Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Marathon is Not For Everyone

The following is an excerpt from Runners' Books and Smart Ware which was the title of a catalogue put out by John L.Parker's Cedarwinds Publishing Co. The date for this catalogue was Winter 1997-98.As mentioned the other day,the best feature of these catalogues was that they always included an article by Parker.To provide a little background on the excerpt you are about to read, he relates his impressions on aspiring marathoners after reading John Krakauer's book,Into Thin Air, which gives an account of some ill-equipped novices who attempted to scale Mt.Everest and ending up dying in the process. I should also add that Parker is not a fan of the trend that was quite popular at the time,and may still be,of taking a person who runs very little and having them do a marathon within a year or less. Those who promoted this like Jeff Galloway and others, encouraged people to try it with the inference being that in doing so it would be a kind of transcending,be all, end all experience John writes: "Absent from some pre-existing medical condition, very few people will die attempting to run a marathon,but for many their effort will be every bit the fool's errand of those Everest climbers. They will buy the books,hire the coaches,join the groups,learn the latest techniques for carbo-loading or pre-race hydration. They will consider the "walking break" approach. They will follow the Galloway Method or the Henderson Method. They will do all of this with one goal in mind: surviving a marathon.Many of them will hardly consider or cede much importance to events of lesser distance. There is,apparently,no spiritual transcendence to be had overcoming obstacles not sufficiently imposing to the man on the street. Hardly anyone brags at a cocktail party about "finishing a 10k" anymore than a novice would set out to climb K2,the second highest peak in the world; no cachet,you see,no dining out for the rest of your days on such a non-brand name achievement(when compared to Everest). I would be the first to cheer would-be marathoners if their first event was a stepping stone to a well-rounded life of health consciousness,continuing fitness or regular participation in athletics. But so many of these efforts follow a well-worn pattern: months of intense effort,family disruption,happily lost weight,unhappily acquired injuries and fatigue,followed by the final,cathartic Event. Then after that,nothing. Once the merit badge is metaphorically sewn into place and the conquest rendered into a picture on the mantle,the great quest no longer resonates. Finishing a marathon now represents another ticket punched in a long life of restless accomplishment. Surely,you know them. Those energetic friends,relatives perhaps. Hell,Oprah's done it. And that all strikes me as a pretty fair prescription for becoming what might be called a spiritual dilettante(or amateur). Aspiring to be one in the marathon,while certainly not the unworthiest activity I can think of, is also surely not a direct path to enlightenment or even a more robust life." John really nails it in this article. It is so unfortunate that the majority of people described above give up on running after it is all over.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Yiannis Kouros Speaks

Yiannis Kouros is the greatest ultrarunner of all-time--bar none-- no dispute--no question.If you don't believe this then simply do a search on Google for a list of his records and you will see for yourself. His running accomplishments can be best described as otherworldly. I would highly recommend his documentary Forever Running to anyone who has a love of running. In this video you will get into the head,heart and soul of a genuine superstar. When Yiannis speaks we should all listen. The following is from an interview done in the mid 80's, he said: "I always choose new goals, it inspires me to try something that I think may be impossible." Have we set any new goals recently?

Monday, April 25, 2011

A Good Summer Read

As summer approaches, you will often read reviews for books that are described as being great for taking along to the beach.In keeping with that tradition I am going to recommend a book that was revised,expanded and then republished in 1989,it's called Runners and Other Dreamers by John L.Parker. John is known best for his novel Once a Runner which is considered a classic within the running world. What many may not know is that over the decades he has written for a variety of magazines. I recall buying one magazine called Ultrasport just because John was a regular contributor to it. He also headed Cedarwinds publishing that offered excellent books and videos on running. The highlight of the catalogue he sent out periodically was an article he wrote commenting on some aspect of the running scene. John is insightful,blunt and sometimes sarcastic. He raced at an elite level and knows running like few others do. The sub-title for Runners and Other Dreamers is,"True stories about long-distance races and those who run them.....". One of the many great things about the U.S. distance running scene was that up until around 1985, it was loaded with American runners who competed and did well against anyone else in the world. These runners were,for the most part, engaging and charismatic, coming from a variety of different backgrounds. Sadly, this is no longer the case in this 21th century,at least in comparison to the amount of U.S. runners that were around back then. The book takes you back to those days and offers a veritable who's who list of great racers. It gets you into the heads and hearts of these athletes which is always insightful and inspiring. The book is also loaded with memorable quotes,a few that come to mind: "to judge a coach's ability I need only look to the performance of his or her athletes,period." On achieving running success: "You must be true to yourself and not create myths and excuses." One article entitled, "Smoke and Mirrors," offered his thoughts on Jim Fixx and his untimely death. It would not be a stretch to say that few writers would have had the courage and honesty to write the things he did about Fixx. His comments caused an outrage in many parts of the running community. I recommend this book to everyone but especially to runners 40 years of age and under. I say this because they will get an idea of what elite distance running once was in this country. It is my hope that those days will someday return.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Dr. Ernst Van Aaken on The Key To Living a Long Healthy Life

