Friday, 17 June 2016

It's not all in the genes

The ACTN3 gene contains instructions for making alpha-actinin-3. Alpha-actinin-3 is a protein associated with fast twitch muscles. I.e. the muscle sprinters, long jumpers and weight lifters use for  their explosive powers.  You inherit this protein via your DNA from your mother and your father. All Olympians have inherited this protein from at least one parent with one known exception who like 18% of the population has inherited a gene variant from both parents that doesn't make this protein.

I have had a DNA test and my ACTN3 gene doesn't make the protein, meaning I have inherited a variant from both of my parents that lacks it. In all the studies I have read there is a general consensus that the alpha-actinin-3 protein gives athletes about a 3% improvement in performance in explosive sports. There is also a theory that the opposite may be true too, in that the lack of this protein is predominate in endurance athletes and the lack of it seems to help this end of the sporting spectrum. There is, though more research needed as the link is tenuous at the moment.

Now let's say I was a 5km runner and I was lacking this gene and lets also say I want to get faster. If you look at a typical park run the winner is usually around sub 18 minutes. So a top amateur runner can run a 5km in 18 minutes (or less but let's keep the numbers simple)  I lack alpha-actinin-3 so therefore I would be 3% slower. 3% of 18 is 0.54 which equals 32.4 seconds.  It is therefore still possible for me to run my 5k in 18:34.4.  This would put me in the top 3 at a lot of parkruns.  I therefore can't blame my genes for not running a sub 20 5k yet.

I have always believed it's hard work to get where you want to be and your genes have little to do with this. Most people believe it's your genes that give you your IQ, your athletic ability, your inability to lose weight, but blaming or praising your genes for your short comings or 'natural abilities' is wrong. It leads you to not putting in the effort required to get where you want to be. Most 'natural' athletes, musicians, chess players, etc etc have spent countless hours and hard work honing their craft.  Children of musicians often end up as musicians themselves because they had access to instruments from the day they were born. 

It took 10 years to become an overnight success

If you want to run faster, don't blame your genes. Get out there and train properly.  Yes you have to do those hill repeats and those intervals.  
If you want to speak a foreign language stop saying I don't have that sort of brain, start believing and start learning, we all have the right sort of brain if we want to do it. 
If you want to lose weight, be honest with yourself and don't blame the 'fat' gene for the chocolate biscuits you just ate. 

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Monday, 21 December 2015


2015 was a good year for me.  It started with a 202km 24 hour run at Athens Ultra festival followed a few weeks later by a 12 hour PB of 118 km at Crawley.

I was accepted to race for the GB AG Triathlon team in Weymouth and also was in the unofficial GB team for the Spartathlon in Greece.  It was an honour to represent my country in 2 different sports

Next year  I am going to put my name forward for the Spartathlon again, but will give triathlon a break so I can focus and do a better job in ultra running.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015


At the weekend I ran the A100.  As it was 3 weeks after Sparta and my quads blowing  up I didn't have any expectations except that I didn't expect to finish!

The whole 21 and 1/2 hours I was waiting for my legs to give up but they didn't.  My quads ached from time to time, but I tried to ignore them and keep running.  After Sparta I did some reading and apparently, even though you think slowing will rest the quads and get you back on track it is the wrong thing to do.  You really need to run through it.  I also know that if I start walking for too long I never get running again.  So I try to keep running even if I drop to 9 minute kilometres as I know at some point I will speed up again.  I do of course walk the steeper hills still.

The race is 4 x 25 mile out and back spurs.  During the first 25 miles I wondered what I was doing and was trying to think of a reason to stop, but I couldn't find one.  On the second leg at mile 36 I went flying down a hill landing on my right elbow and knee and winding myself.  I walked the last mile and a 1/2 to the turn point, thinking this was my reason to quit.  I got some wet wipes and wiped the mud off, there were no cuts, just a scratch on my elbow.  I turned to the guy at the checkpoint who was helping me and said ' I can't quit can I, it's just a scratch.'  He of course said no.  So I left for the return leg.  I was a little worried my knee may have taken a knock during the fall, but it was fine and by the time I got to the cross over point at mile 50 I had forgotten all about it.  So now I knew I would finish,  whatever this race threw at me wasn't going to stop me.  It wasn't going to let me have a decent enough excuse to stop!.  I had 19 hours left to do 50 miles  and 15 hours for a sub 24.  I was even thinking about a sub 20.  It was definitely doable at this point.  The last 50 miles went without incident and I slowed as expected. Returning on the last leg I met Emily looking a bit lost.  She had somehow gone in a circle and was heading the wrong way.  I remembered her passing me a while back.  We joined up and I showed her the right way back to the river.  By now  I had settled for sub 24 in my head and that was easy with a walk.  However we teamed up and ran together the for  last 10 miles and this helped me run a bit more than I was prepared to do on my own.  Chatting and running made the time go by and we soon finished.

I enjoyed the race and it has made me wonder what I could do if I trained for it and didn't do it off the back of another silly season of too many races too close together.  So next year is all down to the Sparta raffle.  If I get in it's only Sparta and If I don't I have a race calendar to work out.  A100?

Monday, 8 June 2015


I was really pleased with my pace today.  Each lap got faster, except the last one which was a cool down.  My heart rate was interesting too.  Seeing how much each extra little bit of effort made.

Friday, 8 May 2015

TP100 2015

Last weekend saw the TP100. Richmond to Oxford on the Thames path. I need to write it up, but for now a few pictures from the event.

Photo by Stuart March Photography

Photo by Nigel Rothwell

Photo by Angharad Thomas