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Author Topic: Quality X  (Read 51246 times)
Sasha Pachev
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« on: December 21, 2007, 09:16:00 pm »

For those of you who missed it, there we had a discussion on my blog today that resulted in a new term:

Quality X

I thought it deserves a couple of paragraphs on the forum. Brief introduction to the train of thought. If you've ever been beat by a minute in a 5 K by somebody running 40 miles a week while you were consistently running 80+ for years, if somebody who just barely started running 60 miles a week after graduating out of high school training blew by you in a half and left you in the dust, you know exactly what I am talking about. There is an aspect to distance running performance that is not connected with endurance, and can be present in the same quantity in somebody who is undertrained in the endurance aspect.

Some people call it speed. This is misleading enough for me not to want to use the term. You cannot get it through speed work. Others call it "natural ability". I do not like it either. It implies that you cannot develop it, therefore it implies surrender. For lack of a better term I decided to call it Quality X.

A good measure of the Quality X for an individual of optimal weight is how fast he can run a 5 K off 6 months of training at 40 miles a week. A clearly slow-twitch runner of optimal weight can also measure his Quality X by running an all-out 100 meters.

More discussion to follow...
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Sasha Pachev
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« Reply #1 on: December 31, 2007, 12:28:07 pm »

The promised follow-up, finally.

Quality X can be compared to the aerodynamic/tire/weight distribution/transmission/etc qualities of a car. If two cars of equal weight are given the same engine, and one is faster than the other, we will say that the faster one has more Quality X.

Why all this Quality X discussion? Overtime some things have become clear to me. For a true slow-twitch guy, top end speed very reliably predicts what is he going to do in all distances from the 5 K to the half marathon when properly conditioned. 9 times out of 10, if you find two equally conditioned runners whose best distance is the half-marathon, and one beats the other in the half marathon, he will proportionally beat him in the 100 meter sprint! In the marathon, the top end speed very reliably predicts what you will not be able to do. It does not very well predict what you actually will accomplish because marathon has a much higher chance of crash-and-burn, and individual resistance against crash-and-burn varies a lot. But, once you have become resistant to crash and burn, your marathon can be very well predicted from your 100 meter sprint if you are true slow-twitch. Interestingly enough, Ron Hill observed the same thing and talked about all out 100 meter sprint as a measure of running talent.

For somebody who feels tempted to challenge the above. Find somebody for whom the following is not true:

best marathon time in minutes >= 100 meter sprint time in seconds * 10
best half marathon time in minutes >= (100 meter sprint time in seconds * 5 - 2)

So the above says that 12.0 100 meter runner will not break 58:00 in the half, 13.0 will be stuck at 1:03, and 14.0 will be stuck at 1:08 unless he runs Hobblecreek. Note that it DOES NOT say that a 12.0 100 meter runner will necessarily reach 58:00 in the half with proper training or even get anywhere close. It says that if you want to run 58:00 and your 100 is only 12.5, it will not happen until your 100 somehow gets to 12.0, and even then, it does not necessarily mean that you will run 58:00 in the half. 12.0 100 is a necessary but not sufficient condition for running 58:00 in the half marathon.

What is the point of the above formula and discussion? Suppose your best 100 is 15.0, and you want to run a 2:20 marathon. You can try high mileage, and if you do it perfectly, you will run 2:30. But not 2:20! OK, right. I am going to hit the weight room, I am going to hire a sprint coach, I am going to do drills, starts, jumps, whatever else the sprinters do so I can run the required 14.0. You do that, and all that gives you is 14.7 because you do not have much fast-twitch fibers! And by the way, your marathon potential has not moved at all. OK, so the reason I cannot run 14.0 is because I am a slow-twitch guy! Wrong! Do you think Haile is not a slow-twitch guy? Yet he can run 14.3 15 times back to back in a 1500 meter race, he can close a 10,000 meter race with a 53.0 lap, this is 4x100 in 13.25 strung together!  We make a big mistake by explaining away our slow 100 meter times with the lack of the fast twitch fibers. You need a lot to run 10.0, you need some to run 11.0, you do not need more than most of us on this blog do to run 12.0 if you are a guy! You do need lots of Quality X to run 12.0 if you are a natural distance runner, though.

As I stated earlier in my blog comment, Paul, Nick Miller, Nick McCombs, Sean, and possibly Logan have enough Quality X to hit the new marathon OT standard of 2:19 on a record-eligible course. The rest of us have no chance unless we do something about our Quality X!