I recognize that over the past few decades there has been much discussion as to whether or not running is actually condusive to living a long healthy life. As mentioned recently, the reknown one time advocate of aerobic exercise, Dr.Kenneth Cooper, wrote a book that in part cautioned people on running too much. He said something to the effect that if you run more than 3 miles a day you are running for reasons other than fitness. I would dispute this statement for a variety of reasons. The main one is that it is not the aerobic running that is the problem,it's the excessive and habitual hard (anaerobic) training and racing that are potentially unhealthy. That is what is stressful to almost all systems of your body. If you ever want to read something on this subject,for starters Google in a question that asks what happens to the body after racing a marathon. You might also include the words blood values and tissue breakdown to the question, you will be surprised at what you find. In addition, you may have read something else I've learned, and that is that the majority of athletes who have raced and trained hard for years do not always live long, healthy lives. I will quickly say here that I am not discouraging hard training and racing. What I am getting at is that running is great for your health when approached in a thoughtful,intelligent manner, when the athlete recognizes the whats,whys and how they should approach their running. One example: Joe the jogger who is 35 lbs overweight should not try to run the local 5k as hard as he can. I think you see what I'm getting at. As I said before,we must think about what we are about to do before we start,not just put on the shoes and go. Dr Van Aaken,who was referenced in an earlier post, had this to say about what happens to the sedentary person,by the way, he was a huge proponent of aerobic running for those who desire a long healthy life: "The tissues and organs age as a result of insufficient blood circulation and decreased stimulation; psychological tensions and burdens hasten the process of decay; lack of activity in physical and mental functions brings about the inertia of the mental processes and breeds indolence,excessive appetite and actual laziness,until the life stream finally becomes dammed up." Running is, and continues to be, one of the the keys to a long and happy life.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Grete Waitz

Many runners may not have known much about Grete Waitz prior to her passing yesterday. She was a great runner who accomplished much during her career. If you are unfamiliar with her I would suggest that for starters you go to Wikipedia and read her bio. She won the New York City marathon 9 times, qualified for the Olympic Games 5 times, set several marathon and distance records and won countless prestigious road races. But,as is often the case with the running greats, she was a genuinely good person who was a wonderful ambassador for her sport. She offered the following quote in commenting about the illness that eventually led to her death. It is both insightful and instructive. What she said made me realize that events and things in our life which may seem so troublesome or important, really aren't when you look at what truly matters. Something we should keep in mind each day is that tomorrow is guaranteed to no one. Grete said:

"You go into the disease as one person and come out of it as a different person. It has changed my perspective on everything,things that upset me no longer do."

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Sports Media,Ryan Hall and Missed Opportunities

