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In the early 1980s, I was a marathon runner with ambitions to run at world class level, which would have required me to run the 42-km distance in about 2 h and 10 min. In those days genetic testing was not available, so to gauge my potential I volunteered for various kinds of exercise tests, including maximal oxygen uptake assessments, lactate threshold tests, and (painful!) muscle biopsies. After one series of tests, the exercise physiologist gave me the not-so-good news: with the physiological engine I had, the best marathon time I could hope to run was around 2 h and 15 min. Pretty good, but not world class. But, he continued, pointing to a cluster of slow twitch muscle fibers on a slide, I had the potential to excel at longer distances. It turned out he was right. I went on to become a world class 100-km runner, winning several international races at that distance, placing third in the 1992 World 100 km Championships, and setting several national ultra-distance running records along the way. Later, I applied my physiological potential to the world of ultra-distance triathlon, winning races ranging in distance from the double ironman to the ten times ironman—the Decatriathlon. I retired in 1999, after completing Race Across America (RAAM), a non-stop bike race from the west coast to the east coast of the United States, fairly satisfied I had made the most of my genetic potential, although I can’t be sure.
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