competitive. Even if it does make you a little faster, it’s not worth it because you won’t enjoy running as much. It’s good to push yourself, but really we’re all running to enjoy ourselves in the end.

Don’t worry too much about time or how a good you perceive yourself to be. Run for fun, and if you can get faster, great. But don’t sell yourself short and think you’ll never be a fast runner, or that you’re not talented enough. Both scientific evidence and personal experience show that your potential may very well be much more than you ever dared to dream. There’s only one way to find out.

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