Saturday, January 28, 2012

From the Archives,pt.7, The Flutie Factor

It may seem odd that I would run an article on an American football player but as you will soon see,what follows is something that we can all relate to and learn from.For those unfamiliar with football in the U.S., Doug Flutie played quarterback for the Buffalo Bills when this was written.The quarterback is the most important postion on a football team and the one where most of the offensive scoring is initiated from.I began the article by providing a quick bio.Doug had a highly successful collegiate career at Boston College but after graduation struggled in American football's premier league, the N.F.L.(as it was then called). After 3 or 4 years he was dropped and out of professional football. The rap of being too small and weak-armed had dogged him throughout his first foray into the N.F.L. Once out of the N.F.L.,Doug did what many rejected American players do,he signed with the exciting but less respected Canadian Football League. There he spent many successful years setting passing records and winning championships. Last year he indicated to owners in American Football that he wanted to return and would be open to their offers. Not surprisingly, there was virtually no interest in his announcement. Besides,with all the complaints about his supposed shortcomings,there was a new one being voiced,at 36 years of age, he was now considered to be too old.Doug was eventually able to sign at a "bargain basement" price with the Buffalo Bills. A month or two after this signing,the Bills showed their confidence in him as a starter by signing a highly regarded but untested quarterback for 25 million dollars, 24 1/2 million more than what they paid for Flutie. It was obvious to see who the Bills thought their starting quarterback would be. At this point I will fast forward to where a little more than half the '98 football season has been completed. After starting the season with three consecutive losses,the 25 million dollar quarterback was injured and Doug has taken over to lead his team to seven wins and one loss. This is a team that most experts don't believe is even one of the top ten teams in football. Flutie is also doing things and playing a type of football seldom seen in the over-coached,over-technical world of professional football. So what gives? Why has he become successful now? I have a few ideas as to why, what follows, in no particular order, are some attributes he has that are the reasons for his present success. Again,serious athletes can learn from his example.
#1. Flutie has always had tremendous confidence in himself and has never doubted that he would succeed if given the opportunity. How's your confidence by the way? You can believe it's not good if you don't even bother to set goals anymore. I think back to when I used to watch professional boxers being interviewed after they lost a fight. Invariably, they had a reason,some might call it an excuse as to why they lost. At first I thought it was weird that they just didn't admit they were beaten by a better fighter. Eventually I realized why,in a sport where confidence in one's self is so important to success, admitting you were inferior to another athlete could be disastrous. How about us? Do we just accept times and finishes that are below our expectations? Do we chalk it up to age or say, "well maybe I'm not as good as I think I am." Many runners are all too eager to beat up on themselves.
#2. Doug never gave up on his goal and had a fierce burning desire to reach it. After being cut from the N.F.L. he regrouped and did what was necessary to be ready for another opportunity. Arthur Lydiard has said that it takes 7 to 10 years of adherence to a training system to actually realize your potential.These days that length of time sounds like a lifetime to most people. If you want something bad enough and it becomes a part of your being,time is irrelevant. As you recall in the previous Ron Daws article, self-examination and re-evaluation are integral to achieving success. Sub-par running and racing should cause us to do this. A faulty training system,or heaven forbid,not having one, could be the reason for someone not performing up to expectations. Also,we may not be putting in the time necessary to reach our goals. One of the beautiful things about distance running is that,unlike the sprints, if you're willing to put in the time and effort, you can realize a surprising degree of success. Most of us unfortunately underestimate how much is required.
#3. Flutie persisted despite criticism and scorn from others. I remember listening to the various local sports talk shows and reading the newspapers in the months following his signing,the reporting was overwhelmingly critical and at times mean spirited. How's your tolerance to people telling you,you can't do it,or worse yet, questioning why you are even bothering? If you want something bad enough and you love what you are doing,nothing, or no one can stop you from going for it.
#4. Doug loves what he does. Whether its practicing or playing in whatever type of league he's in,he loves the game. Here's an example of this from the Buffalo News: Flutie was hanging out with his brother and a bunch of friends after a game in Buffalo when he realized he'd left his jacket at the stadium,they went back to get it. Stadium security heard a commotion on the field and found Doug and his friends playing touch football. Teammates of Flutie remark that his enthusiasm for the game is infectious and has them feeling like their "kids" again playing for the love of the sport. Readers have read in this newsletter before,sure it takes time and effort to reach your ultimate running goal(s),but so what? You love running, that underlies everything you do. As Cerutty said,what seems like a sacrifice to others is a labor of love to us.
In closing I say,thanks Doug, you've not only inspired me but I've been reminded of what it really takes to be a champion.
Update--sadly, in this day and age, athletes like Doug Flutie rarely are given the opportunity to prove themselves in pro-sports, where the dollar rules and risk taking his rare.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Winning and Losing Aspects of Running

With running and racing, we should understand that there is more to winning and losing than where you place when you cross the finish line. Alot of it has to do with how you view your whole running experience.The following is by Joe Henderson and was written sometime in the 70's. He brings up a few points worth considering,things that we tend to take for granted.I add a few comments after some of his quotes.

