"There's only one hard and fast rule in running: sometimes you have to run one hard and fast."

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Steve vs the Experts #1

When I decided to start training for a marathon again, I did what everyone does: I checked to see if there were any new training books. Then I laughed at myself for doing that. We all hope that someone's come up with a magical formula that will guarantee results without hard work. Well, guess what? There's no such thing. I'm always appalled when people get interviewed after a spectacular race and get asked about their diet or their shoes; we have become a culture of people who want to believe that what separates us from our dreams isn't lack of talent or lack of training, but something we can get with a purchase.

One of the greatest evils in training is that information transfer is destroying innovation. One hundred years ago, the few people who ran each had to find their own way to succeed and their methods were extremely varied. Then, starting with the Olympics, people started finding out what others were doing and trying to adapt others' ideas to their own plans. Later, successful coaches started writing books and their dissemination caused everyone to start down the same paths. With each new book, people expected that all the faults of the previous ones had been exposed and that this newest one was the best way to train. Running magazines and then the internet accelerated the process of streamlining training methods; people assumed that, as top runners' times were decreasing, training was becoming closer and closer to optimal and that only minor refinements were being made - but that those refinements were crucial.

The results are ludicrous. The most recent book to become popular has been Brad Hudson's and its biggest effect has been that I now see people running hills on Mondays (always Mondays, never any other day). "Uphill sprints must be the secret, the one thing I've been neglecting. Those will get me my goal!" they seem to be telling themselves, neglecting 99% of the book.

The best runners invariably train for years without a coach. They just find what works for them. Later, they start listening to others, but they measure what they're hearing against their own experience. I think this is why most of the best runners in the world right now seem to be coming out of backwaters; they aren't brainwashed into a system before they begin, because they don't have access.

I came up with my own ideas on training and then I started collecting training manuals. I know of two others who did the same thing; Fred Wilt and Tim Noakes. Wilt was the women's track and cross-country coach at Purdue when I was there; he wrote three volumes of a book entitled "How They Train." [out of print] The first volume was a revelation to me, as it covered all the myriad training regimens from about 1880 to the 1940's. The second volume was less interesting, as it was less varied. By the third volume, everyone was following the same basic trends. In Hudson's book, "Run Faster," he admits his early training was heavily influenced by this third volume and that it took a long time to break from just following what everyone else did. Noakes' book "The Lore of Running," covers a lot of the ground of Wilt's, then goes on to sports medicine and athletics journals (all of which I'd read as well) and details the training of some ultramarathoners and triathletes (of which I was only vaguely familiar, as it wasn't of interest to me until recently). Wilt knew how to coach, but didn't know the physiological aspects of running well; Noakes has published many scientific articles on physiology, but doesn't know much about coaching.

Like most people, my thoughts on training had started to crystallize and there came a time when I felt there were a few rules, all carved in stone. That's when I started running ultramarathons; for at huge distances, all my pre-concieved "rules" would break down and I'd be forced to learn new ways. I hoped that what I learned I could apply to shorter distances as well.

Now that I've started the swing back to shorter distances, I decided it was time to re-evaluate what the experts had written. Seeing old works with fresh eyes, I might find things I'd previously overlooked, as they didn't fit in then with what I believed. I'm going to start with Lydiard and follow in the general order of publication (I have a lot that's out of print, one that I can't find) up to the present.


Glaven Q. Heisenberg said...

[...] my thoughts on training had started to crystallize and there came a time when I felt there were a few rules, all carved in stone. That's when I started running ultramarathons; for at huge distances, all my pre-concieved "rules" would break down [...].

ZOMG! This is just like* when physicists discovered that the rules that govern Large Expanses of Space (Newton's so-called Laws) broke down at the quantum level (or, to use the Official Physicists' Terminology, in "Teeny-Weeny Spaces")... and vice-versa.

And then the hunt was on to find a Unified Theory of Everything.

So ... when are you doing your String Theory Running Post?
* And by "just like" I mean "exactly like".

Except in the field of running?

No one cares!

Hahahahahaha! Kertwang!

GeorgiaSnail said...

Ah...the ellusive "scientific kertwang"....

Xenia said...

It's not July yet. Way to prematurely ejaculate the post.

RBR said...

@Xenia: Hoo! That made me laugh. Nice.

@SQ: Welcome back. You were missed :)

Xenia said...

@RBR: I do what I can. :)

SteveQ said...

@Xenia: And to think you call me a dirty old man before typing that. Dirty old man suggests a level of maturity I don't possess.

Helen said...

So are you training for a marathon or not? And before accepting your challenge I want to know what the wager actually is...

See ya Sat. Rem - no need to bring a shirt...