How Human, Horse and Dog Racing Are Alike
Tuesday, 31 July 2012
Are we nearing our upper limit of speed?
By Scott Douglas
In addition to occasionally being bet on, human, dog and horse racers have this in common: We're all getting faster at a slower rate. In fact, each species might be nearing its upper limit of speed, according to French researchers writing in the Journal of Evolutionary Biology.
The researchers looked at maximal speeds reached by the ten best racers of the three species over the last century. (For humans, they looked at race distances of 200 to 1500 metres.) As they note, "Speed has been progressing fast in the three species, and this has been followed by a plateau."
Racing speed in horses, the researchers wrote, appears to be almost entirely genetically based; hence Kentucky Derby winner Northern Dancer's stud fee of $1 million. Dog racing speed, they wrote, also appears to be largely inherited, while the improvement in human speeds is due more to improved training and a greater cross-section of humans racing. These thoughts are in line with those of biologist and accomplished ultra runner Bernd Heinrich, author of Why We Run, who notes that animals of many species are "instantly in shape," while slower-developing species like humans have to work to near their physical potential.
Regardless, the researchers claim:
“Although speed progression in dogs and horses on one side and humans on the other has not been affected by the same genetic/environmental balance of forces, it is likely that further progress will be extremely limited.”
Again, the human race distances they surveyed topped out at 1500 metres. Anyone who followed the explosion of men's marathon performances in 2011 would agree that "extremely limited" doesn't seem to be the near future of improvements at longer distances.
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