"Winning is realizing you have already won something by being in the running." You especially notice this as you get older, you'll see you are in an ever shrinking minority of people who continue to get out there everyday and train(run).Hopefully, you'll realize how fortunate you are to not only be a part of this great sport, but still have the desire and ability to run. Most fall away for various reasons as the decades pass. "Losing is not starting,but being content to talk about what might be or might have been if......" Amen to that Joe. Add to that this one, losing is giving up running for all the wrong reasons,like you got lazy,or, having lots of "things" became more important than "the run." Joe continues with: "Winning is standing on the shoulders of the giants. It is absorbing the written and spoken lessons of people who've run before." Ah,those great running bios and training books from many years past,treasures for those who live for the run.They no longer publish books like these but at least we have them to guide and inspire us. "Losing is refusing to help other runners." So true,how can anyone who says they love this sport not want to help the newbie? I am deeply indebted to those who took the time when I needed some solid advice and direction(special thanks here to Arthur and Ralph).There is an altruism to this sport that is unique. "Winning is continuing to run after fate has decided that you are past your prime and will never again break a personal record. It is continuing when there are no races left to run." I was always bewildered by those who quit after the pr's stopped,and believe me,there were many runners I knew who did. I always wanted to go up to them and ask: "Is that all running meant to you was setting a p.r.(personal record)?" I go along with what the great Jack Foster said in the later years of his running career: "I feel I'm running as fast as I ever did as long as I don't look at my watch." "Losing is living in the past. It is trying to restore the old glories to the condition they were in during their short life." The danger in competition is in letting your ego become a factor,allowing it to define who you are as a runner by how you finish or by what your time is. Forget your ego! Ultimately,it's all about the run and the feeling you get when you are out there.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Questioning the Necessity of Speed Training in Distance Running

I don't believe it would be a stretch to say that at one time or another most of us believed the teaching that racing well could only be achieved by doing interval work at maximum effort. I know that's what the coaches taught while I was a student, it's also what I heard in later years after I became a coach. There was a certain machismo or warrior aspect associated to dropping onto the infield of a track after doing your second set of three all out 4x400 meter reps.For far too many school age distance athletes, "going long" aerobically, was something done for a brief period at the beginning of the season and later pretty much abandoned for "quality" speedwork sessions. Not surprisingly, this necessity of speed mindset has remained with most runners who have continued to run after their schooldays. It's a mindset that carries with it the potential for injury,limited performance and dimminishing enjoyment of this great sport.Before you read the following,consider this, if you ran track as a youth,why did you run the distance events as opposed to the sprints(or vice versa)? I didn't do the sprint events because I didn't have the necessary speed to be competitive,no matter how much I trained.Would it be a stretch to say that speed is inborn?
As Joe Henderson wrote in Long Slow Distance:"Nature, in all her wisdom,has provided us distance runners with a means to compensate for the speed she has denied us. That is endurance.Endurance at it's purest and best comes slowly, and steadily and can climb to fantastic levels if approached just that way---slowly and steadily" You see, increasing per mile speed for distance runners isn't accomplished by hammering on the track,it's done by building your maximum aerobic efficiency.This takes time, patience and a willingness to learn the hows and whys of what you are doing.For those who have read Lydiard's books you will recall him referring to building cardiac efficiency and capillary development through aerobic training.As capillary development increases over time and with the accumulation of miles,ones ability to take in oxygen and use it in the process of giving us the fuel to go farther and faster increases.
There is of course a time and place in our training for a type of interval and fartlek work but it shouldn't include gut busting reps on the track. Dr. Van Aaken,who I have referenced in prior posts,had this to say about another often forgotten danger in running too hard: "The continual practicing of high speed, beyond racing speed,is uneconomical and leads to decreases in reserves." Arthur Newton,the greatest ultra runner of all-time until the arrival of Yannis Kouros,wrote: "Speed trials are worse than useless.
They merely squander all your carefully built-up vim in order to convince you that it was there,and in so doing puts the clock back for weeks with regard to your condition."
Accomplishing great things in distance running comes through patience, intelligent work and time.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

