Personal finance and KiwiSaver columnist at the NZ Herald

Jog On: Am I cut out to be a runner?

There are ways to find out if you're cut out for running.
Photo / Thinkstock
There are ways to find out if you're cut out for running. Photo / Thinkstock

To figure out if I scientifically have what it takes to be a runner, I need to get my mouth around a couple of tongue twisters.

Firstly, anthropometric testing, is one way of predicting success in a particular sport. And kinanthropometry is the study of the stuff we're made of - bone, muscle, soft tissue and fat.

Through anthropometric measurement and analysis it is possible to compare yourself with the best athletes in the world or, if you show talent across a range of sports, identify the sport that most suits your body type.

Olympic rower Rob Waddell used anthropometric testing before deciding to take a break from rowing to work as a grinder on the Team New Zealand America's Cup yachts.

AUT University has recently opened the J.E. Lindsay Carter Kinanthropometry Clinic at its Millennium site on the North Shore. It is a sister site to the laboratory at AUT's Akoranga campus that determined Waddell could convert his powerful rower's physique into a brawny grinder.

While the new clinic is focussed on monitoring elite sportspeople it is, as per the philosophy of the Millennium facility, open to the public.
Clinic director Professor Patria Hume says the aim of the clinic is to provide information to athletes on their body composition to help improve performance and reduce injuries.

Namesake Lindsay Carter, a New Zealander who has based himself in the United States for most of his academic career, has donated 60 years worth of historic testing equipment and research to form an archive at the clinic.

Carter is the father of kinanthropometry, says Hume, and his involvement and donation has seen the AUT facilities recognised internationally.

At its simplest the testing involves nothing more complex than a set of skin fold callipers, tape measure and scales - technology that has been in use for anthropometric testing for more than half a century. These tools have been joined more recently by MRI, CT and ultrasound scanning. There is literally nowhere to hide for athletes who might have been letting the routine slip.

To get some answers on whether I was born to run I subjected myself to some poking, prodding and pinching at the clinic. The basic analysis conducted by deputy director Kelly Sheerin showed I was boringly normal. The skin fold tests reveal my body fat to be 19 per cent, which seemed high to my untrained eye but was in the normal range. So too was a body mass index (BMI) of 23.3. The BMI measure is fallible in that heavy but muscular athletes like the All Blacks are defined as obese but at a regular population level it is a useful measure, says Sheerin, and a high BMI is a strong predictor of cardiovascular disease risk.

Finally there was an analysis of my body shape, or somatotype as it's known in anthropometric lingo. There are three somatotypes: endomorphic - rounded and fat; mesomorphic - muscular; and ectomorphic - linear and slim.

I'm mixture of endomorphic and mesomorphic. I have good muscle mass but there is room to become a little bit leaner if I wanted to improve my running performance, says Sheerin.

"For running, where you are directly moving your own body mass over a distance, having body mass that isn't actually functional, in terms that it is not muscle, is not desirable."

British marathon runner and women's world record holder Paula Radcliffe is considerably taller than her competitors but her lean, fine boned build - she's ectomorphic - allow her to get away with the height, says Sheerin.

"Running is one of those sports that to a certain extent takes all shapes and sizes."

And while in part our sporting potential is down to natural born body shape it is possible to modify the variables through strength training or diet.

In anthropomorphic terms, there is nothing to stop me becoming a good runner.

* Run five screaming kilometres dodging brain eating zombies at the Run For Your Freakn Life event at Spookers Haunted Attraction Scream Park in South Auckland, Sunday April 15.

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Personal finance and KiwiSaver columnist at the NZ Herald

Helen Twose is a freelance business journalist who writes regularly about KiwiSaver and entrepreneurial companies. She has written for the Business Herald since 2006, covering the telecommunications sector, but has more recently focused on personal finance and profiling successful businesses.

Read more by Helen Twose

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