Sunday, October 8, 2017

Train For Honor

 I recall years ago seeing an interview when fitness guru Jack LaLanne was nearing the end of his life.  I believe he was 93 years old, his mind was still sharp but he appeared somewhat frail. Not long after he died.
Then I read a question asked on a men's fitness site, why train? The reader's question was motivated by the fact that all our bodies are going to be overcome by the ravages of age so why bother? Whoever was moderating the site was so baffled by the question that he could only respond with "what a stupid question." Not a particularly substantive response.
I ask this question of everyone, why do you train?
What follows are a few excerpts from an essay called, Train For Honor by Jack Donovan. I found it to be very relevant and enlightening as it pertains to why we train. It is taken from his book, A Sky Without Eagles. It gave me a whole new insight into training, cutting though the superficialities and vanity that are so much a part of training and physical fitness. You may not agree with him but it will get you thinking.
Early in his essay Donovan asks: "why spend hours in a gym, lifting or training to perform feats that you will never really need  to perform to survive?"
He then acknowledges that his body is a "depreciating asset."
As far as exercising to stay healthy and live longer? Donovan states this is "a mediocre and uninspiring reason to get up and go to the gym every day." It reduces working out  to just "another chore."
And his opinion of those who work out primarily to "look good"? He writes: "It's a harlotrous reason to work out. It's basically saying that you spend hours every week trying to stay pretty. Being pretty may mean having big guns, a nice rack and a six-pack, but if you're only building that body to be 'hot', then you're basically no different than the strippers and aspiring trophy wives who are doing the same thing. Striving only to be desired is passive and effeminate."
Donovan does admit that training for "self-defense and to be more self-reliant" are reasons as good or better than the reasons given by most for training, but, he then reveals a deeper and more meaningful reason as to why he trains:
"I train for honor.
I train because I refuse to be a soft ambassador of this Age of Atrophy. And I refuse to be shuffling, slobbering, potato chip gobbling evidence of modern decay.
I don't train to be 'fit enough' for the modern world, or to gain the esteem of the average modern man. I train because somewhere in my DNA there's a memory of a more ferocious world, a world where men could become what they are and reach the most terrifyingly magnificent state of their nature.
 I don't train to impress the majority of modern slobs. I train to be worthy enough to carry water for my barbarian fathers and to be worthy of the company of men most like them alive today.
Honor is a higher reason to train, a higher cause, a motivation above and beyond the routine and mundane. It's a better reason to keep going to the gym than mere narcissism or the fear of immobility, impotence and death."
Well said.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Looking For a Running Coach? Consider This First