A few months ago I lamented in a post about the lack of coverage given to American distance runners these days. I referenced back to the 50's and 60's when this wasn't the case. Well, this past Monday afternoon we witnessed a tremendous marathon run by Ryan Hall. He placed fourth at the Boston Marathon,running a time of 2:04:57. The winner ran 2:03:02 to set a new world record. So, if you do the math,Ryan finished 1:55 behind the winner. Oh yeah,he also ran the fastest time ever for an American in a marathon. For those of you who follow running, would it be an exaggeration to say it was the best marathon by an American male since the days of Alberto in the early 80's? I don't think so. It was a flat out phenomenal run. Predictably and sadly,there has been minimal coverage of Ryan and what he did in the sports pages. It was noted as a kind of sidebar feature to the winner's profile in the biggest state newspaper I read. Apparently,the preferred stories still lie in covering the pro sports whose seasons never seem to end and rehashing the nuances of the Nascar race held this past Sunday.What a missed opportunity by the media. It was a great effort by a personable and engaging American runner. What makes this lack of coverage all the more discouraging is that this is yet another missed opportunity for kids to read about someone who is not a whole lot older then them, running, and running exceptionally. It's another lost opportunity to cover an athlete who just might inspire our youth to take up this sport that we love. Some of the internet running sites should not be immune from a little criticism either. A few of the bigger ones seemed to focus more on the second place finish by American female Desiree Davilia than Ryan's race. The reality is this, no matter how good her run was, she finished 7 minutes off the world record while Ryan was 1:55 behind. And please,before anyone calls out the PC police, I am in no way disparaging Davila's run. It was a great day for American distance running, now if only the media would write more about it.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Teach Your Children Well

For several years I was a freshman cross-country coach at a high school in Buffalo,N.Y. I also trained the distance runners for track at that school. It was from my contact with other coaches that I came to understand what Arthur Lydiard meant when he criticized coaches for the way they trained their runners. The overwhelming majority of them believed in the, "you have to run fast to be fast" mentality.Consequently, workouts for their athletes were heavy on speedwork and hard runs.This "run fast to be fast" mentality comes primarily from an ignorance in regards to the physiology of children and young people. Lydiard correctly taught that young,developing runners can handle large amounts of aerobic running and training but heavy doses of anaerobic work is too stressful on their "highly sensitive nervous systems." In February, under the post entitled Lessons From Lydiard,pt.1, I wrote what I hope most readers recognize,that properly executed aerobic running is not just "junk miles" as some critics like to say. Lydiard,in his book, Running To the Top (Meyer and Meyer),repeatedly references the Kenyans as being Exhibit A in what happens when young runners have a background that includes years of aerobic running. Developing a high oxygen uptake through aerobic training is the key to running success. "Anaerobic training is what destroys young runners," he writes. There is a place for leg speed drills and hill work that are nowhere near as stressful as what most kids are subjected to in their school programs today Lydiard asserts.

Properly training our youth lays the groundwork for potential success in the future, but more importantly, it lays down the foundation for a lifetime of involvement in running.

May we have knowledgeable coaches who look at the "big picture" and don't sacrifice their athletes in a quest for momentary success.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Some Thoughts On Alcohol and the Runner

"Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy," quote by Ben Franklin. I only became aware of that quote by Ben a few years ago. Obviously, he was a beer drinker. For runners,beer has been the drink of choice for what seems like forever. In the past I wrote an article on alcohol and the runner, after rereading it recently I felt as if I came across as one of the people who were part of the temperance movement of the 1920's in America. What follows are some more carefully considered thoughts relating to alcohol and the runner.

In recent years we have been told that the equivalent of two drinks a day is actually good for your health. As a sidenote,and I am not talking conspiracy theory here, but, the cost of everything has been going up for ages but I can still buy beer at incredibly low prices. A few examples, some 24oz cans of beer cost 99 cents while a 12 pk of a name brand brew may go for $5.99 or $6.99. Why's that? Is beer inflation proof,or........? I digress.

Let's look at some facts about alcohol,I'll start with beer. Some runners will say they are replenishing vitamins and fluids lost during a race or run by drinking beer.The truth is,is that beer acts as a diuretic which means it causes you to pass large amounts of fluids so it actually dehydrates rather than rehydrates. Also,beer,as well as other forms of alcohol, destroy B vitamins,particularly B1(thiamine) and folic acid. B vitamins are essential to ones' overall health and well-being.They reduce stress,enhance immune and nervous system functioning,promote cell growth,healthy skin and muscle tone.In addition, they increase energy production and lower cholesterol and triglycerides.I'd be remiss not to mention that beer has lots of what they call "empty calories." So,you probably figure that I am about to advocate abstinence from this "demon alcohol." Hold on,let's not jump to conclusions here.

