Friday, July 29, 2011

Declining Times

I was speaking with a friend not too long ago who made a comment that times at the road races in his area (Buffalo,N.Y.) were slower then they were 25+ years ago. He went on to say that there was a lack of depth in quality performances from the 5k and up.He bemoaned the fact that guys running 17 minutes and change in the 5k were finishing in the top 10, something he said hardly ever happened back "in my day." A little search of the archived race records confirmed what he had said was true. For instance, one of the big road races of the year in my area was the Depew/Lancaster Boys Club 10k. I went back as far as I could,which was unfortunately only till 1986, and found that 81 runners finished under 40 minutes. In 2005 only 31 runners broke 40 minutes. Further seaches confirmed what my friend had said,times have gotten slower over the years. As many of you probably know, this trend exists over much of the country.So what's happened? What's changed? If you look back to the days of the running boom in the early 70's you will find your answer. The main avenue for getting news and information on running,racing and training was through the running mags, particularly Runners World. If you are fortunate to have copies of RW from the 70's till '83, you will immediately notice a difference between then and now.I should start by saying I am in no way bashing RW for how they are.One of the hardest things to do these days is to keep a magazine financially viable. You will not stay in business very long if you produce a mag that only appeals to a group of runners which comprise a minority of the running population,ask James O'Brian, former head of the excellent,but now defunct, American Runner about that. Returning to the RW's of the 70's, one of the first things you will notice is back then their writers and contributors included people like Joe Henderson,Dr.George Sheehan,Arthur Lydiard,Derek Clayton,Bill Squires, and Amby Burfoot, just to name a few. There was a theme and preoccupation that was evident throughout each issue,and that was,how to go about achieving your best racing performance. There were also interviews with American runners who were successful nationally and internationally. They also contained lots of race results and accounts of the races. Again,the focus was on improving your running and racing. I should add that Running Times was a nice alternative to RW because it had tons of race results and recaps of races along with schedules of upcoming ones from around the country. Their age group race highlights and rankings was a great feature.Somewhere in the mid-eighties things began to change with RW. Writers and contributors were replaced and the theme went from racing performance to the "running experience". Jeff Galloway gained a large readership and following by teaching moderation in miles and effort as well as showing the way from basically zero miles to a marathon in 6 months,or was it 9 months? Jeff was quite vocal in his opinion that too many miles were bad for runners,a point that I was very happy to call him out on when he spoke at a pre-marathon clinic in Buffalo years back. Interviews and stories in RW changed from being about successful runners to ones who had overcome personal issues and tragedies through running. Arthur Lydiard and Derek Clayton's columns were replaced with people like Owen Anderson and those of a similar mindset. Food and diet,stretching,cross-training,exotic locales for racing,and my favorite,attaining the 6pk abs are the norm in RW today. What exactly does 6pk abs have to do with running anyway? But I digress. You get the picture though,what was once THE vehicle for reaching the runner changed its perception of what the running experience should be and most of the public has followed along. The consequence of this being slower times overall. I suppose this is why we should be thankful that we have the internet to fill the need for those of us who want more. I still miss the days when RW was the source to go to for runners and racers.
Sorry for the single post this weekend,I took my once a month trip out of town to run on some real trails.

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