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Set your own pace

By Jack Daniels, PhD

I’d like to emphasize that each runner and coach should abandon the “copy the current champion” approach to training and instead challenge the runner’s own body with training based on scientific principles. With your understanding of the runner’s body, and with some common sense and a little creativity and boldness, you can set up a program that might well make you the next wonder of distance running or coaching.

On the other hand, don’t ignore what current champions are doing, because they might be supporting a training scheme that you’ve believed in but been unable to prove effective. When you hear of a new approach to training, don’t try to copy it--try to analyze it. Evaluate what systems of the body are reaping the benefits, and why and how they’re doing so.

Keep in mind that what you read about an athlete’s training might not be his or her regular or daily training regimen. For instance, I’m sure every runner has been asked at some point how much he or she runs. The answer might be, “I do five miles a day,” in hopes that the person asking interprets this to mean 35 miles a week. But, in fact, the runner might run only three days a week, and his or her longest run recently (or ever) was a 5-miler. In other words, to gain some respect from others or to get an ego boost, the runner might want to give the impression of a more demanding training schedule than is actually the case.

When weekly training logs of champion runners are made public, what you usually see is a particularly great week of training, not a typical week in the runner’s training period. Or you might see a week during the strenuous phase of training, which is not at all the same as a week during a competitive phase of training. Some runners speak of their 150-mile weeks as if they’re normal, when really they’ve accomplished only one such week.

By the way, for those who think that high weekly mileage is a new approach to improved performance, let me relate the answers that one of my research subjects (a U.S. Olympian at 10,000 meters and a national high school record holder at 5,000 meters) gave to the following questions in the late 1960s.

“What’s the single longest training run you ever took?” Answer: 66 miles, on more than one occasion.

“What was your greatest week of running?” Answer: 360 miles.

“What was your greatest weekly mileage for a six-week period?” Answer: 300 miles per week.

“What was the greatest weekly mileage you averaged for an entire year?” Answer: 240 miles.

For all of you who like to copy what the great ones do, try to resist replicating the accomplishments of this runner; you might not have the same body type or the ideal mechanics to handle that much running. Or your mental attitude toward the sport might be different. We’re all individuals and must train with this in mind to achieve success.

The same principles apply to runners with little experience who are serious about reaching their potential and to runners who have had some success but think there’s room for improvement: Know your own body, identify your strengths and weaknesses, establish priorities, and try to learn more about why you do what you do and why you might consider trying something new in your approach.

This is an excerpt from Daniels’ Running Formula.

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