What can we do? That is the question I do not have the answer for. This is something that needs to be thoroughly researched and understood. I believe we can find a breakthrough and answer it. But the first step, and the purpose of this post, is to convince our runners that this is a critical issue that something needs to be done about, or no Olympic Trials for you.
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Jon Allen
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« Reply #2 on: December 31, 2007, 01:38:30 pm »

Sasha- I am going to go run a 100 meter.  I'm darn sure that I will be able to do it faster than 15.2 seconds.  We shall see.
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Sean Sundwall
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« Reply #3 on: January 01, 2008, 08:37:31 pm »

perhaps a dumb question, but an important one....does the 100m time test proposed above need to be done from a dead stop or a running start? There's a big difference in times. The example you used with Haile obviously includes 14 of 15 100m segments at a running start.
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Craig Green
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« Reply #4 on: January 02, 2008, 11:04:27 am »

I was doing 10x200 meter sprints a year ago and had someone timing me. I was coming in at 28 seconds at the end, so I would assume I can bang out a 13-14 second 100 meter sprint.

That being said- I haven't broken 1:16 in the half marathon or 2:47 in the marathon. Of course, I've never put in more than 40 or 50 miles a week leading up to a marathon (which I will be changing this year). I think what I'm reading from this thread is that I have some potential here that I haven't reached due to my lack of training, lame diet, etc.

Anyway- what is interesting is that Bill (aka "Coach" Bill) was talking about hip movement and how that is something that you lose as you get older, and something that helps with sprints and faster running. So I'm thinking hip movement could be one of many Quality X factors.
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Sasha Pachev
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« Reply #5 on: January 02, 2008, 11:30:57 am »

I would say if you are really bad out of the blocks (common for a distance guy), you can use a jogging start. Or just run 200 and divide your time by 2.  The purpose of the exercise is to measure your true top-end speed as accurately as possible. We do not want weird sprinter type issues to get in the way, such as being a bad starter.

There are other factors that could affect your performance. The amount of warm-up, air temperature, track quality, wind, etc. I noticed that I run my best 100 after doing about 4 at 800 race pace, and 2 more all out. You want, of course, to do this under the best possible conditions. It is recommended that you do it racing somebody. I noticed I run about 0.7 faster when I am racing a properly matched partner.

What we are really after is to see how fast you can "sprint" without using an extraordinary amount of fast-twitch fibers. If you a sprinty type, you will get a significant improvement from sprint specific training. Otherwise, not much will happen, you may gain 0.3 or so. For a more accurate Quality X measurement,  you want to do this test just off distance training, nothing sprint specific other than occasional strides and intervals, and other things you would normally do solely for improving your distance performance.

If you have been running at least 40 miles a week for at least 6 months, all-out 800 is a good test for Quality X as well. A slow-twitch runner (marathon being the best distance with optimal training)  with world-class Quality X will do around 1:55.
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Sasha Pachev
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« Reply #6 on: January 02, 2008, 11:38:08 am »

Craig:

Yes, anybody who has not been over 90 miles a week for at least a couple of years would be very much slower than their true potential in the marathon and in the half. Based on what you said, your Quality X is equal to mine (if you have more fast twitch fibers than me), or a higher otherwise. Which would suggest that if you did a comparable type of training and recovery regimen, you would run at least 2:25 in St. George, and possibly even 2:20. This, of course, assumes that you are a slow-twitch guy, which I think you are. It would be very difficult for a natural sprinter with not a lot of slow-twitch fibers to run a 17 minute 5 K off any training.
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Sasha Pachev
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« Reply #7 on: January 05, 2008, 02:24:46 pm »

Some more thoughts.

Maintaining Quality X.

From what I've observed, Quality X is often lost in two ways. One is through some serious injury, especially back injury. The other is by gaining weight. I am not talking losing running performance due to excess weight. I am talking about when you gain weight, keep it for a while, then drop it. A measure of Quality X is gone even though you are essentially back to your high school weight. Think about numerous runners on the blog that ran a low-10:00 or even sub-10:00 2 miles in high school off sporadic 40 miles a week that cannot break 18:00 5 K now off consistent 70 miles a week. They do not lack endurance - they hold their ground in the half and in the full marathon quite well.

