(When Runner’s World cut me loose as a columnist in 2004, I wasn’t ready to stop magazine work. This year I post the continuing columns from Marathon & Beyond. Much of that material now appears in the book Miles to Go.)
2005. It’s instructive what you can hear while running when you aren’t too busy talking and don’t have recorded music or news talk plugged into your ears. Here’s what I heard one morning:
Two runners came up from behind. One did most of the talking, his volume growing as the gap between us shrunk. The first words I caught were “... new marathon training program.” Then “... only run long every other week.” And louder, “They only go over 20 miles once, peaking at 21.”
They passed me with a small wave from one and a nod from the other. They didn’t know me, or that I’d overheard them. The gap between us grew again. The last words I heard were, “... not enough training.”
Says who? Themselves, from their marathon experiences? Another writer whose schedules they’ve read? They weren’t reading my writing. And their experience didn’t match mine.
They were talking down a training program being adopted for the first time locally. That was my schedule, written for the marathon team that I was coaching. The runners whose critique I heard were right in their description. But they were wrong, I have to think, in their conclusion.
Yes, the long runs would come every other weekend, going up by two-mile steps from 11. (A pre-training program built to 10 miles, testing if runners could or wanted to continue.) Yes, the distance would peak at 21 miles, the only training run above 20. And yes, these runs would be long enough for most runners. (The most common cause of breakdowns in training that I’ve seen is too many too-long runs with too little recovery between.)
These ideas weren’t wild guesses at what might work in marathon training. I didn’t make any of this up lately just to sell books to thousands of shortcut-seekers. This type of training has a long history, starting with my own entry into marathoning in 1967.
Ten years later, readers first saw an early version of this program. The latest incarnations of the schedule appear in the book Marathon Training, now into a second edition.
I hear from very few of the book’s readers, which isn’t a bad sign. You know how we runners are: We don’t quietly swallow our disappointments. Anyone who felt led far astray by Marathon Training would have let me know quickly and vociferously, yet these complaints are rare.
An earlier column in Marathon & Beyond told how my approach came about. It silently answered the early-morning talkers who’d concluded, “not enough.” A better rebuttal would come in June 2005 at Newport, Oregon, when my first marathon team reached its graduation day.
Later. Writing training schedules in books is the easy part. They go to an unseen audience, to take or leave, and then I walk away. I rarely hear who took or left this advice. Acting as a coach for months of Sundays, getting to know the runners as individuals, is harder than writing a schedule – and immensely more satisfying. Also more nerve-wracking.
A coaching truism: Credit all goes to that athlete when everything goes right. Blame goes to the coach when something bad happens. I promised myself, when the direct coaching began in January 2005, to give the credit and take the blame. My first and biggest responsibility was more medical than technical: to keep these runners healthy enough to get where they wanted to go. Not all did.
You can’t judge the worth of a training program by counting only the marathoners who finished the race. You must account too for any training casualties. During this training cycle I lost three runners to injury.
I take the blame for not spotting their trouble early enough to help them get past it. Few of the remaining 16 runners eased through the training trouble-free. I listened to all the physical complaints, from head (colds) to foot (plantar fascia). I-T band pain became the injury of the season.
Everyone survived these scares, and the team of 16 reached Newport intact on marathon weekend. But their troubles, real or imagined, weren’t over yet. By race eve pre-marathon neuroses had kicked in, with almost everyone now suffering from some race-threatening malady. Worry exaggerates the severity, and their worries multiplied by 16 for me.
I’m not a doctor but played one while coaching the marathon team. The irony here was that the group included an emergency-room physician, Tod Hayes. The Sunday of our final training run I’d said to Tod as he was leaving, “Stay away from sick people this week.” He had laughed at this absurdity.
That Friday night I saw Tod as we checked into our hotel. His voice sounded raspy. “I caught a cold this week,” he noted with a resigned shake of his head. I asked him questions, then gave advice. Only later did I see what I’d done: play doctor to a real doctor. I felt responsible for his health too.
(Photo: Our first team shares a group huddle moments before the 2005 Newport Marathon start.)
[Many books of mine, old and recent, are now available in two different formats: in print and as ebooks from Amazon.com. The titles: Going Far, Home Runs, Joe’s Team, Learning to Walk, Long Run Solution, Long Slow Distance, Miles to Go, Pacesetters, Running With Class, Run Right Now, Run Right Now Training Log, See How We Run, Starting Lines, and This Runner’s World, plus Rich Englehart’s book about me, Slow Joe.]