Although I hate to use cliches I will use this one,"everything in moderation." One of the most endearing qualities about alcohol is the way it has a tendency to be abused,and worse yet,make addicts of its habitual users. Everyone who drinks on a regular basis should consider the following: can I go 5 days without drinking a beer(or alcohol of your choice) when I have some sitting in my refrigerator? Do I often crack open the first one saying I'm only going to have two and the next thing I know I've just opened my 4th. Have I ever told myself I really need to cut down on how much I drink? A famous nutritionist wrote one time, "If you are not in control then you are out of control." Do you sense that perhaps alcohol has a control over you? Well, now is the time for you to regain control.

For those of us who live for the run,and anyone else for that matter, daily excessive alcohol drinking is not the way to go. It can ruin your running and your health,just Google the name Henry Rono if you want to see an example of one running great who lost it all.

I offer this advice to runners in closing: hydrate with water and electrolyte fluids after running,eat right and take the needed supplements,and,by all means,reward yourself by kicking back on the weekend or your day off and have a few cold ones but always be aware of who is in control. Oh yeah,and remember what Ben Franklin said,"God loves us and wants us to be happy," so have a beer on him today.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Learning From the Legends,pt.6. Bill Rodgers

What more can you say about Bill Rodgers? He's a living legend,one of the all-time greats of American distance running, a man who has a long and deep love of running. In March I posted, Learning From the Legends,pt.3, which provided some of Bill's running achievements that are remarkable to say the least. If you didn't read it, just go to the right of this page under Archive and click March and it will take you there. With the Boston marathon around the corner I thought it was only fitting that we offer a quote from one of Bill's interviews from the '70's. His observations on the essence of running reveal the love he has for what I call, the greatest and purest of all sports.Oh yes,lest we forget,"Boston Billy" won the New York City marathon and the Boston marathon four times each between 1975 and 1980. What is so appealing about running? "One of the most important things about running is the relationship of man and woman to earth and nature. As we become increasingly involved in technology,science and business,we should not lose that instinct,that feeling for the earth. Running is a very natural activity. If you get too caught up,you find yourself constantly seeking to make running something that it isn't. You should let it be what it is. A very simple activity. Running has become too complicated for many people and they wind up turning sour on the sport,or losing the focus of their direction."

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Boston Marathon 2022

The following is taken from the archives of The Stotan News. With the Boston marathon soon approaching I thought I would reprint this article. The inspiration for it was a conversation I had in the early 90's with a friend who finally realized his dream of running Boston.Unfortunately for him, his dream started to go bad when he attempted to make hotel reservations ten months before the start of the race. I'll always remember him saying,"I could get a room in Manhattan for half the price I paid for one just outside of Boston." Sadly for Dave,it was only the beginning of him feeling as if he was being "ripped off" everytime he turned around in Boston. What follows is a parody of his experiences put in a year 2022 setting.As a sidenote,the reference to Dr. Kenneth Cooper here may be unfamiliar to some readers. Cooper,who was an early advocate of aerobic training,garnered alot of press in the early 90's when he wrote that running too much was basically unhealthy. He said something to the effect--if you run more than 3 miles a day you are running for reasons other than health. Runners were quite surprised that he had said such a thing,people who were sedentary embraced it using it as validation that running was inherently dangerous to your health. "Remember what happened to Jim Fixx" they used to say.

Without a doubt the Boston Marathon is America's oldest and most prestigious marathon. These facts however haven't exempted it from criticism. As popular Buffalo runner Dave Phivekay has said,"you are gouged from the minute you plunk down the overpriced entry fee till you check out of your hotel(motel) that's made a point of doubling or tripling the price of every room in and around the Boston area."

Readers of "The News" will be happy to hear that we have obtained an advance copy of the B.A.A.'s(Boston Athletic Association) plans for a 125th anniversary celebration of the marathon to be held in 2022.What follows are some of the excerpts.

"In order to allow as many people as possible to "celebrate" and participate in this anniversary marathon,10 minutes will be added to all qualifying times. Those who are still unable to achieve their time can gain entry by paying a special $100. access charge in addition to the standard marathon application fee.Runners doing so will be given a free t-shirt (X-L only) that says on the front; "I'm training for the Boston Marathon." and on the back,"Everyone wins at Boston."

