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

Thu, 14 Aug 2003 08:04:49 -0400

Going Long, Fast


As much as my amazing California summer of 1963 meant to me as a future running writer (see RC 478), it did more for me as a long-distance runner. And sooner.

I had run hundreds of races by then but none on the roads. On July 13th, 1963, I became a road racer. Instantly.

The previous day's diary noted an easy run while "trying to get myself ready for a fast mile tomorrow." I woke up the next morning still thinking "mile."

It would be run after a road race. I had the good luck of going early to Fremont High School in Sunnyvale to watch friends start the National 30K.

The day's diary reported, "Today I really went out of my mind. Seeing all those distance runners got me excited, and I jumped into the 30-kilometer run. That's three-fourths of a marathon!

"I wasn't excited or nervous about it at all. Just wanted to plod the course and finish in around two hours."

The "plodding" began at about six-minute mile pace. This felt slow to someone whose racing miles usually were far below five minutes and whose training wasn't much slower. But neither did I train even one-fourth of this day's race distance.

"It was really easy at first -- almost hard to hold back," according to the now-40-year-old diary page. "But it got tougher, and tougher, and tougher still."

This became my first experience with walk breaks. They weren't planned but required.

"My first walk," I confessed then, "was on the 'mountain' at about 11 miles. From then on I didn't go much more than a mile without walking 20 to 30 seconds at a time.

"I passed guys all the way. I was barely moving, but they were barely moving SLOWER."

"Barely moving," I averaged 6:08 miles even with the walks. The 30K time would stand as a PR for another five years.

The price of not training for this race came due the next day. I could barely walk. But without knowing it yet, I was already on a new course that would serve me well in all the years to come.

THE NEXT YEAR was my best ever in cross-country and track, thanks to a new piece in the training puzzle: long runs on the road. After the 30K I was ready to come under the indirect influence of Arthur Lydiard. A California high school coach named Forrest Jamieson had just returned from studying at Lydiard's feet in New Zealand, and we took some runs together.

I had heard of Lydiard. Everyone in running knew of him after the New Zealanders' two-gold-medal success of Peter Snell and Murray Halberg at the 1960 Olympics.

I'd read Lydiard's book, Run to the Top, but hadn't yet adopted any of his ideas. Forrest convinced me to try them, though I took only one bite from his whole program. This was the long run.

When I tried to nudge up Forrest's super-slow pace, he said, "What's your hurry? The idea here is to cover the distance, not to race it. Save the racing for the days when someone is keeping score."

I carried these almost-weekly long runs back to college with me and continued them through the next spring. They weren't slow. My pace averaged close to six minutes per mile on runs that stretched as far as 20 miles.

The final month of long fast distance was March 1964. The last long training run was a half-marathon -- faster by almost four minutes than my race PR would ever be at that distance.

This run came in the final weeks before my outdoor track season opened with a mile PR. Another came a week later.

I thought then: If I'm doing this off an endurance base, imagine how fast I'll go when the real speed training starts. No faster, as it turned out. When the long runs disappeared, my times leveled off.

Then a speed-induced injury interrupted the season. This was an early warning of bigger troubles to come.

Speed took a double toll. When the long runs returned, they became like races as I tried to set training-course records each time. Between the long runs came heavy doses of short and fast training.

All of this speed deadened my legs, then injured one of them more seriously than ever before. That achilles injury effectively ended my college career before the final track season had begun.

Another year of struggling on dead legs led to the biggest change in my running life. If I'm going to be slow, I thought in 1966, it might as well be more enjoyable. I turned to the all-long, all-slow running that came to be known as "LSD."

I was a slow learner but now understood what Forrest Jamieson had tried to teach me in the summer of 1963: What's the hurry? Don't confuse long runs with races.

Racing didn't end with this slowdown. In fact, one of the most satisfying PRs was a better 30K than the one that had started all of this.


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