"A white lab coat does not make a scientist.
Jumbo Elliott and Arthur Lydiard were the REAL scientists. They experimented
first and reported what works second. These modern-day geniuses do it the
other way around.
"You don't see 10x400 and 6x400 week after endless week
in Running Formula books do you? Two staple workouts the world over for
middle distance runners. Hard to argue VDOT in the face of that kind of
- George "malmo" Malley, 2:12 marathoner
"You don't see 10x400 and 6x400 week after endless week in Running Formula books do you? Two staple workouts the world over for middle distance runners. Hard to argue VDOT in the face of that kind of success."
- George "malmo" Malley, 2:12 marathoner
Nowadays, "competitive running," loosely defined, comprises an ever-broadening subset of the American demographic. Gone are the days when road races were the exclusive purview of post-collegiate track standouts and "running boomers" inspired to jump pell-mell and unpretentiously into the fray by the exploits of the Shorters and Rodgerses of America's elite-marathoning heyday.
The niche of the upper-echelon competitor remains well-established, but these athletes going about their business with no pretense represent an ever-shrinking fraction of total participants in road races. The contemporary distance-running scene has been swamped by ingenuous hobbyists who scour runners' books, minds, and Web sites in wisdom quests borne of a variety of agendas.
Some - galvanized by commerically packaged, shamelessly minimalist notions of sporting accomplishment that conflate the spirit of wellness with the spirit of competition - treat exhortation as castigation, and with their cries of elitism are best left unmolested by diehards. But others, regardless of their gifts, are drawn to whatever it takes to improve. Over the long haul, they weather setbacks, injuries, and failures peppered by the occasional but ineffably meaningful breakthrough. They keep coming back. They listen, but moreover, they learn - not from me, but from the lessons of their toils, knowledge that cannot be vicariously assimilated.
"People used to say things about Jerry Lawson: He goes out way too fast and always crashes. He trains too many miles and doesn't rest.
"Well, one day - the right day - he did rest, and he ran 2:10. Then he did it again, and then he set an American record. No one ever believed he could run like that - except Jerry.
"You will never be a national-class marathoner on 90 miles a week; you may never be a national-class marathoner on 140 miles a week. But the only shot you have is to go the 140 route.
"When you're 40 years old and beaten up, you'll know something about yourself that [naysayers] won't. You'll know if you could have been a national-class marathoner."
- Mike Platt, 2:18 marathoner
(Also, check out Mike's visualization strategies for preparing for competition - a simple but great checklist for any athlete.)
There's something in every thoughtful running page for everyone. But with the best straining at their limits and the growing majority constitutively, it appears, beyond the reach of zealotry if not bald-faced marketing lies, this page is aimed at the passionate runners in between to whom I most readily relate. No one is obligated to mold their bodies and minds to the utmost using proven and easily understood methods; it's no longer important to me that even those resisting this dogma at least believe it so that the new and uncommitted with one eye on encapsulated penguin snot as a performance enhancer and the other on doubling their mileage can be exposed to the truth.
"Take a look at these modern-day, New Age coaching "geniuses" that have taken over. They've got their Level I,II, and III coaching certificates in one hand, and they can recite verse by verse from their running-geek exercise physio-nonsense running books; yet they don't know a damn thing about running or competition! Did Bill Bowerman or Jumbo Elliot ever have a silly coaching certificate? Get out!
"Last time I checked, running was a sport, an athletic COMPETITION - not some sort of laboratory-rat time trial. If you'll agree with me that it's all about competition, then don't you think that most of your focus should be on preparing yourself for competition? For that you need real coaching."
Patience, trust, resilience, and the ability to learn from past experience are the greatest psychological determinants of success in long-distance running, just as they are in other realms. The greatest physical determinants are, regardless of your event, an aerobic base developed through years of accumulated mileage and - just as important - consistency (a by-product of resilience, both physical and psycho-emotional). Believe this philosophy, scrawl it on the inside of your eyelids, live it, and regardless of your inherent abilities, you'll look around one day and be pleasantly astonished at your own improvement and achievements.
Pared down to the essentials, then, hard work and confidence are all a distance runner truly needs. I have found that regardless of whatever permutation of miles, intervals, tempo runs, hill workouts, and long runs I settle on for any given stretch of training, the thing that matters most is nudging your total time spent training ever higher until you find your personal "sweet spot" and only then, when you're ready to attack a period of racing, become truly concerned with intensity.
If you give this a try and in the first two, three, six or twelve months weather some lackluster or abysmal races, good. You will need them. Only if you then quit will you have paid your dues for nothing. If you stay healthy and train consistently for a period of years, you will reach or exceed your purest of goals. Not every time, but often enough to make it worth it. You will be beat up and you will be atop the world.