So, you are thinking about getting a running coach? You say you want to take your running to the "next level" and believe that this an important step in that direction? Well, before you do, give what you are about to read some thought.
I should preface by saying I've been running for now 58 years and have raced for probably 54 of those years. Over the decades I competed in everything from the 50 yard dash to 50 miles. I've coached high school cross country and track distance runners as well as individuals. I am not saying this to brag but to let you know I've worked with, and had contact with, a lot of coaches, a lot. Here are some things to consider before choosing a running coach--in no particular order.
1.Does he run, has he ever run?
Now, I know that the great Australian coach Percy Cerutty said--"those who can't do can't teach," BUT, I would soften that quote a bit by saying--those who have never run, can't relate. The prospective coach doesn't have to have a resume with stunning p.r.'s, you just want someone who is familiar with....running.  One of the biggest fallacies out there is that current or former elite athletes make the best coaches. If you look into this you will quickly see that this is not so. However, the good coach must have a knowledge of what I will call distance running 'theory' and this brings us to the second needed quality.
2.What is his philosophy or method in regards to distance training? While we're on the subject, what is your knowledge of distance training? If you want to take it to the "next level," surely you have studied distance training? Now regarding what I call distance training theory---I, and millions of other runners and coaches, follow a program that is based on a Lydiard (as in Arthur) schedule. In a nutshell, this program involves building an extensive aerobic base, to gradually incorporating more stressful training(hills and intervals) which leads to a specific competitive season. This competitive season has a beginning and an end. No, you don't race all year or compete during the building phases. Through this program you are fine tuning your body so it is in optimal condition on race day. The genius of the Lydiard program is in its simplicity and how logical it is.
If a coach believes in a 'you have to run fast to be fast' mindset from the beginning of your training and you can compete anytime he thinks you are fit enough, then he should be scratched off your list of potential coaches. Countless runners have had their careers ruined, potentials unreached and their interest in running destroyed because of this way of thinking. As an aside, I saw this type of coaching all the time when I was involved in high school athletics.
3. Does the prospective coach say he will take a recent/past running and racing history on you?
You would be surprised at how many don't do this or can't be bothered. They just give you their schedule. I say you can't know where I'm going if you don't where I've been. Evaluating where you are physically at present, history of injuries and type of training you have been doing is essential for a coach to know. While on the subject of a distance runner being injured, you ever notice how the coach is never blamed for his athletes being injured?
4. Depending on where your coach lives this criteria may not be applicable for choosing a running coach.
How does he interact with his athletes, what kind of attitude does he have when his runners fall short of his expectations in workouts and at races? I used to cringe when I would see coaches berate their athletes in front of everyone after they raced poorly. Who do they think felt the worst after a poor race? To be a truly good coach you have to have a little bit of the psychologist in you. You have to know the right time to console and the right time to scold.
If your coach does not live in you area then you might be able get a glimpse into how he really is by looking at the materials he puts on his website or sends out. A phone conversation is definitely a must before signing on. Have questions prepared, don't be afraid to ask the hard questions. If he gets irritable, impatient or sounds put out by what you ask, avoid him like the plague, no matter how many great endorsements by other runners he may list.
5.Lastly--how much does he or she charge for his services? I suppose this is all up to the individual but if your coach will not be a presence physically to watch and monitor certain workouts, then how much cash do you really want to dish out? I guess it all depends on the athlete and the amount of money they have. This decision should also be related to what level you are trying to attain, is it national class, international level?  If it is isn't and you simply want to race well then let me suggest this; begin by reading some articles and books by Arthur Lydiard. Arthur always taught that his schedules were intended to be structurally followed (easier training always precedes harder, more stressful training) but adapted in depth and degree to fit the individual athlete.
I'd be remiss not to suggest reading another book, The Self-Made Olympian by Ron Daws. Ron showed that a man with very modest distance p.r.'s could make it all the way to the U.S. Olympic Marathon Team.
It just took total dedication and what Percy Cerutty used to call "intelligent work." By that he meant, always thinking and evaluating everything you do on the way to achieving your goal.
The question I  have for you now is, do you really still think you need a running coach?

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Athletes and the Information Overload

