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Somebody small will have less Resistance from the air but take smaller steps then somebody who is tall.

Are long people better at long distance runs,
small people better in short distance or does it even matter?

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Are you trying to decide between the two? –  Kate Dec 14 '12 at 17:48
No, I'm just curious. –  SirDuckduck Dec 17 '12 at 9:01
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2 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

I would say resistance to the air would be almost irrelevant here, what we will impact a lot it would be the longer steps for short (sprinting distances) where probably taller people are in an advantage but in the other side, tallness comes with a cost, a less economic run, so they will be much more difficult to keep up good paces in long distances.

Some interesting information here, where I extracted this quote:

Height hits economy

Speaking of economy, mum probably didn't mention that the taller you are, the more miserable (that's miserable, not miserly) is your economy. But - it's true. As height increases, it costs more to run at a particular pace, even when the cost is expressed per kilogram of body weight. Research in France bears this out ('Influence of Training, Sex, Age, and Body Mass on the Energy Cost of Running,' European Journal of Applied Physiology, vol. 66(5), pp. 439-444, 1993).

Why would that be true? Analyzing the situation, mum used to like to say that bone mass increases exponentially, not linearly, as a function of height, which means that taller runners have both absolutely and relatively heavier bones, compared to shorties. It costs energy to lug those bones around, so economy dips. Small wonder that the majority of world-class marathoners tend to be relatively slight figures. Of course, lack of economy doesn't faze sprinters, the best of whom tend to be fairly tall. Their goal in running is to maximize power, not worry about saving a millilitre of oxygen here and there, and power maximization tends to mean long limbs and rippling muscles.

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Resistance to air is completely relevant. The less frontal area you can present to the wind, the greater the benefit. If you have two runners of identical height running 12 mph (5 minute miles) the one directly behind the other has a large advantage. I can't quantify it for runners, but for a cyclist, it can be as great as a 25% energy advantage. Drafting in running is a key strategic component. –  JohnP Dec 14 '12 at 17:47
I agree the resistance to air is relevant in absolute terms, a lot less than cycling, but still relevant. But here the question is the difference of air resistance for a difference of height between two runners, in this topic, even when there will be some difference, I don't think it would be enough to say it is relevant. –  pedromarce Dec 17 '12 at 12:58
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Height may be a factor, but it is probably really only going to matter in the weight, as alluded to in the other answer. Apocryphal lore among runners is that every pound of body weight either gained or lost, will result in a time difference of +/- 3 to 5 seconds. So if you lose 5 pounds, theoretically you can gain 15-25 seconds per mile for the same effort. This is affected greatly by other factors, however, such as training history, running efficiency and economy, things like this. However, there is a point where any further weight loss also results in lost muscle, so there is no real "set" formula to determine an ideal weight.

What is going to matter much more is the composition of the muscle fibers and the proportions of fast twitch to slow twitch. Someone with a high percentage of fast twitch fibers is going to be much more suited to short burst, sprint type activities, and the more percentage that you get of slow twitch fibers the more suited you will be to distance events.

I had always believed and have been taught that the proportions of slowtwitch (Type I) and fast twitch (Type IIa and IIb) were set at birth, much like other body systems, however there have been more recent studies (2004) that are challenging this notion. I've linked one study for reference.

Muscle Fiber Conversion

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