There is a great book by Nassim Nicholas Taleb called Fooled by Randomness, which examines the role of luck in all areas of life, particularly business and investing.

Taleb is a professor of mathematics and a derivatives trader. Not much to do with sport. But his business is complexity. There is something in statistics called “survivorship bias”. There is a danger that what we measure excludes those that have fallen by the wayside, distorting our view of the world.

Sport is a bit like that when it comes to injury and overtraining. The winner is the best on the day, and not necessarily the best over time. What we certainly don’t see at all are the no-shows, the non-runners, the might-have-beens. Imagine England’s rugby performance over the past few years if Jonny Wilkinson had not been injured.

Taleb is a fitness fanatic and keen cyclist. He says he is not interested in competitive sports, so he does not offer much to help an athlete understand success, except to offer the proverbial observation that a baseball hitter is normally cursed when he appears on the front of Sports Illustrated as it is normally followed by a reversal in fortune. (Mathematically, the previous winning streak was in fact an unsustainable run of luck).

In competitive sport, luck is not very likely to take an average athlete to a gold medal. But bad luck will certainly remove good prospects from the population of potential winners. Reducing that component of luck is what athletes strive for. In my own more modest marathon ambitions, I’m trying to do the same. Except there is not any pressure to win, just a pressure to turn up. That is not a small pressure, and if you are raising money for a charity, that pressure builds the nearer you get to the day. I ran my first marathon injured and while still recovering from a virus, dangerously toughing it out so as not to let down those who’d sponsored me.

Continue reading ‘luck, latent talent and training’

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Tweet I thought it was a motorbike, because of the speed it was moving, but it seemed too low. Perhaps it was a microscooter. No, during my run today I saw a Windcheetah, a world-record winning recumbant cycle barrelling along the Kennet and Avon Canal towpath. There was a time when I hankered after one, […]

What if you could turn the clock back and find that you had what it takes to be an Olympic athlete? Peter Keen, the UK’s head of high performance at UK Sport, the funding body, recently said that armchair athletes in their twenties today are not too late to consider participating in the London Olympics in 2012, assuming they have the latent ability, and are prepared to put in the work. However, they would have to choose an endurance event like marathon or cycling.

The Maximal Test I took last Friday is recommended by Bath University Human Peformance Centre before any potential athlete embarks on an extensive and demanding training programme. It presupposes the individual will use a heart rate monitor. (You can acquire a basic model for around £50). The test will tell you all sorts of vital statistics about your current strength, and highlight any deficiencies. Above all, it could reveal a hidden talent concealed within your genetic make-up.

When I first took one a couple of years ago, I nearly fell out of my chair. Although not quite good enough for elite competition, my endurance ability, as measured by my so-called VO2 Max was 61. When I repeated the test last Friday, it had edged up marginally. Professional marathoners tend to produce a number from 70 upwards. With training and some loss of weight my VO2 Max might still go up. It may well have been higher when I was younger.

If you are in your twenties now, lurking within you might be a professional athlete waiting to get out. There are plenty of good examples too of athletes who found themselves later in life. See later posts for some notable winners.

What does a Maximal Test do?

The sports laboratory, while measuring your heart rate at different running paces, also analyses how effectively your body converts oxygen by capturing your exhaled breath and running it through a computer to ascertain that VO2 Max number. With a few regular pin-pricks in your fingers, the scientists will also tell you how much lactic acid you produce at different speeds. This helps determine how you need to train to improve. When our muscles ache, that’s lactic acid doing its worst. The more we work, the more we produce. Ironically, my test showed I need to run at slower speeds and longer distances to improve my running economy. I was a bit better at higher speeds, possibly because I run too fast in training.

They also test your iron levels. Mine were fine for this type of activity.

Resting Heart Rate 51

Weight 72 kg

Mood :-|

No exercise

Sleep disturbed, felt viral during night. Long day working in the City. Chose not to run despite programme.

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