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

Monday, June 27, 2011

Joe Friel's Triathlon Book and the Fosbury Flop

Every few years I get the idea that I should take a look at triathlon training manuals and see if they have any insight into running from a different perspective. Every few years I forget that I do this every few years. I invariably pick up the latest edition of Friel's book and only realize half-way in that I've read the previous editions. He has nothing new to say about running. If I were training for a triathlon, I'd undoubtably have a copy of his book handy, as I don't know much about to of the three legs of the race and his book's probably as good as I'd find.

What interests me most about the book is his philosophy, which goes something like: triathlon is a new sport and thus there are constant innovations and you have to keep up with them or you're going to be left behind. This stance makes sense when you consider that he makes a living writing about training; he constantly has to find new things to write about, so he jumps on every single bandwagon. Take nutrition for example: not only did he co-author "The Paleo Diet for Athletes," he advocates all sorts of supplements like branched-chain amino acids and medium-chain triglycerides - which I say are a waste of money (and I know a little more about biochemistry than he does). There isn't a piece of equipment or fad training technique he doesn't love.

His philosophy of innovations has become a commonplace. One frequently hears the adage "every discovery is always met first with derision, then is universally fought against and then is universally accepted." The example for sport usually given is Dick Fosbury's high jump technique. The standard version of the story is that everyone jumped over the bar forward until an unknown Fosbury started winning by jumping backward and now everyone does it his way.

The truth, however, is different. Physiologists 40 years before Fosbury conjectured that jumpers could jump higher by jumping backward. No one tried it, however, because they were jumping into wood chips or hay bales and they risked breaking their necks. By the time of Fosbury, the cushioned air bags had started being used in jump pits and at least a dozen jumpers (and at least three national or world class jumpers) were trying the backward technique. Fosbury learned of the method by seeing others do it. He decided that, since he wasn't winning and wasn't improving, it was worth the effort to learn the new technique in hopes that it would lead him to higher jumps. He was merely the first to use the technique in top-level competition.

Chasing fad "innovations" is a waste of time. There are two ways to improve one's times: 1) Train harder. 2) Train smarter. The first one applies to those who want to be "efficient" and ask "what's the absolute least I have to do to reach my goals?" without considering that the less they do, the smaller the chance they'll reach their goals. The second applies to those who ask "what do I have to do to guarantee I reach my goal?" and end up training extremely hard to run much slower than they're capable of doing, like those I know who run 120 miles per week to finish 100 mile races just under the cut-off times.

"Train harder. Train smarter." makes for a short book.


Katie said...

Perhaps I misunderstand you, but it sounds like you advocate training easily and stupidly (if "harder" and "smarter" don't work...). Maybe I just haven't been reading long enough or closely enough to know what your training philosophy really is.

Katie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Katie said...

And now I just realized I didn't leave the question I meant to: what *is* your training philosophy, if it's not gadgets (I get that), training harder, or training smarter?

SteveQ said...

Katie, you missed my point: My entire training book would read "Train harder, train smarter." Actually, it should be: Train harder, aim higher, but anyway...

I guess I need lessons in writing clearly.

Of the 700 posts I've written, about 100 have been about my training philosophy and I tried to archive them under "What you're probably looking for."