6-Pack Abs,A Sign of Fitness and Health? Exploring Training and Health Claims,pt.1

In a December 10,2011 post entitled,"Changing Times," I wrote how Runner's World magazine(RW)has changed over the years.I remarked how it is geared towards a different audience today,a readership that could be described as primarily joggers or fun runners. As regular visitors to this site know, I do not hold to a, "you're not worthy" mindset if someone is not doing x amount of miles or running this fast or that fast. That's a type of elitism and arrogance that may be a part of other sports but should never have a place in distance running. Those who have been around this sport for awhile recognize that there is a mutual respect among runners who share a common love for running,irregardless of performance.With that said, I have to take a moment and criticize Runner's World. Actually, the following can also be directed to all "fitness" and "health" magazines. While in the supermarket the other day I came across the latest issue of RW. Featured on the cover was a shirtless male runner with his 6-pack abs prominently on display,it seemed as if his abs had been photoshopped in an effort to highlight them. My initial thought was,what do 6-pack abs have to do with running, and what in the world is RW's preoccupation with them? This is not the first such cover by this mag,there have been many in recent years. One might ask,is this the look Runner's World is trying to sell to their readers? Is this what they now believe epitomizes health and fitness? Oh, how far the mighty have fallen. From the near emaciated physiques of people like Bill Rodgers,Frank Shorter,Tony Sandoval,Jeff Wells and others who used to grace their covers way back when,we are now treated to the 21th century version of the ideal runner,the guys,and occasionally the gals,with chiseled abs. Earth to the purveyors of this nonsense, prominent abs are the result of working them hard through a variety of exercises and diet,this does not always mean the owner is physically fit. For instance,when you see someone with big or well developed biceps do you assume they are in excellent condition? If you do you might be mistaken. I've known guys with a muscular build who can't walk up two flights of stairs or jog three quarters of a mile without sucking air. Well defined abs should not be the focus of one's training, for many though, it can be the by-product of an exercise program that includes some ab work along with aerobic and anaerobic conditioning.Unfortunately,spurred on by magazines and books that tout "the look," the line between vanity and true fitness has been crossed,and for far too many,it has led to confusion as to what being in shape really means.
In terms of fitness, I'll take the scrawny,white haired athlete pictured above anytime over the handsome model types you see on the covers of the health and fitness mags these days.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Two Runners and a Lesson

It's interesting how things for us distance runners change as we age.The obvious change of course relates to all things physical,we get slower, our recovery takes longer as the years go by. There is another type of change that occurs but is not always discussed.The following will take a look at this other aspect by reading the profiles of two different runners.
The first one is about Jennifer, a masters distance runner who had at one time qualified for the Olympic marathon trials.As she neared the age of 46, it was her goal to qualify one more time. There was a problem though, she was plagued by a persistent, deep musculoskeletal condition in her hip and groin area that made training over half an hour impossible. She had been to several doctors,trainers and health practitioners over a period of several months to find a cure. Jennifer was totally preoccupied with this condition. One couldn't engage in a simple conversation without her bringing this situation up. In speaking with her one day I asked what kind of training had she been doing prior to the injury. It would be an understatement to say it was intense, it was much like what you see prescribed to college athletes, heavy on intervals and fast pace work.When I made some suggestions on modifying her training in order to make accommodations for her age, she dismissed them.Last I heard, she was still injured,still looking for a cure.
The other runner is Brian. Brian was an outstanding runner prior to college as well as in college and after.
While in college he had been nationally ranked in a few events,run a sub-30 minute 10k indoors, and for years, dominated the Buffalo area road racing scene. When I recently spoke with him over the telephone I asked what kind of running and racing he had been doing.Brian by the way, had moved out West. His response to my question was both interesting and insightful. He remarked that he does no racing these days but runs regularly because he loves doing so. He said that he had been approached by an elite masters racing team in his area who'd asked him if he wanted to join their club. He told them he wasn't interested. When I questioned why he said that, he told me that to maintain the kind of racing fitness this club would expect,it wouldn't be worth the time,effort and focus required. "Basically I would be trying to do the type of training I did in college, and for what purpose? To compete in some elite master's races somewhere? My times might be good but nothing like they were in my 20's. I'm married now,have a 3 yr. old son and a great job,my priorities have changed. What's the saying, been there,done that? I had a great time but it's time to move on to new challenges. I know if I stepped up my running just a few days a week,say on the weekends, it wouldn't take long before I could do well in my age group locally but that's not my priority now. There comes a time when you've got to control or forget your ego and not be so concerned about doing things that give you alone satisfaction."
There may also come a time for us when we need to look at our running and racing. Are we being realistic about what we are trying to accomplish? Are we being considerate to family and others close to us? This running life carries with it the potential to be a very selfish,self-serving lifestyle. It needn't be if we are willing to look beyond ourselves.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

