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Articles > Running Fitness in a Nutshell

edited by Peter Holleran

Frank Shorter:

   "Running at its core is really very basic; if you train well and hard over a period of years and avoid injury, you are going to get better. I've always had a simple view of training for distance running: two hard interval sessions a week [for those in their prime] and one long run - 20 miles or two hours, whichever comes first. Every other run is aerobic and you do as much of that for volume as you can handle. Do that for two or three years and you'll get good. You train best where you are happiest. That leads to consistency, crucial for reaching your potential."

Robert de Castella ("Deek"):

   "There are no shortcuts. Be patient and look long-term. It's the foolish idea that if you do a little more, faster, that you'll get better than the rest. It ignores the fact that YOU MUST TRAIN AT YOUR OPTIMAL LEVEL, NOT YOUR MAXIMAL LEVEL. Consistency is the secret to improvement and success. You have to keep training when others lose interest..Running well is a matter of having the patience to persevere when you are tired, and not expecting instant results. The only secret is that it is consistent, often monotonous, boring, hard work. And it is tiring. All top international athletes wake up in the morning feeling tired and go to bed feeling very tired [de Castella later confessed to overtraining]. To run well you have to run with a passion. If that is quenched, you can't do it..Train smarter not harder. Being an athlete means living a certain kind of lifestyle. You don't recover from a late night out in one day - sometimes it can take up to a week. To be a top runner, you have to make choices."

   "You always have to believe you can be the best, even if you don't know whether you'll get there. You have to have a long term approach. It's like putting money in the bank. (Heading out on a run), you "clock in and clock out". Long runs are the hardest part of training to do, and the Sunday long run is the most important part of my training. Long runs are the key workout because that's where you get the (musculo-)skeletal strength; that built-up-over-years strength in turn allows you to avoid injuries and do the intervals, tempo runs, and hill sessions that increase cardiovascular fitness. Hard workouts make a runner stronger only if she or he can recover from them. INJURIES COME WHEN YOUR FITNESS LEVEL EXCEEDS YOUR STRENGTH LEVEL. Find your own optimum level of training and stick with it consistently. If you go on a crash course of training, you'll end up crashing and burning. It's not the people with the most talent who succeed, it's the ones who keep putting in the training, putting in the training, putting in the training."

Priscila Welch:

   "What you do is directly proportional to the amount and quality of your base training. And by quality, I don't mean speed. Rather, quality in base training means aerobic work. It is absolutely a mistake to time all of an athlete's runs. What's important is running at the right heart rate intensity for the right length of time." (All of Priscilla's training in the early years was done in "stage one" or the base-building stage. She did three long runs a week, two at 70-80% of her maximum heartrate and one longer one at 60%) "Both elite and non-elite runners make two major mistakes; they don't develop the aerobic system, which means that fat-burning capacities aren't being used. Most runners don't do that properly at all, and that's why most of us stay at one level for years on end. Another mistake is that they won't let themselves take weeks off. Take three weeks off, drink beer, eat ice cream, and gain ten pounds. Let your body be a normal human being again. It terrifies people to do that. When a runner rests, the body recovers and gets stronger. Every so often, if you find your times slowing down, if you find your strength leaving you a little bit, don't try to push through it. Totally detrain. Take five weeks off. (Burnout) creeps up on you slowly. And not having had it before, you don't recognize what's going on. It's weird. (I only came out of it when) I got the hankering for running, so I started running (again)."

   "The two main differences between training in your 40's and 50's and when you are [in your 20's], are how much harder a 40-year old has to work to maintain speed and how much more important it is to listen to and monitor your body (i.e., allow for proper recovery, optimal diet, etc.)..Anyone can become a runner if he/she really wants to. If you want to become the best runner you can be, start now. That's all I did. Don't spend the rest of your life wondering if you could do it, because it doesn't matter how old you are. I'm living proof of that."

Grete Waitz:

   "I am a firm believer that track training is crucial to any running program. It's where you develop speed. Distance makes you stronger, not faster [actually, long runs will increase your strength AND thereby raise your average cruising speed, but additional speedwork is necessary to develop other "gears"; for most of us, however, it doesn't HAVE to be on a track]. If training isn't tough enough, it won't work. I prefer to train in the dark, cold months when it takes a stern attitude to get out of bed before dawn and head out the door to below-freezing weather conditions. Anyone can run on a nice, warm, brisk day. That's fun, but there's no sense of sacrifice, no great accomplishment. It takes strength, courage, commitment, and many days and nights of sacrifice to win."

