The average U.S. man is about 5’10” (177.8 cm), and the average U.S. woman is about 5’4″ (162.5 cm). This means that if a person is 6’5″ (195 cm), they are in the 99.9 percentile for height.
Also note that going forward I’m going to use numbers that make sense, i.e. metric.
What does he have that I don’t?
I was riding with a buddy and we had just finished doing a few intervals. “I’m in the small ring struggling up this damn hill and you’re in the big ring. How is that possible? What’s inside you that isn’t inside me?” was his somewhat frustrated question.
“Well,” I said, “rest assured that compared to anyone even mildly accomplished at cycling, I suck. But it’s still a good question.”
And it was. Because cyclists wonder it all the time. “How come that rider is faster?”
“I train the same, or harder. I’m younger. I’ve even been doing it longer. But that rider is flat out faster, flat out better in every regard.” The name “Greg Leibert” comes to mind, but there are hundreds, thousands of others.
The height test
Have you ever talked to someone who is 195 cm tall? You probably have, and when you did, you looked up. Depending on your height, you may have gotten a sore neck afterwards.
Statistically, 195 cm is extremely tall. Only .01 percent of all people in the U.S. are that tall or taller. It’s not common.
Now, when you look at a tall person, have you ever wondered what makes them tall? Probably not, because it doesn’t make all that much difference. You can see that they are tall, and you are not. More to the point, have you ever asked someone like that “What makes you so tall?”
Heck, no, you haven’t, because everyone knows that in addition to some environmental factors, your height is determined by your genes. “How can I get tall like you?” is not a common question on the basketball court. You see the tall dude, you recognize he’s tall, you understand he got tall because of his genes, you know that at age 40 or 50 you’re done growing, and that’s that. He’s tall, extremely tall. You are not. And therefore he almost always has an easier time putting the ball in the hoop than you do.
Of course this doesn’t mean that the tall guy always wins, just like it doesn’t mean that the cyclist with the better physiology always wins. But it’s still an important and immutable difference. Taller people are better basketball players, Mugsy Bogues notwithstanding, and the taller you get, the better your odds of playing in the NBA. The average height there is 200.6 cm. If you are average U.S. height and male, your chances are 1 in 1,200,000 of making that august league. If you are over 213 cm, it’s 1 in 7.
The internal organ test
If we wore our hearts and lungs and circulatory systems on the outside like we do our height, and if our blood was color-coded as it became depleted and replenished with oxygen, we’d stop wondering why ol’ Grizzzles keeps whupping our ass in bike races.
We could look at his heart, hanging there on his chest, and see that it was lots bigger than ours. We could see his aorta, and vascular density, and his lungs. We might say “Wow, G$, those lungs are big enough to line my trash can with.”
But we’d never say “How come you go so fast?” which is shorthand for “How do you process so much oxygen so quickly?” It would be right there for any fool to see.
We never ask the tall person how we can get as tall as he is, he’s just tall, yo, and that dude you’re racing on the bike has a bigger heart, bigger lungs, more blood vessels, and processes more oxygen. To put it more succinctly, you can’t train the genes you don’t have.
If G$ and riders like him wore their innards on the outside, after the ride we could sit on the bricks at CotKU and fondle his ventricles, poke his bronchioles, thump an artery or two, and marvel at the multi-colored gases and blood as it ran through the system. Instead of gawking at the muscularity of a rider’s legs, which means nothing, we could marvel at his aorta, diaphragm, and lungs, which mean everything.
So the next time you wonder what’s inside the super rider who’s riding off into the KOM sunset and barely cracking a sweat, remind yourself that what’s inside … are genes.
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