I've always been bothered by the way people focus on talent in distance runners. It's not because talent doesn't matter. It obviously does. But it's just one of many things that matter, and of all those things, it's the one we can't measure, we can't change, and we can't control. You don't really know if you have it unless you put in years of hard work and get the right opportunities.
My latest article at Runner's Tribe looks at what I call the talent distraction. Here's a snippet:
I think everyone intuitively understands the idea of "talent". It's natural, it's innate, it's genetic (if you're East African, etc)...you know, either you have it or you don't. But there are three other aspects of how we view talent that create problems for us. First, talent is understood to be the key defining factor that enables someone to be the best in the world. If we assume that others are working just as hard as Bekele, then the only thing that can be separating him is his talent. Let's just say that's a big assumption.
Second, we associate talent with being a purely physical quality. It's very rare that someone includes such factors as toughness, pain tolerance, discipline, passion, commitment, and coolness under pressure in a discussion about talent. Yet the ability to get up and train everyday at an elite level for years and years while staying motivated and committed is surely harder for some than it is for others.
(We also don't talk about durability in most discussions of talent. Talent takes on a meaning equivalent to: potential to run a given time. But isn't the ability to do the necessary training in the first place a factor? We don't talk about this or mental stuff because it's fluffy, it's intangible, we can't measure it. But that leads me to the third problem.)
We don't have any foolproof way of measuring talent, either mental or physical. The only real approach we have is to look at the subset of people who've achieved at an extremely high level and then label them "talented".
To read the complete article, click here.