Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Ectomorphs

Running is strange. There are so many different flavors of it, but the big divide is between sprinters and distance runners. They're almost like two different species. The Olympics are putting that on display. On the one hand is Usain Bolt, an absolutely transcendent talent in the 100m and 200m. I can't believe how fast the guy is. Like many, I cringed a bit when he started showboating at the end of the 100m. But I give these kind of athletes a break: he's 22, after all and from a small town in Jamaica. From what I can tell, the guy has a great personality and a real joy for what he does. At the same time, like Brad, I can't really relate. Bolt's a classic sprinter: all macho posturing and style points. There are staredowns and preening. You don't see that much in distance runners.

A lot of this probably goes back to the different needs for the sports. Running fast over a short distance is about short-muscle twitches. It's about power. Distance running is slow twitch muscles. It's about endurance. Noakes points to the Sheldon's classifications of people based on their body types as endomorphs (big and soft), mesomorphs (muscley) and ectomorphs (skinny). Sprinters are classic mesomorphs -- big, self-confident extroverts. Distance runners are ectomorphs: skinny, inward-looking. Sheldon thinks ectomorph's are looking to solve life's riddles. This makes sense to me. The reason I love distance running is it makes you comfortable being alone with your thoughts. Today, over two hours and some, I covered 18 miles in Central Park. It was hard work, but included moments of pure peacefulness as I ticked off the miles.

Usain Bolt and the sprinter crowd couldn't be more different from the guys who will toe the line tonight for the men's marathon. I don't want to take away from what sprinters do. They must put in incredible amounts of work -- although Bolt talked of eating McNuggets before his race -- but it's hard to relate to someone who ran hard for 60 meters then coasted to a world record. The marathon winner tonight will almost assuredly not do a dance afterwards. He'll be gutted, taken to scary places over two hours of the hardest work imaginable. He won't beat his chest, either. There are no style points in marathons.

The top American is Ryan Hall, an incredible 25-year-old runner from Mammoth Lakes, Calif., who has a good shot at a medal. Last night, I stumbled across Hall's Facebook fan page. From there, I noticed he had a link to his video page GodTube. Yes, Ryan Hall posts on GodTube. It's nothing new for athletes to publicly express their faith. I always chalked this up to their knowledge that they were born with an incredible gift. Think of the basketball player born into dire conditions but, by genetic quirk, given the ability to run and jump like a deer at 6' 8". But it often comes across as inauthentic for whatever reason, maybe because it's so cliche at this point. What's surprising is how self-aware Hall seems about his own gift, and how it requires him to work to perfect it and embrace failure. No matter your religious views or comfort level with Hall's very vocal connection of God to running, that's pretty admirable. Like a classic ectomorph, Hall is often racked with self-doubt and appears genuinely humble about all that he's been able to accomplish through a shitload of hard work. I can relate to that much more.

18 miles, 2:19

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