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

Sat, 26 May 2007 05:19:42 -0400

Back to Our Future


Some stories, like some runs, veer from their planned path. This spring Nike asked me to write a pair of stories, "pretending like the time is 30 years ago."

These writings were part Nike's re-release of several shoe models from the late 1970s. I didn't produce ads (didn't even mention company's name) but told how running was back then.

Then the concept for this marketing campaign changed. My stories didn't make the final the cut at Nike, so I salvage them here.

I don't need to pretend how we ran in 1977 but only to review old writings from that time. In so many words, I said the following that year, my 10th as a fulltime running writer.


Runners will try anything. We've tried almost everything in the past 10 years to help us run farther and faster, healthier and happier. Some of it has worked well enough to stay in our training/racing repertoire. Any practice that works, lasts. Check back in, say, 2007 to see how many from this list lasted.

-- Fifteen-mile weeks. Aerobics author Kenneth Cooper says, "Anyone who runs more than 15 miles a week is doing it for reasons other than fitness." That's no more than five weekly runs of three miles. He adds that injury rates increase steadily after that amount. Higher-mileage runners routinely prove Cooper right.

-- Hundred-mile weeks. Super-coach Arthur Lydiard called this "marathon training" and scheduled it even for runners who never raced marathons. But they only ran their hundreds during one phase of their training cycle. Today's runners figure that if three months a year of 100-mile is good, then year-round at 100-plus must be better. Lydiard says that enough (by his definition) is enough.

-- LSD training. The letters stand for long slow distance. Lydiard calls it a perversion of his system. "My runners go long, but they aren't slow," he insists. Critics such as young miler Seb Coe say, "The only thing LSD does is make you a long slow runner." Still, this gentle form of running has attracted many believers who claim it lets them recover and rebuild between big efforts. It's a variation on Olympic coach Bill Bowerman's hard/easy system -- in this case, hard day, easy WEEK.

-- Collapse-point training. It sounds grim but the idea is to AVOID collapse in marathons and other long races. Longtime runner Ken Young first observed that runners hit the wall at about three times the distance of their average daily run. So today's marathoners try to average nine miles a day -- 60-plus miles a week -- to push their wall beyond 26.2 miles (which can loom earlier if raceday pace is unwise).

-- Longer-long training. Dr. Jack Scaff found another way to approach the marathon besides high weekly mileage. Instead, at his Honolulu Marathon Clinic, he focuses on the length of a single weekly long run and ran little in between. The success rate of Scaff's mostly new-to-running crowd is extremely high when the chief measure of success is finishing, not fast times. No less a figure than Olympian Jeff Galloway is experimenting with similar training with runners he coaches.

-- Every-other-day training. It works in weight training; why not running? Popular author/speaker Dr. George Sheehan asked that question in his 50s, when his racing performances declined more than age alone would explain. He switched from daily runs to every second (or even third) day -- going twice as far as before, but half as often. His own race times improved again, yet his approach has been a hard sell to runners stuck in everydayness.

-- Walk breaks. To hardline runners "walk" is a four-letter word, but it isn't synonymous with "quit." Walking-for-runners has a proud history. Bill Bowerman used it to ease beginners into running and up in distance. Ernst van Aaken in Germany, coach of an Olympic medalist, uses walk breaks during long slow intervals. Ultrarunner Tom Osler gives these pauses a further boost in his popular new book. Bill Rodgers walked a half-dozen times while winning the 1975 Boston Marathon, and his college teammate Jeff Galloway took note.

-- Cross-training. Purist runners stubbornly call themselves "monoathletes." All they do, or ever want to do, is run. When they can't run, they do nothing. Monomania is waning. Everywhere, runners seem to be pushing down walls or holding up trees with what they call "static stretching" or "yoga stretches." Their little arms hoist weights. The greatest gift to runners from the new sport called triathlon is permission to bike or swim at times when we can't run or would rather not.

-- Running diets. The new magic word is "carbohydrate." Marathoner Ron Wayne boasts of eating a loaf of toasted bread after his long runs. Bill Rodgers' favorite midnight snack is cold pizza with mayo, saying, "You can eat anything as long as the furnace burns hot enough." High mileage keeps it burning. Carbo-loading isn't just for race week anymore. It's for all the time -- a license to gorge on the foods that taste great. Runners who aren't naturally skinny and don't run big miles are paying the price in pounds.

-- Running drinks. You can buy sports drinks if you like the taste of synthetic sweat, but more traditional drinks go down easier. Frank Shorter scored a double endorsement for those during his golden day in Munich. Television showed him drinking a mysterious dark liquid during his race. It turned out to be nothing more exotic than defizzed Coke. Sugar, caffeine, water -- what more could he need? Shorter reported that good German beer was his drink of choice the night before and again after his marathon. A relaxant and a replenishment drink -- what more could he ask?

(The second story written for and later declined by Nike will run in RC 678 to 680.)
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