We will however be adding some new rules and making some changes with this 2022 edition of the marathon. The entry fee has been raised $55. to $199., but, this includes a free short-sleeved race t-shirt (X-L only),a $10. discount coupon for the pre-race pasta feed and free admission to the runner's expo(a $5. savings). In an attempt to deal with the anticipated massive influx of runners in need of accomodations,applicants will be directed to a particular motel(hotel) for lodging. Those desiring a hotel within 50 miles of the starting line can have one by paying a $75. finders fee. A 2 day committment for lodging is of course required by all prospective patrons. The B.A.A. wants everyone to have the opportunity to fully enjoy "Anniversary Marathon Celebration Weekend."

The Runner's Expo will be the pre-race gathering point for all runners and their families. A full slate of activities and vendors will be available. Past Boston marathon winners as well as elite U.S. runners will be at the Expo to sign autographs($10. each) plus pose for photos with all those who desire a picture ($20. for each 3"x5" pix).

Dr. Kenneth Cooper is directing the medical support team for the race. He'll be giving a 15 minute pre-race talk to the runners regarding critical health warning signs that you must be aware of as you traverse this difficult 26.2 mile course. At Dr.Cooper's recommendation aid stations will now be at each mile of the 26.2 mile course. Trained medical professionals will be at every station and WILL have the authority to remove any runner they perceive as being in "distress."

Finally, no race is complete without a post-race party. For a nominal fee ($10.),runners and their families can rehydrate and listen to pop recording stars Kool and the Gang sing this year's marathon theme song "Celebrate" as well as their other hits. Come on,be a part of the fun,history and tradition that is the Boston Marathon!"

Is Cerutty Still Relevant Today?

Invariably when I talk to people regarding the legacy of Percy Cerutty I get one of these three responses: #1.Percy who? #2. A great coach who taught,inspired and motivated athletes. #3. A colorful eccentric from years gone by but someone who's hardly relevant in this day and age. It was after reading a brief article I found in a 1975 issue of RW written by Joe Henderson commenting on the passing of Cerutty that I decided to write this post.Some of the following quotes that you'll read are by author Gary Walton regarding what constitutes a great coach. They are most interesting and insightful. Getting back to Joe Henderson's article, it was for the most part complimentary but he made it clear that he thought of Percy along the lines of #3 listed above when he said: "We dutifully ate our oats raw,ordered sets of weights and drove miles in search of sand....then we moved on to other coaches and tried their theories for awhile." I couldn't help but think that Joe had missed the whole point about Cerutty if he thought all he was,was eating natural foods,lifting weights and training hard. Had Joe read the books by Cerutty that he said he had? Cerutty's teachings were more than just telling you how to train; they were about recognizing what is truly important in this life,understanding yourself, achieving personal success and how to live long,healthy, happy lives.I'd be remiss not to add that he was also an incredible motivator. In the excellent book,Beyond Winning--The Timeless Wisdom of Great Philosopher Coaches by Gary Walton,the author asserts that Cerutty and a handful of other coaches possessed qualities that helped people become more than just good athletes. He states that these coaches "provided a special arena of learning about oneself and life." Walton believes that due to the increasing complexity of sport and the pressure to win these coaches are becoming less common. Let me interject here,Walton is right on the mark with that last sentence,the pressure to win now extends down to high school athletics as well as college and pro sports.When I wondered the other day why there weren't more "old school" coaches like Wooden and Cerutty,Gary Walton just provided the answer.He lists the ten characterisics of philosopher coaches: 1. Committed to individual integrity,values and personal growth. 2. Profound thinkers who see themselves as educators not coaches. 3. Well educated(formally and informally).4. Long-run commitment to their athletes and their institution. 5. Willing to experiment with new ideas. 6.Value the coach-player relationship,winning aside. 7. Understand and appreciate human nature. 8. Love their sport and work. 9.Honest and strong in character. 10. Human and therefore imperfect. Readers familiar with Cerutty can see him in each of these ten characteristics. With the above in mind what follows are some of the reasons why he is still relevant today. I'd like to add that the following is not intended to be a definitive overview of Cerutty's teachings. One aspect of his philosophy that doesn't always get adequate attention was his belief that a focus on money and possessions should not be a priority in someone's life. He recognized the seduction and danger of believing that having things were THE key to happiness. Cerutty's belief in training in the most natural of surroundings is what he might be remembered best for. The trails,the beaches,the parks and hills were his training venues. He deplored the strict regimentation of training schedules and the reliance on hard tracks to train. There were three training "landmarks" of Cerutty's camp at Portsea: 1. The 80 ft sandhill. 2.The one mile and 285 yard sandy trail winding up and down. 3. The Stewart Circuit which was a quarter mile undulating course that finished at the top of a steep hill. Since Cerutty was no fan of regimented styles of training, he refused to write training schedules for runners. He said: "Athletics should be the prime reason to escape the imprisoning conditions (of ordinary life); to be able to exult in our liberty,free movement and capacity to choose." He believed in trying to build an attitude of finding your own way, knowing yourself and building from there. Each runner set his own goals and training schedules."The mastery of the self and the refusal to permit others to dominate us is the ultimate in living and self-expression in athletics," Percy wrote. He recognized that with strength of body came strength of mind leading ultimately to strength and confidence in racing as well as life. The type of training he advocated is needed now more than ever,especially among our young athletes. We can't forget to mention Cerutty's teachings on the need to eat foods in their most natural state and avoidance of those that are overly processed. His views on food and nutrition dating back to the early 50's are what the health advocates are preaching today. Cerutty believed that an essential ingredient to an athlete's development was the stimulation of his mind through reading plus becoming familiar with the classics of art,literature,music and philosophy. He said: "I raise the spirits of the athlete and inspire the soul to a higher state of consciousness. As the athlete grows spiritually as a person,his person in the physical will gradually unfold to new heights." Perhaps the most important message that came through Cerutty's extensive writings weren't intended only for the serious athlete but were meant for everyone. He believed that by maintaining a connection with nature through our living and exercising, in addition to eating the right foods in moderation, our daily responsibilities could be more easily accepted and dealt with. Consequently our thinking would be clearer, fears and cravings would either diminish or vanish thus leading to a life more fully lived and enjoyed. When I look at the astonishing figures of the millions of people who either drug and/or drink excessively in an effort to cope with life, I realize that Percy's teachings,again, are needed now more than ever. I don't know,it all seems simple and logical to me.Maybe it's too simple and logical for most in this increasingly complex age to accept and put into practice. It is not a quick fix but ultimately it is the most satisfying way to go.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Jack Foster Speaks

