Friday, August 5, 2011

Lessons From Ralph

Those of us who live for the run recognize that there is much to be learned from the veterans of this great sport. I always kind of chuckle when I see ads for books,programs and seminars that tout "a new and better way" to achieve running success. I say this because the ways to running excellence were discovered decades ago and have been validated and confirmed repeatedly since. If you have read the bios of the greats of our sport you realize this. Recently I spoke with Ralph Zimmerman about training. For runners who don't know who Ralph is, I would ask that you go to my Jan.30,2011 post entitled, "On Running Mentors and Friends" before reading the following. I will briefly mention a couple of Ralph's career highlights. At 37 he set an age group mark for the marathon,running 2:18:55 at Boston. A year later at the Mardi Gras Marathon he ran 2:17. I'd be remiss not to point out that he ran the Olympic Marathon Trials in 1980. As you can see,the man knows training and racing. When we spoke, I asked Ralph to tell me some of the things he did that helped him to become the kind of runner he was. One of the first things he said was that he loved to run,he loved the training and he loved the racing. Another comment that stood out was,"there are no shortcuts,too many people are looking for shortcuts in their training." He cited some of the people I call the mileage moderation advocates of the 80's and 90's as impacting negatively on the sport. At this point I will say a few things,although Ralph was a follower of the Lydiard system and spoke with Arthur from time to time,many of his workouts were distinctly Stotanesque. He often trained in the country at a place called Chesnut Ridge Park,an area that was remote and loaded with hills. Here he did gut busting time trials and tempo runs,as well as a variety of hill workouts. Another area he trained at was in Buffalo at Delaware Park around a 1.8 mile loop. Prior to his first sub 2:20, Ralph said he'd go to Delaware Park each day and run 10 laps,he did this because "mileage was what you did if you wanted to get good." What follows are some random thoughts from Ralph on training,in no particular order: when running reps,say multiple sets of 4 reps in a set,Ralph found that there was a tendency to let down a little on the 3rd rep,he said he always made a point of reminding himself to work the 3rd one because, "you're always going to get through the fourth." In looking over his marathons,he discovered that he had a tendency to go a little off pace in miles 15 to 20. Again, Ralph said he made sure that when he hit mile 15 he reminded himself to maintain speed during that section." Note here folks,he realized what all great runners and coaches know,you have to think about and evaluate your running and racing if you want to improve.Something else, "I never used a watch when I raced,I ran how I felt." What Ralph meant by this is that many runners,if they don't hit their projected time at the mile markers,tend to get too worried or preoccupied with this,potentially causing them to alter their race plan,or worse yet,mentally give up. What toughened Ralph for races at all distances? Try hour long runs where he did an easy 5 minutes to start,followed by 5 minutes hard, then 5 minutes easy,then 5 minutes hard, then 5 minutes......all the way to the end of the hour.If that isn't a Cerutty workout then I don't know what is. One other workout I was very familiar with,time trials around a 3.2 mile hill filled loop called"Big Mother" at Chesnut Ridge Park. Ralph staggered the starts with him starting last and chasing us,inevitably picking us off one by one. All the runners who did this workout ended up running their best times for the season. There is more I could add but that's for another time. I close by saying,thanks Ralph,thanks for your guidance and encouragement.

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