Saturday, November 28, 2009

Distance Running 101

Though this was written three years ago, I do not believe I have ever read this before. It is an essay by Weldon Johnson that is highly exemplary of the principles for success in distance running. Some highlights:
  • "I was too busy focusing on the details to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Running is a very simple activity. It is largely an aerobic activity (and more so the farther you run in distance). The better aerobic fitness you have, the better you'll do. The more you can train and the more consistently you train the better you'll do. Most of us however, especially college runners, are out there running ourselves ragged, pounding away at intervals, without taking a step back to see what we really should be doing."
  • "The best piece of running advice I think I ever received actually came when I was in college . . . I asked Bob Lesko . . . for training advice. Lesko was primarily a miler and half-miler and he told me if I was 5k and up to run 'twice a day, every day.' Something to that extent. Very similar to what Haile Gebrselassie says about his training - 'I train twice a day every day, except Christmas' . . . Now, I'm sure at the time I argued with Lesko, saying I couldn't run twice a day every day. So then, he probably told me to do it 3 or 4 times a week or as many times as I could."
  • "I knew this off the top of my head, but in college I would average all my runs as being 6:30 a mile or faster. And looking at my logs, this is shown as well. I'll have a 10 miler at 6:20 pace and that is an easy day. I used to try and pretend that I run 7:00 pace on my easy days now, but I think it is often much slower than that. The point is now I don't really care about the pace. I'm not trying to run 'slow' by any means, but I have no concerns that I am going too slow. But when I am running twice a day, 120 miles a week, the pace is the last thing I need to even think about. I need to go too 'slow' (in your opinion not mine) if I want to workout consistently and effectively . . . I was always trying to make sure I hit a certain pace instead of learning how to relax when I was running."
  • "The goal of every interval or every workout is not to run as fast as you can. . . . Actually, on most intervals and most workouts you don't want to be running anywhere near as hard or as fast as you can. Paraphrasing Arthur Lydiard, the key to running fast is to relax. And if you are running 'hard' on all your intervals and on each workout, you'll never accomplish this."
  • "On most intervals you should be staying away from the red line. But looking back in college, I can see even if we ended up with say a 400 and 200, it looks like I was trying to really finish the workouts off with an unnecessary bang, as I made sure I ran them 'hard.' In running however, there are not bonus points for running 'hard.' The point is to run fast. There is a difference. Don't forget that. Too many people confuse 'hard' with fast. The next time you see Bernard Lagat running, tell me how 'hard' it looks like he's running. And if you are running "hard" on all your runs and all your intervals, you will never teach your body to relax while running fast which is the key to running even faster."
  • "If I'm trying to bang out every fartlek, every interval, and then making sure I run at least 6:30 pace on my easy runs, something had to give (since I wasn't a freak and a 4-time Footlocker guy, the Wisco guys can all run 6:15 as they are freaks). First out the window was consistent improvement and peaking at the right time. Sure, I generally got better year to year (runners generally should improve year to year almost by default but I never came close to reaching my potential) but was incredibly inconsistent. But by not letting my body recover or have its easy days, it was much harder to peak on the proper day. If your body is tired all the time, it is much harder to get it to peak on the right day."
  • "Nowadays, not only am I way faster than I was in college, but more importantly, I know that I'm going to run my best when it matters most. A lot of guys don't have this concept down because they are running too hard all the time. They'll run 28:20 in April and then nationals come around and they'll run 28:50. I'll do the opposite. The guy who wins the race is not necessarily the guy with the most ability or most potential, it is who runs closest to their max on that day. So you need to know the purpose of each workout, each recovery run, and take it to heart. Most young guys think they just need to run "harder" to be good. Often this is not the case. They just need to run faster. Think "fast" not "hard." I ran plenty hard in college, and some of that was my problem."
  • "I think I would have been healthier if I ran more, but at a slower pace on my easy days. It would have let my body recover. A friend of mine raced one track race his entire college career until his senior year. He was constantly injured but really enjoyed the sport.. Once he got out of college, he was still training, and I told him he needed to run more. He told me his body wasn't meant to run more. I told him to slow down. Sure enough he called me back a few weeks later and was amazed that he had done his first 70 mile week. So stress on the body is not just from the number of miles you do. Obviously you would like to run on as soft a surface as possible but there have been people who have run high mileage on pavement."
  • "[In] college, I was too busy trying to hammer that day's workout, too busy recording my mileage to the quarter mile (or doing a rolling 7 day total, keeping track of the mileage on my shoes, etc), searching for the "secret" to success instead of just getting out and getting in consistent aerobic training.
  • "[Most] importantly, . . . you need to believe in yourself that you're going to run fast. The All-Americans, the national champs, they are no different than you or me. They just run faster and there is no doubt in their minds they can do it (sure they are nervous on the line. I always said that if I didn't get nervous before races I would quit running because what would be the point of competing). A lot of people work hard, put in the work, but feel like they are not ready to reach the next level or are not sure they can reach it. Well racing is a hugely mental thing. And if there is any doubt in your mind as to how you're going to do, when it starts to hurt, you'll start questioning yourself and that will be it."
  • "The best runners are not necessarily the most 'talented' (although talent helps a lot). But what is 'talent' anyway? I had just as much 'talent' in college as I do now, yet I was that good. If you learn how to run fast (which I equate with learning how to train), put in the work consistently (this is a key ingredient I'm glossing over a bit) and believe in yourself, pretty soon you may discover that you are the 'talented' one."
It is a great message and I highly encourage reading it in its entirety:

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