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

Tue, 1 Jan 2002 09:57:41 -0500

20 Years Ago Today


Some things never change, even after 20 years of issuing this newsletter. Names and products have changed, and so have the numbers of runners and races. But our favorite topics are the same now as they were when RC stood at its starting line in 1982.

We talked then about our times, our mileages, our shoes, our injuries, our diets. In recent weeks I've written about the first ("Taking Time," RC 392) and last ("Great Weight Watch," RC 390) of those topics.

Now I look back to this newsletter's first issue. Its first advice column touched on mileage and its role in weight control.

I'm reusing that piece now. Reading it, you might think I haven't come very far in my writing since then. I choose to think that some themes never grow old.

THE EXTRA MILES (from RC 1, January 1982). Whatever the criticisms of mega-mileage training that has been the style for the past 20 years, one positive fact is beyond dispute: This type of running has had a profound effect in making the sport more democratic.

Emil Zatopek ran high mileage in a low-mileage era, and was often questioned about "doing too much." He answered that he had limited talent, and this was the only way he could correct nature's oversight -- by gaining speed through endurance. [The four-time Olympic gold medalist mainly practiced interval training, but ran so much that it qualified as endurance work.]

Peter Snell ran then-unheard-of mileage for a miler. He trained like a marathoner in the early 1960s [and won three Olympic gold medals on the track].

One reason this worked so well for Snell might have been that he was heavy. He gained weight easily if he wasn't running a lot. The 100-mile weeks gave him his raw-boned look.

Some runners have gone too far in the direction of slow distance training in recent years. The abuse of distance parallels the abuse of speed two decades ago, which had then sent the pendulum swinging toward marathon training.

The pendulum has swung back toward speed again. In most ways this is a welcome change. But built into it is a sneaky bias, a kind of elitism that hasn't been part of the sport in a long time.

Athletes from Olympic 1500-meter champion Sebastian Coe and world marathon record-holder Grete Waitz on down brag that they only run "quality" tmiles and that they "never take long runs." [Coe's father and coach Peter added that "long, slow training only makes you a long, slow racer."]

This is fine if you happen to be born with great speed and lean genes, as Coe and Waitz were. But what of the Zatopeks and Snells who aren't naturally fast or aren't natural ectomorphs?

If they have serious racing thoughts, they have to make up with strength for what they were shorted in speed. They have to burn up more calories than they eat. Nothing does this better than healthy doses of distance.

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