10 Things To Consider For Those Seeking Athletic Success

The author of the following is unknown.The list you are about to read should be considered by those desiring success in distance running.
1.There never was a champion who to himself was a good loser. There is a vast difference between a good sport and a good loser.
2.Never sacrifice a principle for a temporary gain.
3.Keep learning,don't think you know all the answers.
4.Pay special attention to weaknesses and correct them.
5.Sometimes it takes patience to endure the monotony of repetition that you will occasionally encounter in training.
6.When you make a mistake,admit it, and then go about the process of correcting it.
7.Always treat your competitors with respect.
8.The hard work that is a part of your sport isn't something to be dreaded.
9.Mistakes are inevitable,but do all you can to avoid repeating them.
10.Never lose confidence in yourself.
As Cerutty wrote, the true athlete is a thoughtful person,a person of character who is curious,ambitious,eager to learn and ready to confront the challenges they encounter in their sport and life. Too many athletes who who say they desire success in sports today, believe the beginning and end of their quest is confined to the practice field.

Saturday, January 7, 2012


This post is a take-off on a commercial you may have seen,I believe it's for a credit card company. It goes something like this: a father is pictured with his son at a baseball game,the announcer says, "price for parking, $15, price for tickets, $60,price for hot dogs and drinks, $15; spending the afternoon with your son at a baseball game? Priceless!"
What follows is a runner's take on this commercial:
Price for a pair of New Balance 587 running shoes--$110
Price for Nike Stretch running pants--$49.99
Price for an Under Armour athletic top--$30
Price for one pair of Thorlos running socks--$14.99
Price for one Super Duty runner's hat--$22
Price for a Timex Ironman Sleek 50-Lap watch--$65
Price for an adidas miCoach Heart Rate monitor--$139
Price for Saucony Runner's Arm Sleeves--$23
Price for a MP 3 player for use while running--$120
Price for an out of town,weekend half-marathon race package--$499.
The value of taking an hour trail run in an old race t-shirt,shorts and Asics 2160's? Priceless!
A recent visit to a large road race inspired me to write the above.Between the Runner's Expo and the runner's I saw,I was surprised by the variety of "stuff" that was offered for sale and being worn by participants. Coming from a Stotan's point of view as I am, and as I'm sure many of you also, I couldn't help but think how unnecessary the gadgets and overpriced items were to the whole running experience. The beauty of running is its simplicity,the absence of a need for much "equipment" or people to be with to participate in this,the purest of all sports,distance running.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Herb Elliott on Training

What else can one say about Herb Elliott? He was a phenomenal athlete and gentleman who won the gold medal in the 1500 meters at the 1960 Olympics in record time. If you are one of the few runners who have never watched that race,you have to go to YouTube and check it out. Also,in a previous entry I reprinted an article by Sir Roger Bannister which gave his account of Herb's Olympic win. I believe it was in this same article that I provided the stats showing how his Olympic record has been bettered by less than a handful of Olympians since the start of the modern day Olympics until the 2000 Games. Elliott knows training,and why shouldn't he? His coach was Percy Cerutty as I'm sure all of you out there know. However, he has his own thoughts and opinions regarding running and training. He had this to say on that subject: "Running is a natural movement we can practice effectively enough without resorting to complicated theories that will only help to introduce tension. The reason I am skeptical about the benefits of interval training is because it appears to be so unnatural. The runner should be able to judge himself how much training his body needs and,if he's honest with himself,he'll learn to differentiate between genuine tiredness and laziness. Unfortunately,city dwellers have lost the capacity of knowing instinctively when the body requires exercise.They should revert to naturalism,not follow rigid training schedules that militate against simplicity. Nature provides us with many signs that we are training too hard or not hard enough. If our calves and ankles are constantly sore we know that our body is finding it difficult to adjust itself to the training.On the other hand,if we never raised a sweat or hurt ourselves we're only kidding ourselves that we're training." The beauty of the above is that Elliott's career proved that to race well you didn't have to train in the regimented,potentially soul killing way that every other track runner had trained before him and has since.Cerutty believed that his athletes should eventually be able to make their own training schedules.Ideally,isn't that the way it should be?