Percy Cerutty:

   "Run until you're exhausted. Then you are ready to begin meaningful training."

Ted Corbitt:

   "I believe that a runner can run a marathon every week -indefinitely- if his goals are modest, like just finishing or breaking three hours. But once an athlete attempts to run to his limit three or four weeks in a row, there is a distinct probability that the body will decline permanently. Strength is cyclical. At times the body is impervious to any training load. At other times, it is brittle and any stress is too great. General fatigue signals the passage from strengthening to breaking down. Leg muscles become swollen and irritable. There is a lifeless feeling and a drop-off in performance. The body will naturally de-fuse, causing depression, injury, or a strong lack of interest in the challenge... Heavy training can only be maintained with a great deal of sleep and food..."


   "If you listen to your problems you will back off and will not put the body under stress. I WOULD RATHER WRECK MYSELF THAN RISK THE CHANCE OF NOT BEING FIT."

   ..."I look back at when I was running in the thirties and forties, when most people weren't interested in it. Now I read that we are going through a fitness craze. I am flabbergasted by such things. Running is something you just do. You don't need a goal, you don't need a race, you don't need the hype of a so-called fitness craze. All you need is a cheap pair of shoes and some time. The rest will follow."

Karl King:

   "Despite what they tell you in Runner's World, a long run is not for the leg muscles; it is for the endocrine system...You can train your leg muscles by running a 12 mile run everyday, for an 84 mile week, and be perfectly unprepared for a 50 mile run. However, if you did 4 runs of 12 miles and one of 36 you'd have endurance for most ultras. The difference is that 36 would stretch your endocrine system and force it to adapt for the demands of long distance running. That adaptation is slow to build, and slow to fade, so you don't need a long run every week."

Pete Pfitzinger:

   "Training provides long-term fitness improvements but produces short-term fatigue. Leading up to an important race, the challenge is to find the optimal balance beween maintaining the best possible racing fitness and resting to reduce the fatigue of training. This is referred to as a well-planned taper."

   "To achieve your best when it counts, you can only afford to do a full taper before a few key races each year. If you race often and were to taper thoroughly for each race, you would have little time left for hard training. So you learn to "train through" some races. But for the big ones, you will want to go all out to achieve your best..Consider that any one workout can give you far less than a 1% improvement in fitness, but a well-designed taper can provide a much larger improvement in race performance (3%). Therefore, it is probably wiser to err on the side of tapering too much than not enough. The scientific evidence clearly indicates that the key to effective tapering is to substantially cut back your mileage, but to maintain training intensity. Reducing overall mileage has the greatest impact on lessening accumulated fatigue. The best way to reduce your mileage is to reduce the distance of your workouts substantially, but to cut back only moderately on the number of runs per week."

Frank Shorter:

   "It is my belief, after years of trying to peak at the right time, that no training you do in the two weeks leading up to a particular race will help you run better in that particular event. Of course it will help you beyond the event, but not in the competition itself...The same temperament that allows you to train consistently and hard (and sometimes overtrain) has to be altered, almost reversed. For a short time you have to be willing not to train as efficiently as possible in order to get the most out of yourself in the race. You are not training, you are trying to abstain...My solution for the first 10 of the 14 days has always been to maintain the consistency of my routine to the absolute letter, but scale down the subjective effort 30-to-50 percent. This includes everything from easy runs to interval training. When competing at the elite level, my 20-mile run became 10 miles very easily. 12 x 400 m on the track became 12 x 400 m at a slightly slower pace. Now, I simply do one hard interval workout at 80 percent effort seven days before, and jog as little as I can stand for the other 13 days. Remember, nothing would be OK. Our sport's history is replete with stories of world records having been set after a couple of weeks off to heal a minor injury. Derek Clayton of Australia did no running for two weeks before he set the world best for the marathon of 2:08:33 in 1967!" [this phenomenon was earlier known as the Zatopek effect]

   "Think about all the consistent training you have done, how you have managed to taper off and how you have almost been able to abstain. Finally, remind yourself that race day will indeed happen. You will get to the starting line, the gun will go off and you will actually become a runner again."

Bruce Lee:

   "The less effort, the faster and more powerful you will be."



Running with the Legends, by Michael Sandrock
First Marathons, by Gail Waesche Kislevitz
Corbitt, by John Chodes
Running Times Magazine