  In this modern age we have at our fingertips access to an unbelievable amount of information. Have you ever said to someone who asked you a question about something you didn't have an answer for to go and "Google it"? I have, on many occasions, often with a smile on my face. While "Googling" it may provide information, it more often than not leads to more confusion than answers. Try this, Google (or Bing) a subject like, what type of aerobic exercise is the best. What you will find is thousands upon thousands of articles extolling the virtues of a variety of types of different aerobic activities while downplaying ones that are hyped on other posts. Perhaps a better example: Google the best diet for an athlete. Here you will get hundreds of thousands of listings for a variety of different "best diets". I believe you get the picture, there is a ton of diverse and conflicting information out there. It comes from all facets of the media as well as print and from the computer. So how do you work your way through this seeming informational Babylon?
  A few suggestions on how to get to the truth,and I should say that I am focusing more on athletes here but this can be applicable to everyone. First and foremost, resign yourself to the fact that you will have to do a little research and that will take time. Can't be bothered? Than do what most people do, get your info in appealing and affirming news and soundbites put out by "experts" who are promoting their way as the right way.
You want to find the proper way to train for your particular sport? I do not have the time this year to list the number of books on training (especially running) that tout the virtues of THEIR program. You want info on diet? That's a billion dollar industry which, in my opinion, is leading millions of people down the wrong path nutritionally.
So what do I do? The first thing you do is look to the fundamentals relating to your body. Fundamentals? What do I mean by that? Well, as there are fundamental truths about gravity, there are fundamental truths about your body's needs and what it can tolerate. In training for example, your body is best served when it is gradually introduced to more stressful work. Take running, you need to get aerobically fit before you do sprints or hammer the hills. In weight training, you do lighter weights before you work up to heavier ones. It's not only common sense, it's part of the fundamentals of anatomy and physiology. Of course you could jump right into heavier and faster but your body will  rebel and probably breakdown at some point.
Diet and the athlete? Do you know the basic needs as it pertains to fats, carbohydrates and proteins for your body? Most people don't. I recall that when I was studying to be a personal trainer a few years back I was surprised when I read what the daily protein needs were for the average person and the serious athlete. It was far more than what I had been led to believe from reading health books and articles by self-appointed health experts. The logical response to that last sentence might be, so what made that guy you read credible? The fact that he had a doctorate in his field, and most importantly, the bibliography in his textbook cited numerous studies and testing from valid sources was good enough for me. It all came back to the fundamentals, what your body requires to survive and thrive.
  The second and final way to validate information that promotes a particular way or idea, show me the proof. An example. Many years ago I attended an all day seminar given by the late Arthur Lydiard. Arthur, for those who may not know, formulated the quintessential distance training program. During the question and answer period, someone asked him what he thought of (name of coach here) program that was very popular at the time. Lydiard responded--"How many Olympic champions has he coached?" This coach had guided zero while Arthur had several to his credit. Don't give your acceptance to anything if there is no proof of its merit.
Finally, since we are on the subject of proof, let's consider diet and eating. There is a way of eating that has become quite trendy and popular these days. It is deficient nutritionally but it is not my intention to go into a discourse on it's shortcomings here. The question I have about this way of eating and others is, presently, what populaion on earth have lived long, vigorous lives eating this way?  You say none, yet? Well, there are examples of people living long robust lives eating a way that is radically different from what you espouse. When it comes to my long term health, I'll go with what has worked any day.
  Fundamentals and proof, the way to separate the wheat from the chaff every time.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016


I apologize for so few articles recently--I have been training, studying and spending far too much time on my Facebook Stotan Runners page. It is my hope that I will leave Facebook shortly and the only other posts I'll do there will be ones I link from here. I have some new thoughts and ideas I hope to put them into words.
 In this day and age we are inundated with information from so many different sources. Movies, books, newspapers, magazines, television and radio supply viewers and readers with a staggering amount of things to watch and read. Always popular with the public are the success stories written about, or by, someone who has overcome obstacles to finally reach their goal(s). It's also common to read quotes and sayings by these individuals, you may see them on posters, bumper stickers, online or in magazines. Most of us read them and say something like, "that's really good," and continue on. I'd like to offer a few suggestions for the next time you come across a really good, insightful quote. First off, recognize that the person quoted is not just saying this to titillate you, the intention is for the reader to learn from it, and in many cases, act on it. Secondly, the person giving the quote is operating from his personal experience, what and how he did something led to his learning from or accomplishing something. What follows are some quotes by notable people on persistence. Regular readers to this blog have read that persistence is the key to running and athletic success. Persistence has to do with sticking with it when MOST others have "bagged" their goals and moved on to something else. My advice to myself and others on what you are about to read is: Read, Learn From and Act On It.
 Here goes: "Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence,talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan 'Press On' has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race." This quote, believe it or not, is by President Calvin Coolidge. "Energy and persistence conquer all things." Quote by Benjamin Franklin." We are made to persist. That's how we find out who we are," Quote by Tobias Wolff. As I used to tell the High School athletes I coached, "you can't make an average sprinter great by just training, but, you can make an average distance runner a very good one if the athlete is willing to stick with it and do the work. The above quotes are by people, who through their experiences, know what they are talking about. For those of us who are sitting on the fence in regards to going for it, isn't it time "we found out who we are?"