In February I had a post entitled "Remembering Jack Foster" where we read about the remarkable running success he achieved at an age when many world class athletes have either retired or seen a downturn in racing performances. As with the other greats in athletics they have much to offer in the way of wisdom and insights for those of us who want to do well. Jack was known for his honesty,candor and humour. I wish the running mags today would have a monthly "column" in which they'd print quotes by the champions of the past. Regarding training: "A reporter asked me about the training I did. I told him I didn't "train" but just went for a run each day. He was a bit baffled at that. The word "training" conjures up in my mind sessions in a gymnasium or out on a track grinding out 200-400 meter intervals or other such repetitive hard work. I refuse to do this. I believe it is possible to achieve results in a less soul-destroying way." For those who might think Foster was just gifted and didn't have to train hard he described his training as such: "Almost all my running is done over very hilly country. The grass is very short but it is quite difficult running,real work. The legs ache,lungs burn and the heart pounds mightily. The very nature of the country(New Zealand hilly trails and farmland) works you quite adequately. " Continuing on about this type of "country training" he says this: "This kind of running has left me without companions most of the time. But I think it is necessary to train alone as it is the long,lonely running which helps develop the persistence and self-reliance peculiar to distance runners. I can no more understand the person who needs the company of others for fulfillment in sport than the gregarious person can hope to understand me." And a few thoughts on focusing too much on placing and winning:"Winning races is not all-important to me. The race themselves are, as they provide the stimulous which is necessary for putting in that extra effort to help me excel and achieve the standards I've set. I think the runner should base his success on attaining his own standards,not merely winning races.Young runners particularly seem to think winning is the be all end all in running. I consider the improvement to be what it is all about." The above is worth considering and reflecting upon. Some of it may be familiar but certain truths will reoccur as you read the words of the legends of this great sport.

Friday, April 8, 2011

World's Best Coach?

