Yes, I think so. I'll spare you all the evolutionary and biological evidence but, yes, I do believe Homo sapiens is the best distance runner on the planet.
Born to Race?
Here I think the answer is: No. Racing is NOT part of our DNA.
(Racing on trails is a bit better, but even that isn't something we were doing a lot of in times long ago..)
Granted, some people can take more racing than others...I read blogs of people doing ultras and sub 3 hour marathons galore..and I've read other blogs of people that get stress fractures every time they try to do a marathon build-up. Age is a factor of course, but genetics is clearly a huge factor.
What do I mean by "Race" anyway?
I don't mean strapping on a chip and bib. I don't mean trying to get a new PR.
The thing that we aren't meant to do too often is peaked training for a specific race. This is what the professionals do all the time and this is not easy: you have to push the limits of what your body can do and it's quite likely you'll push too far from time to time and break something.
In my (slight) experience, its very hard to know when to let up the gas in training. Plenty of times during my CIM buildup I thought I was right on the cusp of some injury, but I would go out anyway, do a good long warm up, and then surprise myself by having a great training session and recover fine and on schedule (barely ;).
It seems inevitable we will push too much once in a while... and then hope to recover and resume without messing up the schedule too much. Every time this happens you lose a smidgen of potential training benefit and are not as optimized for race day as you hoped, but every time you push through you get to a higher level of fitness.
So it's a gamble...you push yourself and see how close you can get to the limit. Along the way you get serious about injury prevention and learn how to strengthen, stretch, fuel and treat your body to minimize the odds of downtime.
When you pull it off, it is sweet. There's a lot of time, effort, planning, reacting, thinking and luck, that goes into a peaked cycle and race day.
But, this kind of running is hard on your body..there is no doubt. There is only so much abuse the connective tissues of your body can take...and the amount of gains we get is absurdly small, really.
My sweet spot seems to be 4:10-4:15 marathons..I can run these with no speed-work and limited training time (averaging 25 miles per week). I finish these races in good shape and ready to do some light tourism afterward. I ran a flat, purposely slow paced (for me) 4:45 trail marathon and went skiing the day after the day after (usually the most sore day!).
CIM, by contrast, was a big buildup, not perfect...there were some glitches, but I reached a level of fitness that was clearly (looking at the training data) above and beyond. Result: about 15 minutes faster than my sweet spot pace. This is only about about 6-7% faster.
And, after CIM I was hurting. I had much worse post race soreness than any other marathon I've run. I'm sure that is not good for me.
Yes, I'm still going to "Race"
It's just too much fun to do once in a while..e.g. once a year or so. And I'll do it knowing that it might be a little bit bad for me too...it goes beyond "good health". (Hey, climbing Mt Everest goes beyond good health and has major death risks besides!)
However, it really sucks being unable to run race you've signed up for and you looked forward to.
Running marathons in the slightly slower "sweet spot" is incredibly fun and still challenging. Just because you aren't trained to the peak, you still have actually run 26.2 miles and you have to pick a smart pace on race day.
Most beginners at the marathon don't do any speed-work..the training plans opt there for beginners focus on getting you to the finish...which is tough enough.
If you've been following my blog for a while you'll realized that my ramblings above apply mostly to marathons..as that's mostly what I run. I have only run 3 half marathons and two 10ks and a few Bay to Breakers (12k) back when I started running.
I guess what puts me off is that running peaked shorter races for me means doing some Very Fast training and I find that fast running is the thing that puts me most at risk of injury...marathon training beats you up too, but I seem to do better at the somewhat slower paces there and my body doesn't mind the longer distance as much.
Another factor for me is that training time during the week is available, but that weekends are often busy with other activities and so race days are not easy to come by...hence I lean toward fulls.
What do you think?
How many total races do you do in a year? Do you peak for races multiple times per year? Which races do you enjoy the most?