Is running a marathon in your genes?

Training for a marathon requires consistency and focus. But champs like the Comrades Marathon 2017 winner Bongmusa Mthembu make it look effortless. Do they literally take a challenge like this in their stride? Are they born for it? Spanish researchers have recently concluded that genetics do indeed play an essential role in success when completing a long distance run.

According to Juan Del Coso, from the Exercise Physiology Laboratory of the Camilo José Cela University, the muscle demands of a marathon require approximately 30,000 strides, while the legs absorb between 1.5 and 3 times the body weight of the runner every step. The contractions of the leg muscles cause progressive deterioration in the muscle fibres releasing proteins of the injured muscle into blood – and it’s this that researchers measured in the fascinating test on marathon runners to determine the influence of genetics on muscle damage. They wanted to discover why some runners finish the line with muscle pain and deterioration, while others didn’t – even when they had completed the same training.

Looking closely at the genes related to the muscle function of runners, each gene was assigned a score based on previous research that showed a particular gene created a muscular advantage for running a marathon. The runners with the highest scoring genes when tested after a race showed they had lower levels of the “damage proteins” in their blood.

The downside of this is that in future runners will be able to test their genes to see if they are destined for marathon greatness. On the flipside, knowing your muscles don’t come with an edge inherited from your ancestors which means you will know how to do specific training to prepare your muscles for facing marathon conditions. Knowledge truly is power!

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