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

Tue, 12 Jun 2001 09:11:55 -0400

Simpler Times


Three running buddies sat together at a track meet. I wasn't with them but overheard as one asked another about his training.

What seemed like 10 minutes later he reached the end of his weekly rundown. Out of his description popped the current buzzwords for all that training is supposed to address.

This talk had little to do with what I write, and teach, and do. Increasingly I'm fighting off attempts to bring me up to date on the scientific complexities of training.

A few years ago my publisher asked me to edit a book titled Running Science. Not qualified, I told him. Not interested would have been the more honest reason.

Rich Benyo and I are now into the revision phase for our Running Encyclopedia. The editors are pleading for definitions of modern training and physiological concepts, such as "lactate threshold" and "periodization."

Grudgingly we're supplying a few of these. I don't know much about their meanings and have never felt any pressing need to take a crash course in running science.

The old runner's lament often is, "If only I'd known then what I know now." I don't think that way. Running went best for me when it was simplest, before the sport became "scientific."

This isn't a old runner's selectively edited memories at work, or a longing to return to a simpler era that never truly existed. Times and distances, recorded on the good old days they were run, tell accurate tales.

The best story comes from 1968, my year of years. I had never run better before, though my career was already 10 years and 400 races along. And I would never run better again, though I was only 25 when this golden year ended and hundreds more races would follow.

Training was more complex both before and after the magic spell. It began after I'd dropped out of a marathon (and decided I wasn't meant to be a marathoner). The best of times ended less than a year later when I revoked my marathon "retirement."

In the marathon-free period I ran 20 races -- as short as one mile and as long as 30-K. Seven of them resulted in permanent PRs. Seven more races led to my fastest track times since college, when I'd trained exclusively for track.

In that year I suffered no injuries or illnesses serious enough to detour my running plans. My approach was simplicity itself. I could fill a page with the names of techniques and tactics, practices and products that I didn't use (usually because they hadn't been invented yet) and apparently didn't need.

The short list: No mile-counting or pace-checking in training... No track running except on racedays or any speedwork outside of races... No walk breaks during runs or scheduled rest days between them... No alternative training ("cross-training," in current language) or stretching-strength exercises.

What I did is much simpler to describe. That is: Run easily, steadily, consistently for nearly an hour a day... and race hard, fast, often... and run longer and slower, for about two hours, on non-race weekends.

For that brief period in 1968 I'd stumbled onto my best mix of easy distance and hard racing. For every minute raced, I ran 19 minutes easily.

Not knowing how good this combination was for me, I stumbled out of it again. With the return of marathon mania, the amount of running AND the percentage of racing went up.

The many complexities of "modern" running soon followed. My running was never as good again as it had been in 1968.

Writing about it 3-1/2 decades later isn't purely a nostalgic exercise. I can't live off the good old times.

But I can see that the simple old ways of times past are still a good way to live. The more complicated the rest of life becomes, the simpler the running needs to be.

Previous Posts