Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Tue, 17 Oct 2000 09:04:49 -0400

Osler's Observations

(from RC 325)

The best test of a training system is how well it lasts. Tom Osler's has lasted some 35 years.

A former national champion at several submarathon and ultramarathon distances, Osler still runs and races at age 60. The college math professor from New Jersey calculates his own totals at more than 88,000 miles and 1500-plus races.

Tom was an early hero of mine and remains one today. I've called him an "unsung genius" of the sport and have said if you can read only one book, make it his Serious Runner's Handbook -- if you can find it.

Even better would be his earlier booklet that's even harder to find. Conditioning of Distance Runners says more in fewer pages (just 32) than anything I've ever read about running.

Tom talked about that booklet in a recent conversation with Jack Heath, published in Runner's Gazette ( Here are some of Osler's observations:

ON THE SYSTEM he outlined in "Conditioning": "Easy, steady running for long periods of time year-round. This should be comfortable, but it is not jogging. Then [comes] faster, harder training -- half-mile repeats, for example -- six weeks before your [big] race. If done right, this peak should last about four weeks."

ON THE VALUE of the faster training: "Sharpening teaches one to run relaxed, even at race pace... Your body will thirst to accelerate during this period. After the sharpening phase you will run 10 to 20 seconds faster per mile."

ON CHANGES he would make today: "I recommended training on the roads. Now I'd recommend running on soft, natural surfaces like grass and trails. Also I gave seven minutes [per mile] as the base-building pace. It could really be any pace that resembles the runner's full stride used in racing... Today, for me, it is slower than eight minutes a mile, but the principle is still the same."

ON THE GENESIS of the walk break: "I decided to try it while running a 100-mile on the track. I ran seven laps and walked a lap. This works for marathon training as well. The trick is to start the walking breaks while you are still fresh."

Osler observed in the 1970s that any runner could go twice as far this way as by running nonstop. It's still true.

(Byron Lane read this column about Tom Osler and asks, "Is his Serious Runner's Handbook available anywhere?" I found it listed on the website and as a special-order item from Barnes & Noble --


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