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Struggling for a new PB? Your genetics could be to blame

A recent study discovered only some people have the genetic makeup to maximize their training

runners

You’re doing everything right–nailing all your workouts, fuelling properly and not going too hard on your easy days–but the time on the finish clock just won’t budge. What gives? According to a new study, it might be because of your genetics. Recent research out of the University of Essex in the U.K. discovered that less than 31 per cent of people have the genetic makeup that allows them to maximize their training and see the best results.

The study

The eight-week study involved 45 participants (25 men and 20 women) between 20 and 40 years old. The participants completed the Cooper 12-minute Run Test at the beginning of the study, in the middle and again at the end. This test requires participants to run as far as they can in 12 minutes.

track

Throughout the eight weeks, each participant completed the same training protocol–three weekly runs, with the duration increased from 20 to 30 minutes over the course of the eight-week study.

After performing a genotype analysis and statistical analysis on participants, researchers discovered that each of the top performers had a combination of key gene variants called single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) that were linked to running performance. Participants who had these SNPs improved by an average of 11.5 per cent over the eight-week period, while those who did not saw little to no improvement, even after following the same training program.

What does this mean for runners?

There are a few key takeaways from this study, the first and perhaps most obvious being that yes, there is a genetic component to success in running. If you are not one of the lucky few who have these SNPs, though, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll never snag a new PB.

male runner

While this study does highlight the need for favourable genetics if you want to be a prolific runner, there are a few caveats. The first is that eight weeks is a very short training block. While it’s true that someone with natural running talent will likely see more significant improvements in a short time compared to the rest of us, that doesn’t mean that someone without those genetics won’t see improvement over a longer period. It may take several months of consistent, dedicated training for you to see the same results, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Why genetics is a poor predictor of athletic talent

Secondly, the training program that each participant followed during the study only involved steady-state running, which may not be the optimal way to train for everyone. Some runners respond more to other forms of training, like speedwork or hill repeats, so if you’re feeling stuck, it may be time to switch things up.

person running at dusk
Photo: Lucas Favre

Finally, it’s important to remember that while getting a shiny new PB is fun, there are so many other reasons to get out and run. Run because it makes you feel good, run because it improves your health, run because it makes you a better spouse, parent, friend or co-worker–or all of the above. The enjoyment you get from running will last far longer than the afterglow of a new personal best, anyway.

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