Sometime in the early to mid 90's RW magazine set off a furor among running purists, or what I call real runners, when they named an American exercise physiologist and Division III cross-country coach as the "World's Best Coach." At the time I just sort of shrugged it off as simply a magazine that was trying to generate some interest in their cover article. However,as the years have passed, I periodically see this title being used when referring to this man. So the logical question becomes, what are the attributes needed to earn the title, "World's Best Coach," and, does this man have those attributes? I should add here what probably everyone realizes,RW was referring to running in relation to "world's best." The answer to this question is quite simple and because it is I continue to be perplexed at why this exercise physiologist is still often given the "world's best" title. To earn such an honour you have to ask this question: have you coached any world champions,world record holders and/or Olympic champions for a sustained period of time? If the answer is no, as it is with this man, then you can hardly be described as the "world's best coach." I should add here that testing certain elite American athletes on things like VO2 max,etc. as this man has done does not mean you are their coach. And even if you wanted to say you were,none of those athletes ever became world's best or Olympic champs. Some might say I am making too much out of nothing but when you love running you will be troubled when you see some aspect of the sport misrepresented. Granted,picking a "world's best" in relation to coaching is in many ways a subjective decision but you still have to apply the criteria mentioned above. In retrospect, I sometimes wonder if Arthur Lydiard or Bill Bowerman would have been comfortable with the title "World's Best Coach" being used in referring to them? Not knowing them I can only wonder but somehow I doubt it. As far as Percy Cerutty? Due to his flamboyant personality and penchant for self promotion I think that is a title he would have embraced wholeheartedly.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Complete Athlete

There is more to the process of becoming a great athlete than Just Do It.As I have posted before,we need to train and develop our mind as well as our body. What follows is one of the best articles I've read on the athlete. I sometimes wonder why no other coaches these days are writing such articles. "Unfortunately few athletes reflect on things,most look upon athleticism as a simple pastime and bring little of their mental powers to bear upon their chosen sport, that they go on year after year doing without critical examination what has been done traditionally for generations. And it is because of the attitudes of athletes themselves that the cynical statement is used--all brawn and no brains--- unfortunately in all too many cases the charge may be true. It is apparent to me that brains are far bigger as a factor in getting success in athletics,than just training as we know it. Athletes must learn to develop their critical reflective capabilities and to direct them inwards upon their activities. Athletes must learn to "feel" as if their training is really benefitting them. The test is that each season we should record faster times,all other things being equal. Most athletes then go through a prescribed routine,think little about it as long as they are copying someone else who has succeeded--or, what is worse,accepting the views and dictations of someone who purports to know but probably doesn't. And the test,again, for the latter(those authoritative and talkative ones) is whether they are doing it themselves. I say we must think about what we do." (From an essay by Percy Cerutty entitled The Complete Athlete). I don't know,perhaps I'm prejudiced in regards to Cerutty but I find that the above is quite profound and insightful. There is so much written in just a few short paragraghs. I mean,among many things,who is writing articles like this about the athlete in this day and age? The above also got me thinking about today's elite American distance runner, and this is just an observation,when I read a few of the big sites on running or RT, it seems like most of them are in the process of getting over an injury or having just got injuried. It appears to be a habitual and repetitive process. How much self-examination and reflection do you think is going on here? This essay should be a must read for every athlete who desires athletic success.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Running Clubs,pt.2,Starting One

