When American River College track and field coach Jeannette Allred-Powless competed in the marathon event in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics as a five-foot-ten endurance athlete, she didn’t have what you might call a “runner’s body.”
“They all looked at me and said, ‘What are you, a swimmer?’” she said of the other long-distance runners. “I said, ‘Well, I’m a triathlete,’ and they said, ‘Ah, that’s why you’re so gigantic,’ because I just towered over everybody … like a fish out of water.”
“It’s a myth if you think that of distance runners, saying, ‘Oh, the longer legs, the better,’ said Powless. “It actually works against you.”
While not all athletes have been born with the type of bodies some considere “ideal” for their sport or event, they all must work hard to be successful.
“It’s pretty fast paced,” said sprinter and general science major Ciara Richardson of her track events. “It takes a lot of strength, takes a lot of lungs, cardio. (You have to be) mentally prepared for it because it’s a hard race.”
The 100-meter and 200-meter events, which require the runner to go one-fourth and one-half around the track, respectively, require explosive bursts of energy.
“Most of the time when we run, I hold my breath for three seconds, then I exhale as I’m running,” said Richardson. That might result in just one breath for the entire 100 or 200 race.
“(But) for the 400, I have to pace myself, pace my breathing, pace my steps, pace my body movements, so … my legs won’t give out,” she said.
Because sprinting requires so much strength and explosive power, Richardson spends extra time in the weight room in addition to her runs.
She works with an Olympic lifting trainer, focusing on squats, lunges and cleans, an explosive movement which involves lifting a weighted barbell off the floor and onto the front of the shoulders using primarily the muscles in the hips and thighs.
To fuel her intense workouts, Richardson consumes large amounts of protein. “I eat a lot of meat and rice and grains,” she said. “I try to eat as healthy as possible.”
Eating right is a necessity for any successful athlete.
The engine that gets long distance runner and English major Cheyenne Drury through her long training sessions requires clean fuel, so her diet is calculated to provide her maximum nutrition, through nuts and nut butters, fruits and vegetables, lean meats and whole grains.
“It is important that I give my body the proper nutrients and take care of it,” she said.
Drury’s workout, while fundamentally different than Richardson’s, is equally intense. Although she does speed workouts, she also trains by focusing on pacing her long-distance runs.
“It’s really a fast twitch, slow twitch muscle fiber that you’re looking at who makes what event better,” said Powless.
Sprinters have “that fast twitch, they’ve got that larger muscle mass, their weight is going to be more mass than your elite distance runner,” she said.
Overall, said Powless, it’s a strength to weight ratio that makes a big difference to a runner’s performance. As athletes gain strength, they can gain weight along with it, and keeping that ratio in check through workouts and diet is essential.