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What type of runner are you?

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What type of runner are you? Do you have the body to be a sprinter, a marathon runner or maybe a 1.500 meter runner? And how can you know that? Ayurveda, Indian medicine, might be able to give you a clear answer with just one look in the mirror.

We are all built differently. Some of us are blessed with strong muscles, others with lean legs, and some of us have wider hips. That’s not something we can change. We can’t all be a size small. We just have the body we have, and we have to make the most of it.

Same for our mind. Some of us are anxious, others calm. Some of us are very competitive, while others are happy to run a race just for the fun of running it.

Indian medicine

Ayurveda can help us discover what type of runner we are by simply looking into the mirror, and by looking at our behavior and habits. According to Ayurveda there are 3 types of people: Vata, Pitta and Kapha. By knowing which type you are, you know what type of runner you are.

Maybe you have heard of ectomorph, mesomorph, and endomorph. The American psychologist William Herbert Sheldon came up with this idea of body types (somatotypes) in the 1940s. The idea behind Vata, Pitta and Kapha is a bit like that. At the same time, it goes into more detail, especially when it comes down to the mind, but that’s for a later blog post.

Let’s start with our bodies, and look at the cross-over between Ayurveda and Western science. In this case the ideas of Sheldon.

Ectomorph or Vata

Ectomorphs are long and lean, with little body fat, and little muscle. They have a hard time gaining weight. In Ayurveda we call this body type Vata. However, the Ayurvedic description of a Vata is more detailed.

Vatas are, besides long and lean, often very tall or very short. Because they have little muscle they are not very strong. Their veins and their muscles are very easy to see. They often have cold hands and feet, because of poor circulation. That poor circulation and lack of body fat makes them uncomfortable in cold weather. That’s why they prefer spring and summer. Cold, windy days are not the best days for a Vata to run.

Other typical Vata characteristics are: dry skin and nails, thin hair, small eyes, cracking, popping joints, long limbs and a lack of stamina. They don’t sweat a lot.

A Vata is a middle to long distance runner. Five, 10, 15 kilometers, maybe a half marathon. They have the perfect build for these races. They just have to work on their stamina. An ultra run might be too far for them – also because of their character as we will see in part 2 of this series – but a marathon is definitely doable.

Mesomorph or Pitta

Mesomorphs are the athletic types; strong and solid. They are not underweight, but also not overweight. They gain and lose weight without too much effort. In Ayurveda we call this body type Pitta.

A Pitta is of medium height. They develop muscles quickly. However, they lose them very fast as well. They usually have warm hands and feet, and they perspire a lot. They don’t like hot weather, or being out in the sun, which means that summer is not the time for a Pitta type of runner to do a lot of hard training or races during daytime

Other Pitta characteristics are: medium size, bright eyes, often green or copper-brown. Oily, warm skin, often with moles and freckles. The hair of a Pitta becomes grey at an early age, and a Pitta man will have a receding hairline or go bold.

A Pitta is a sprinter. Pittas are strong and fast, and can easily and quickly build muscle. They feel very comfortable up until races like the 400 meters. They are the most competitive type.

Endomorph or Kapha

Endomorphs have a heavy build. Lots of muscles, but also lots of body fat. They gain weight easily and have a hard time losing it. They are strong by nature, and have good stamina. In Ayurveda we call this body type Kapha.

A Kapha doesn’t only have strong muscles and lots of fat tissue, but also large, heavy bones, which means a Kapha is often a big, tall person. Other Kapha characteristics are: soft, smooth, oily and thick skin, large, dark eyes with long, thick lashes and brows. A Kapha has thick, dark, soft hair and lots of body hair.

A Kapha has the best stamina of the three body types and is also the strongest by nature. However most Kaphas don’t like to move a lot. At the Olympic Games, for example, you won’t see a Kapha at the start of a track race, nor at the start of the marathon. You will see them on the field, doing shot put or throwing the discus or hammer.

That doesn’t say a Kapha isn’t a runner. It’s just not a fast one. Yet, because of their great stamina, they have no problems completing a marathon or an ultra run. They will start slow, but during a race slowly overtake other runners, especially the Vata-runner, which all has to do with character.

'The principles of Ayurveda allow the needs of many of today’s athletes to be met in a more holistic and gentle fashion compared to many of the present-day trends & fads'

Chris Garber (Californian College of Ayurveda) 

It’s not black or white

When it comes down to Vata, Pitta and Kapha you’re never either one or the other. You are always a combination of all three. However, some people are mainly Vata, some are mainly Pitta and some are mainly Kapha, whereas others are more a mix. Somebody can have, for example, almost as much Pitta as Kapha in them, with a little bit of Vata.

The same counts for the somatotypes theory of William Herbert Sheldon. It’s not black or white. We’re all a mix, we’re just tending more or less to one of the main body types.

To summarize it, Ayurveda recognizes seven main body types:

  1. Vata (mainly)
  2. Pitta (mainly)
  3. Kapha (mainly)
  4. Vata-Pitta
  5. Pitta-Kapha
  6. Kapha-Vata
  7. Vata-Pitta-Kapha

Long distance runner

Let’s look back at the Pitta sprinter and the Vata middle to long distance distance runner. Maybe the 800 meters is one, big, long sprint, but the 1.500 meters is definitely not a sprint anymore. Whereas the 5.000 meter isn’t a long distance race yet, but it’s definitely not a sprint.

