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Name: Richard
Status: student
Grade: 4-5
Location: VA
Country: N/A
Date: March 2007

Question:
Do taller people run faster then shorter people? I need information ( why,how )about this topic.



Replies:
I think a person's height is a small factor in how fast they can run. Many other factors, such as how long you want to run (marathon vs. sprint), body condition (muscular / thin / overweight / age), and environmental conditions (wind, temperature, surface) probably play a much larger role.

However, considering just height, I would imagine that very short and very tall people run more slowly than people of a more average height. This is due to the way the body is put together and how the body works. If you're very short, your strides are fast, but you can't stride long enough to run very fast. However, if you're very tall, your stride is long, but your muscles can't stride fast enough to run fast.

Look at the world's best sprinters: most are average in height, but very muscular. They maintain a very fast stride rate for a short period of time. They have a lot of power, but can't maintain it long. Conversely, marathon runners tend to be a little shorter and much less muscular. With less weight to carry, they maintain a lower stride rate for a much longer period of time.

Burr


Richard,

There is not a hard, fast (no pun intended) answer to your question, as one's speed is dependent on many factors. There are three important areas in general fitness: Strength, endurance and flexibility, and each plays an important role in running and speed. There is also sprinting distances compared with long distances.

Let's start with why height would help in the first place. When you run, your stride is distance that you can travel between one step and the next. The larger this distance, the further you can go in a single step. A taller person has longer legs, and therefore probably has a longer stride than a shorter person. But this the length of one's stride isn't determined just by one's height. Flexibility has a much greater role than height! If you are a few inches taller than someone, but you cannot even come close to touching your toes, while they can put their palms on the floor, the other person's stride will be much greater because of his ability to stretch. This is all and good, but a short person cannot just grow, but a tall person can consistently stretch to gain the flexibility that the shorter person has and hence can increase his stride past that of the shorter person. So height is important because your "stride potential" is greater than that of someone shorter than you.

Stride is not the end all, though, because even though you cover a larger distance with each step, it does not imply that you are able to take as many steps over the same period of time. If someone has half of your stride, but can take twice as many steps as you, then you will still run at the same pace. This is the role that strength has. Strength allows you to accelerate your body fast over short distances. If you are very flexible, but very weak, then someone who is less flexible, but much stronger can beat you in a sprint.

Then there is endurance. You can be very strong and very flexible with a long stride, but let's say that you smoke. After 40 or 50 meters you might quickly become winded because your lungs do not have the optimal capacity to take in oxygen. Your strength, flexibility and stride do not help you because you have no endurance. Let us say that you do not smoke, but you only typically run very short distances. You might be able to out-sprint someone, but you probably won't have the endurance to keep up your fast pace over the course of 1-2 miles or more. This is where endurance comes into play. Endurance is your body's ability to absorb oxygen and efficiently deliver it to the muscles in your body over long periods of time and without cramping.

I could probably go on and on about this (I'm a runner myself), but if you watch the olympics, you will find that there is an optimal body type for sprinting and an optimal body type for endurance. Sprinters are usually very strong and muscular, and often not overly tall. They can launch out of the starting blocks like bullets because their muscles allow them to accelerate very quickly, while keeping their balance. Endurance runners, though, are usually taller and very thin/low body weight. Every pound of extra muscle is an extra pound that you have to carry with you for miles and miles--it adds up! Both types have very low body fat.

Diet has a very important role, but I won't go into that... There is also one more thing that must be considered (and probably many more, but this is one that I can think of off the top of my head). It is the altitude that you are running at versus what you are use to training at. Normally when you compete in a race, it is not at the same place that you train. Most of the time this does not make a big difference because you are not changing altitudes by much. But when you do, it makes a huge difference. It is beneficial if you are used to running at high altitudes and go down near sea level. And it is detrimental if you are used to running at sea level and you go up to mountain ranges. The reason for this is the density of oxygen. As you increase in altitude, the available oxygen in the air is less, so you will need to take more breaths to get the same amount of oxygen. The other part of this reason is the number of red blood cells in your blood. If you have ever watch stories about people who climb really tall mountains, especially Mt. Everest, you might remember that they have to climb for a while and then make camp and stay there for several days to a couple of weeks. This is called acclimation, which is physically allowing your body to increase the number of red blood cells that you have. Red blood cells are responsible for transporting oxygen to all of the parts of your body, so if there is less oxygen, you need more red blood cells. If you live in high altitudes, then your red blood cell count is already way above that of someone at sea level. So if you go to them you will seem to have so much extra ability and if they come to you, it will seem like they can't catch their breath.

Anyway, I know I have gotten a little off-topic, but I thought you would find that last bit interesting if you didn't know it already.

Cheers,

Matt Voss



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