It would be worthwhile to address a common misconception. Some would explain the above with the loss of muscle mass with age. If you have ever helped somebody move with about 10-20 participants of various age groups, you'll know this cannot be right. Guys that are as old as 60 seem to be lifting with their arms just as well as their younger counterparts. Their backs are not as good, but when it comes to pure arm power, they seem to do quite well. And  in this discussion we are not talking going from 20 years old to 60 after all. We are talking 20 to 35 where severe loss of Quality X takes place very often.

So at this point, two practical suggestion I have for maintaining your Quality X : a) eat the best possible diet b) maintain a high level of activity. Or in other words, do what it takes to maintain your healthy weight.
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Kory Wheatley
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« Reply #8 on: January 09, 2008, 09:59:24 pm »

How do others feel about strength training? I believe that can improve the Quality X factor.  Also core workout on abs and doing push-up is a benefit too by getting toned but not big.
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Sasha Pachev
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« Reply #9 on: January 10, 2008, 11:03:01 am »

I've had no luck with it. The strength of the individual muscles improved greatly, but no matter what I tried there was absolutely no change in running speed on any distance, even 100 meters.
I do however believe, that strategic strengthening with a very well defined narrowly targeted purpose could improve Quality X if you are being held back by some imbalance that your body is refusing to compensate for or correct naturally just by running a lot of miles. But I have not yet seen any success with this myself.
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Sasha Pachev
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« Reply #10 on: May 23, 2008, 03:35:16 pm »

New more concise definition of Quality X:

How fast you would run 100 meters if somehow you lost all of your fast twitch fibers.
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Jon Allen
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« Reply #11 on: May 23, 2008, 05:10:48 pm »

In other words, how fast are your slow twitch fibers?
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Sasha Pachev
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« Reply #12 on: May 23, 2008, 08:48:40 pm »

Pretty much. This of course would involve anatomy, join/bone resilience, nervous system, and possibly a few other things. So it is not just slow twitch fiber strength. We find a magic way to disable all of your fast twitch fibers with the slow twitch left completely intact and have you sprint all out.

Of course, you will not sprint any faster than you would with fast twitch fibers working, so your Quality X sprint cannot be faster than your actual sprint. And for a slow twitch guy the fast twitch fibers naturally do not contribute a lot. So if you measure his actual 100 meter sprint, that is a very good measurement of his Quality X.

The question arises what to do for the mid-grade fibers that are useful in a longer race. The answer is that you are allowed to use them to the extent that they'd be able to contribute in a longer race when properly trained.

My assertion is that Quality X changes little with endurance training. The ability to use it in a long race improves with training, but in and of itself it does not change much from anything we know how to do. But you can lose it fairly quickly through unhealthy life style as you get older or through a trauma.
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Gokay Yamankurt
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« Reply #13 on: May 23, 2008, 10:11:37 pm »

Actually there are 3 types of muscle fibers:

1) Type I slow twitch: endurance-based, fat-fueled, aerobic muscle fiber. This is the fiber that keeps going for 26 miles.
2) Type IIa fast twitch: a hybrid of fast and slow. This is the 5K fiber.
3) Type IIb fast twitch: a real fast and anaerobic muscle fiber. This is the sprint fiber.

What you define as Quality X is the fiber composition of muscles. That is what percent of what type of fiber you have. If you run marathons, you probably have a lot of type I, some type IIa and almost none type IIb. On the other hand, if you are a sprinter, you have a very little type I, some type IIa and a lot of type IIb fibers.

The composition is genetic and is not possible to change, but characteristics of fibers can chance with physical training. For example, endurance training will change type IIa fiber characteristics to type I. Type IIa fibers will become slower and start using more fat and have more endurance. In reality, quality X is achievable through training.
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Sasha Pachev
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« Reply #14 on: May 27, 2008, 11:06:16 am »

Gokay:

I have never seen or heard of anybody significantly improving their 100 meter sprint by running high mileage which should in theory strengthen your slow twitch fibers, and if most of your fibers are slow twitch, then shouldn't the slow twitch fibers be at least a significant if not the primary player in your 100 meter performance?

Actually, I have never even heard of a reasonably active adult of proper weight getting more than 1 second faster in a 100 meter sprint from training of any kind. I've seen many cases when people got markedly slower in the area of top end speed from unhealthy life style which exacerbated the effects of aging, and then would not be able to get their speed back no matter what they did but never the other way around.

Speaking of myself, I have measured my top end speed on multiple occasions throughout the years and have found it to be the same regardless of what I did - 40 miles a week, 120 miles a week, drills and sprints several times a week, weight training, or just base mileage.

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