Can You Be Naturally Good at Running? (Contributing Factors!)

We often hear people say that someone at the top of their game must be “a natural.” Whether they are a musician, an athlete, or even an actor, that statement infers that he or she was born with the talent to do what they do.

Does that mean then that other people are unnatural? If so, is it possible to overcome the lack of natural ability and still be great at something through hard work?

What is talent anyway? Is it simply the ability to be able to do something well? Or is it a combination of motivation/desire mixed with the right combination of physical attributes, which then allows us to be able to excel at a given activity?

I tend to think that we are all born with the same basic amount of athletic talent. What we have that differentiates us are a variety of body types.

Human genetics are either in our favor or against the individual, depending on what the desired application might be. Golf swings can be adjusted and perfected, instruments can be practiced, and muscles can be strengthened. However, the physical characteristics we are born with such as height, bone structure, etc., aren’t so easy to change. A 7-foot-tall hulk of a man is not likely to become a world class jockey, any more than a slender woman standing less than 5 feet tall is destined to be an Olympic hammer thrower.

We also have different levels of motivation. Someone could be born with the physique that is perfectly suited to play basketball, but have no desire to play the game. Without motivation, there is next to no chance that even an ideally proportioned person will become good at something.

On the other hand, its just as possible to be born the wrong size or shape for a particular sport but still want to be play it more than anything. People in that situation may have more to overcome than others, but more than a few have blown past any obstacles in their path in order to be successful despite having the odds against them.

So is it possible to be naturally good at running? Humans were designed to be able to move quickly on our feet. Without a doubt it is possible to be naturally good at running. In the past human needed that speed to be able to run down prey or to escape predators.

Thankfully, neither of those skills are a daily necessity anymore. The last time I had to chase down some food, it was when the waiter tried to take my unfinished plate away while I stepped away from the table! But let’s’ get back to the point.

The human body design has us set up to be able to run. Some can run slowly, some can go faster, but almost all humans have the ability to run. With billions of variations of body shapes and sizes in the world, it is a certainty that many of us were born with bodies that were perfectly suited for the sport of running.

Is Being Good at Running Genetic (Inherited)?

Genetics are helpful when it comes down to determining proficiency in many sports, including running.

However, it is also possible to be a good runner even if it doesn’t come naturally. Several attributes that lead to running proficiency have been found to be inheritable. Naturally this includes body shape and type. Beyond that, it also includes the body’s ability to process oxygen, flexibility, and resistance to injury. Someone who is born with a positive combination of these traits is likely to be ahead of the crowd when it comes to becoming a good runner.

However, through practice, repetition and consistency, it is possible for someone to overcome the lack of an ideal body type and still become an excellent runner.  Burundi’s Diane Nukuri was able to compete in 2 separate Olympic Games (Sydney 2000 and London 2012) despite standing at a height of 6’ (183cm), much taller than most of other professional female runners. Her height wasn’t the only challenge she had to conquer. Nukuri started her athletic career in the midst of a civil war and had to flee her home country to seek asylum in Canada.


What Makes Someone a Naturally Good Runner?

To be a naturally good runner, the first thing that helps is the ideal body type – a smaller frame with long thin limbs. The other aspects that help are having a high pain threshold, aerobic capacity, and a whole lot of desire.

When someone has a combination of many of the above traits, they have the natural inclination to become a good runner. To me, the thing that matters most is the desire. Without that motivation getting someone to step out the door, there is no opportunity for them to develop their running skills.  

Once that desire exists, all it takes is to get out the door and begin training. Training regularly will strengthen the running muscles as well as the respiratory and cardio systems. Those with efficient body mechanics and sufficient aerobic capacity will find that running comes easier than it does for others.

Can You Be a Naturally Fast Runner?

Beyond determining who would be a naturally good runner, those same attributes listed above also make it possible for someone to be a naturally fast runner.

Or at least they give the potential to be a naturally fast runner.  No one is inherently fast right out of the womb. The only way to become fast is through hard work and consistent training. When someone with the right body type, aerobic capacity and tolerance for pain takes on a proper training plan to develop speed, they will quickly find themselves at the front of the pack.

Can Everyone – Anyone Be a Good Runner?

The answer to that question somewhat depends on your definition of “good”, but I believe that yes, most people can be good runners if they choose to try. That doesn’t mean that everyone can become an Olympic caliber competitor. But most people can develop enough running skills to be able to comfortably complete a few miles.

It just might take some people more time and effort than it takes others. Those who have to overcome physical or biological shortcomings will have a longer road in front of them. Eventually though, everyone who puts in the effort to train consistently can become a good runner.

Also, check out “How Long Can the Average Person Run without Getting Tired? (Trained vs Untrained)

By making running a habit and consistently training each week, we can build a strong muscular and cardiovascular base of fitness. The longer this happens, the stronger the base will become and the easier each run will feel.

On a side note, also find out How Fast Do Olympic Runners Run? Men vs Women vs Average

Does Athletic Ability Come from Mother or Father?

Athletic ability tends to be inherited from both parents. There are over 200 genetic traits that are linked to physical fitness. It’s a matter of chance as to which ones will be passed down and which parent they will come from.(Source)

In families where both parents have a history of athletic prowess, the resulting genetic mix can lead to an impressive resume for the child. For example, American road cyclist Taylor Phinney was lucky enough to be born into a family where both of his parents were former Olympians. His mother, Connie Carpenter-Phinney was a gold medal winning cyclist in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. His father, David Phinney won the bronze medal in the individual time trial event during those same games.

It was no surprise when Taylor took up cycling, and had quite the impressive career. He was a three time National Time Trial Champion and took 4th place in that event as well as the road race at the 2012 London Olympics. (Source)

So it seems that it is possible, but not essential, for someone to be naturally good at running. For those of you who find running easy and enjoyable right off the bat, congratulations! However, if it doesn’t seem to come naturally to you, that doesn’t mean you should give up. The more you take the time to get outside and practice, the easier you will eventually find running to be. Who knows – you may even start to love it!

Brad Birky

Brad Birky is an endurance athlete and trained chef who has qualified for and completed the Boston Marathon as well as multiple Ironman distance triathlons

Recent Posts