These races are neither the terrain of a mainly Pitta sprinter (too long), nor Vata middle distance runner (too short). They are more for the Pitta-Vata type; fast, but lean. As for the marathon, we’ve seen that a Vata has the build for it, yet it lacks stamina. A Kapha has the stamina, but not the build. However, somebody with lots of Vata and Kapha in them, would be a great marathon runner.

A look inside

Ayurveda as well as Sheldon, don’t only look at appearance of the physical body, they also look at what’s happening inside (physiologically) the body and mind. Let’s start with our Vata type again and focus mainly on the body for this blogpost.

A Vata doesn’t have a strong digestion. In Ayurveda we speak of digestive fire. What happens if you put a lot of leaves on a very small fire? It will kill the fire. For a Vatas this means that they shouldn’t eat a lot of salads or raw vegetables without anything else. However if you put oil on the fire, it will light up. So oily (sauce) dishes are good for Vata.

'We are all a mix, we’re just tending more or less to one of the main body types'

John Kraijenbrink

Vata problems

Vatas have problems with the absorption of nutrients, which means they have to make sure to eat healthy to get enough nutrients in. The more they run, the more important their diet becomes. If a Vata runner doesn’t watch his/her diet carefully, they can easily get over-trained. Not because of too much exercise, but a lack of nutrition.

During ultra runs eating is important to keep going. As Vatas have such a weak digestion they should train their body to digest while running and find out which foods they can digest during an ultra. As this body type/type of runner is the one that tires quickly and doesn’t have a lot of fat reserves, eating is really important.

Another pitfall for a Vata is a lack of rest. For starters Vatas sleep less than the other body types, and their sleep is often interrupted. They an’t sit still, but always have to do something. Their mind is always busy, so resting is not something they like. Yet, as a runner it’s important to rest. Especially in our taper period.

Physical and physiological problems that are common for a Vata are: constipation, gas in the intestines, arthritis, pneumonia, excessively dry skin, lips, hair and heels, muscle tightness and low back pain.

Because of the last two problems Vatas should work on their flexibility. Doing yoga isn’t just good for their flexibility, it can help with digestive problems as well. It is also calming for the mind.

Pitta problems

A Pitta has a very big appetite, good metabolism and strong digestion. They eat and drink a lot. If they get hungry, they have to eat, otherwise they get irritable and can become hypoglycemic (low blood sugar). This is something to watch out for during long runs.

Pittas are good sleepers. They don’t sleep extremely long, but their sleep is often uninterrupted, which means they can easily recover from hard training. Having said that, a Pitta is not very good at hard, physical work for long periods. That’s why sprinting suits them. One short powerful explosion and it’s over.

Physical and physiological problems that are common for a Pitta are: fevers, inflammation, acid indigestion, profuse perspiration, hives and rashes, ulcers, burning eyes, sore throats and sun burns.

As inflammation is a big problem, Pittas should take extra care of their tendons by cooling them down properly after a hard work-out and by keeping them flexible by doing yin yoga for example.

Kapha problems

A Kapha gains weight easily, as we’ve just seen, and are at risk of becoming obese. To complicate things, Kaphas have a slow digestion and like sweets: candy, cookies and chocolate. They have a steady appetite and thirst, yet they can easily skip a meal, without getting irritated or losing concentration.

Kaphas are sound sleepers who like to sleep in, which isn’t good for them. They are slow starters and often need a cup of coffee in the morning to wake up.

A Kapha doesn’t like sport, while vigorous exercise is actually good for them, and they do have the strength and stamina for it. Yet, they prefer to sit. If they have to run, they just jog and when given the chance walk. Slowly. Exercise makes Kaphas hungry and longing for snacks. They are not only the runners in the back of the field, but also the ones stopping longest at the refreshment posts and eating the most sweets.

Physical and physiological problems that are common for a Kapha are colds, flu, sinus and bronchial congestion, excess weight, diabetes and headaches. A Kapha should dress up warm (head and neck) during cold winters and early spring days, because they are prone to colds and the flu.

Summary

Vata

  • middle to long distance runner
  • lean body
  • recovers slowly
  • tight muscles
  • best seasons: spring and summer

 

Pitta

  • sprinter
  • competitive
  • strong body
  • recovers easily
  • can’t train too hard for too long
  • inflammation problems
  • best seasons: fall and winter

 

Kapha

  • could be great ultra runners, if motivated
  • great stamina and strength
  • weight problems
  • best seasons: summer and early fall

What type of runner are you?

Based on the descriptions above, you probably have an idea which body type you are. If you want to be sure, you can visit an Ayurvedic doctor. He or she will feel your pulse and can tell you what you are, as every body type has another heart rhythm.

In part 2 of this series we will have a look at the mind. In part 3 we will see what you can do to stay in balance as a Vata, Pitta and Kapha. For now you are probably already able to adjust your training schedule to suit your body type, or dosha as it is called in Ayurveda.

That’s it for this blog post. Keep on running.

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