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Declining Times

I was speaking with a friend not too long ago who made a comment that times at the road races in his area (Buffalo,N.Y.) were slower then they were 25+ years ago. He went on to say that there was a lack of depth in quality performances from the 5k and up.He bemoaned the fact that guys running 17 minutes and change in the 5k were finishing in the top 10, something he said hardly ever happened back "in my day." A little search of the archived race records confirmed what he had said was true. For instance, one of the big road races of the year in my area was the Depew/Lancaster Boys Club 10k. I went back as far as I could,which was unfortunately only till 1986, and found that 81 runners finished under 40 minutes. In 2005 only 31 runners broke 40 minutes. Further seaches confirmed what my friend had said,times have gotten slower over the years. As many of you probably know, this trend exists over much of the country.So what's happened? What's changed?
If you look back to the days of the running boom in the early 70's you will find your answer. The main avenue for getting news and information on running,racing and training was through the running mags, particularly Runners World. If you are fortunate to have copies of RW from the 70's till '83, you will immediately notice a difference between then and now.I should start by saying I am in no way bashing RW for how they are.One of the hardest things to do these days is to keep a magazine financially viable. You will not stay in business very long if you produce a mag that only appeals to a group of runners which comprise a minority of the running population,ask James O'Brian, former head of the excellent,but now defunct, American Runner about that. Returning to the RW's of the 70's, one of the first things you will notice is back then their writers and contributors included people like Joe Henderson,Dr.George Sheehan,Arthur Lydiard,Derek Clayton,Bill Squires, and Amby Burfoot, just to name a few. There was a theme and preoccupation that was evident throughout each issue,and that was,how to go about achieving your best racing performance. There were also interviews with American runners who were successful nationally and internationally. They also contained lots of race results and accounts of the races. Again,the focus was on improving your running and racing. I should add that Running Times was a nice alternative to RW because it had tons of race results and recaps of races along with schedules of upcoming ones from around the country. Their age group race highlights and rankings was a great feature.Somewhere in the mid-eighties things began to change with RW. Writers and contributors were replaced and the theme went from racing performance to the "running experience". Jeff Galloway gained a large readership and following by teaching moderation in miles and effort as well as showing the way from basically zero miles to a marathon in 6 months,or was it 9 months? Jeff was quite vocal in his opinion that too many miles were bad for runners,a point that I was very happy to call him out on when he spoke at a pre-marathon clinic in Buffalo years back. Interviews and stories in RW changed from being about successful runners to ones who had overcome personal issues and tragedies through running. Arthur Lydiard and Derek Clayton's columns were replaced with people like Owen Anderson and those of a similar mindset. Food and diet,stretching,cross-training,exotic locales for racing,and my favorite, attaining 6pk abs, are the subjects that have become the norm in RW today. What exactly does 6pk abs have to do with running anyway? But I digress.
You get the picture,what was once THE vehicle for reaching the runner changed its perception of what the running experience should be and most of the public has followed along. The consequence of this being slower times overall. I suppose this is why we should be thankful that we have the internet to fill the need for those of us who want more. I still miss the days when RW was the source to go to for runners and racers.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

A Quiet Strength

The following text says it all--no pretenses, no BS--

"It's a quiet strength,not one borne from slogans printed on t-shirts or bodies. It's a strength acquired from a conditioning and lifestyle that has no need of vain proclamations. It's a strength earned by challenging yourself daily within the simplicity and sometimes harshness of nature while striving to obtain victory over oneself in the process. Ultimately, it's a quiet inner strength gained from a life you've chosen, understanding that there are no sacrifices in this process,it is a labour of love devoid of pretense"

Saturday, July 16, 2016