Does this mean there is one perfect way to train and that I - one more guy with a hobby, a keyboard, and access to a server - have found it, integrated it seamlessly into my training and life, and led a cast of thousands into the promised land of limitless personal bests? Of course not. But despite the personal foibles which both both invigorated and hamstrung my running over time - and you'll deal with plenty of your own - I've not been blind to obvious patterns.
"Some say there's no magic formula. I say there
is. It's just that the magic is different for everyone."
- Keith Dowling, 2:13 marathoner
- Keith Dowling, 2:13 marathoner
If you feel your training has shortcomings, you may simply be neglecting the basics - the elements which, in spite of individual variations in "magic formulas" noted by Keith, are common to the overwhelming fraction of top distance runners around the globe. Perhaps you're...
Positing that proof prevails over proselytizing, I offer my training schedule for the twelve weeks leading up to the 2001 Boston Marathon.
Because I write for a widely read running magazine, have built this pulpit of a Web site, and am often mistaken for a top-caliber athlete, I am frequently asked for advice about marathon training. When I describe the path I have taken, I receive many thoughtful nods; typically, the interested party then returns to seeking an easier route to personal success, one that may involve special combinations of vitamins and herbal remedies, sleep aids, fad diets, miracle drinks, cure-all stretches, magic shoes. Many "highly motivated" runners are willing to try anything - except harder training. Is this you?
When I suggest to a would-be marathoner that he boost his mileage from 30 to 40 to 50 and beyond, I generally learn that 1) he doesn't have the time; 2) he'll get injured; 3) he knows several people who, relying on low-mileage diets, successfully completed marathons [the definition of "successfully completed" is fluid and hazy]; 4) best of all, that "I'm a different type of runner than you are," or "I don't have your talent." The runner will often marshal scientific or anecdotal "evidence" to prove his point(s).
It is the last claim that I find excoriating. These are people who epitomize the placement of the cart in front of the horse, or, forsaking the colloquial for the scientific, the confusion of cause and effect. I did not spring from my mother's womb ready to rattle off a hundred miles a week. I do not wake up every day beaming in anticipation of training, little of which consists of ecstatic and effortless bounding for as many hours as I please. I enjoy running, of course. But I have built up to my current level of training over many years, and not without setbacks.
It may appear at this point that the advice on this page, collected almost entirely from national-class distance runners, has little bearing on the more workaday competitor. Not so! There are far more four-hour and three-and-a-half-hour and three-hour marathoners out there fighting to improve than there will ever be two-and-a-half-hour marathoners doing the same, so owing to basic population ecology, the suggestions on this page are aimed toward the middle of the pack.
Understand that I am not insisting all runners train themselves silly, nor am I suggesting people for whom running is merely a diversion rather than an obsession do not have my respect. But if you claim to desire improvement and say you are willing to make sacrifices, then you have no excuse for ignoring the wisdom of a legion of accomplished runners. I, of course, invented none of it.
There will always be those who do not adopt mad training regimens simply because they do not want to. There are no demons flitting about compelling them to do more, ever more, and to make running a top priority in the face of swirling relationships, occupational and scholastic concerns, and what have you. These are legitimate issues often at odds with consistent training. And I do not believe that a runner can be taught to hunger the way some of us do. It may be as innate as the color of our eyes. It is not something upon which judgment need be placed or for which merit points ought to be allotted. There are runners and there are competitive runners, and there are racers.
Don't get me wrong. I love running for its whole spectrum of benefits and the range of experiences I've had, many of them outside the competitive milieu. But I have one basic reason for doing what I do. The rest is gravy, basting the raw, tough, but often tender and delicious meat of competing against the rag-tag army of my alleged constraints - going into some awful yet welcoming zone, headed straight into downtown Hell to rip it up yet another time.
If, deep down, you don't want to be a better runner, don't pretend you do. You won't be doing anyone, especially yourself, any favors.
Running now includes a higher fraction of inexperienced runners than ever before (duh) and, accordingly, a potentially greater number of running-magazine readers. RW's circulation suggests that this potential is being realized, but there's no reason RT need be excluded from the burgeoning fun because I think many people would be willing to choose both, given the proper impetus.
"Ever hear me tell anyone how much to run?
NOPE. Ever hear me tell anyone about my 12-step contrived training schedules?
NOPE. What do I tell you guys? It goes like this, baby:
"There you have it - Malmo's Manifesto. I told you it would be less than four pages."