If you can't find a club that's right for you then maybe it's time to start one. Something to remember is that forming a club is actually quite simple,it only becomes complicated if you allow it to. So where do you begin? Obviously, you need to begin with a core of runners,athletes who have a view of running that is in many ways similar to yours. Haven't we found that over the years runners tend to gravitate towards other runners they can relate with? An example of this would be when the Stotans first got started we would do our weekly runs on the trails at a local park,we'd always see other runners week after week running and training there. From our contact with these runners several asked about joining and eventually became members. One thing I recognized early on was that I wanted a club that was heavy on the running and light on the organization,bureaucracy and rules. Rigidness and structure were something that I got enough of at my job. I mean, part of the beauty of running is that it offers an escape from such things.Let's look at a few issues that need to be addressed at the outset of starting a club,things that are important to be determined in order to avoid potential problems in the future. 1.Establish a definite membership policy for your club. Set a clear,agreed upon policy of membership,one that new members are aware of when they join and one that they agree with.I've known guys who have quit clubs because a friend was not invited to join.Establishing a criteria for membership could eliminate potential conflicts. 2.Pick a designated leader for your club,preferably someone with as small an ego as possible. The best kind is your stereotypical long distance runner,soft-spoken yet assured and confident,respectful of others.Having many years of running under his belt is also a plus. 3.Determine the necessity,or lack thereof,of having membership fees. They say money issues are the #1 destroyer of marriages,it would be safe to say the same is true of running clubs.Money tends to sooner or later bring out the worst in people. Personally speaking,a pay as you go policy is best. Need singlets?--pool your money. Need beer for meetings?---bring some. The key is in keeping your club natural and simple,a pre-occupation with money and non-running matters can suck the life out of it. 4.Perhaps I'm a little biased but I'd also recommend having some kind of newsletter for your club.I believe this not only informs but unites the members. It doesn't have to be anything elaborate,something as simple as a handwritten page or two is sufficient. Announcements,running news,events and tips can comprise a basic newsletter. It should come out at least once a month. I close with this,if you have found a running club that suits you,you are a lucky man(or woman). I have, and it's made me a better runner for now several decades; it's encouraged me, got me to train when I sometimes didn't feel like it and it's led me to race various distances in different locales that I wouldn't have tried otherwise. Perhaps the best thing is that I have developed friendships that will last a lifetime.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Running Clubs,pt.1

There is little doubt that involvement in a running club can be a benefit to your overall training and running experience. We also realize that what constitutes an ideal running club to one person may not necessarily be so for another.This naturally raises the question of what should we look for in a running club? In choosing the right club,it is essential that we first recognize what kind of runner we are and what are our running goals.Obviously,we want to go with a club that shares similar interests and a comparable level of committment.Perhaps equally important is determining what you want your running club to actually do.Do you want to be part of a club that runs together on a regular basis, one that also organizes races or one that's very involved in the community? I am always mystified by runners who complain about their club because it wants them to "volunteer" for some aspect of a race or event they are putting on. The question in regards to this is,didn't you realize this might be expected from you when you first joined on? As a sidenote, something I have learned over my many decades as a runner,and I've been guilty of this too,is that runners can be at times self-centered and reluctant to help out. Suffice to say,before joining a club,make sure you know all that they do and what level of involvement is required of its members. Another thing to consider,what are the people like who are in the club? If you think that just having a common interest in running is enough you may be in for an unpleasant surprise. People have told me in the past that they have soured on certain clubs because they sensed an elitist attitude among its members or found it to be cliquish, consequently making it difficult to feel as if they fit in.Obviously, you should attend a few meetings and runs before deciding to commit to a club. A few other things to keep in mind: How often does it meet for runs? It is vital to the health of any club to meet at least once a week for runs and ideally more than that for what I call informal runs,runs where there may be just a handful of club members getting together. One other thing to consider before committing,how do you feel about paying dues and other expenses that a club might demand?And again, I have also been guilty of this in the past,many runners resent having to pay dues and particular expenses that a club may require.As before,why complain,surely you were aware of this before signing on. A club that encourages and improves your running, as well as having other runners you can relate and get along with can be such a plus to your running and life.If you have been part of such a club then you know what I mean, after awhile you feel that your club, in many ways, becomes almost like family.If you are a part of such a group then you are a most fortunate runner. But, if you haven't found a club that suits your running needs,have you considered starting one yourself? Pt.2 of Running Clubs will be posted later today.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Cerutty Speaks

"Success should never be gauged just in terms of records or victories. Success should be measured by how much the person enjoys what he is doing and to what degree he is striving to do his best," a quote by Percy Cerutty. It would be safe to say that one man's perception of success might be another's idea of having failed.As said previously, often times the path to "getting there" is more satisfying than actually reaching your goal. Also, the journey,and what you learned and experienced along the way can make up for the possible disappointment you might feel in not reaching that goal. Do not get so hung up on the goal that you ignore all the things that are going on during the pursuit.Ultimately though,for those of us who live for the run, the enjoyment that Cerutty mentions above comes from the act of running.