Friday, January 30, 2015

Is Percy Cerutty Still Relevant Today?

Invariably when I talk to people regarding the legacy of Percy Cerutty I get one of these three responses: #1.Percy who? #2. A great coach who taught,inspired and motivated athletes. #3. A colorful eccentric from years gone by but someone who's hardly relevant in this day and age. It was after reading a brief article I found in a 1975 issue of RW written by Joe Henderson commenting on the passing of Cerutty that I decided to write this post.Some of the following quotes that you'll read are by author Gary Walton regarding what constitutes a great coach. They are most interesting and insightful. Getting back to Joe Henderson's article, it was for the most part complimentary but he made it clear that he thought of Percy along the lines of #3 listed above when he said: "We dutifully ate our oats raw,ordered sets of weights and drove miles in search of sand....then we moved on to other coaches and tried their theories for awhile." I couldn't help but think that Joe had missed the whole point about Cerutty if he thought all he was,was eating natural foods,lifting weights and training hard. Had Joe read the books by Cerutty that he said he had? Cerutty's teachings were more than just telling you how to train; they were about recognizing what is truly important in this life,understanding yourself, achieving personal success and how to live long,healthy, happy lives.I'd be remiss not to add that he was also an incredible motivator. In the excellent book,Beyond Winning--The Timeless Wisdom of Great Philosopher Coaches by Gary Walton,the author asserts that Cerutty and a handful of other coaches possessed qualities that helped people become more than just good athletes. He states that these coaches "provided a special arena of learning about oneself and life." Walton believes that due to the increasing complexity of sport and the pressure to win these coaches are becoming less common. Let me interject here,Walton is right on the mark with that last sentence,the pressure to win now extends down to high school athletics as well as college and pro sports.When I wondered the other day why there weren't more "old school" coaches like Wooden and Cerutty,Gary Walton just provided the answer.He lists the ten characterisics of philosopher coaches: 1. Committed to individual integrity,values and personal growth. 2. Profound thinkers who see themselves as educators not coaches. 3. Well educated(formally and informally).4. Long-run commitment to their athletes and their institution. 5. Willing to experiment with new ideas. 6.Value the coach-player relationship,winning aside. 7. Understand and appreciate human nature. 8. Love their sport and work. 9.Honest and strong in character. 10. Human and therefore imperfect. Readers familiar with Cerutty can see him in each of these ten characteristics. With the above in mind what follows are some of the reasons why he is still relevant today. I'd like to add that the following is not intended to be a definitive overview of Cerutty's teachings. One aspect of his philosophy that doesn't always get adequate attention was his belief that a focus on money and possessions should not be a priority in someone's life. He recognized the seduction and danger of believing that having things were THE key to happiness. Cerutty's belief in training in the most natural of surroundings is what he might be remembered best for. The trails,the beaches,the parks and hills were his training venues. He deplored the strict regimentation of training schedules and the reliance on hard tracks to train. There were three training "landmarks" of Cerutty's camp at Portsea: 1. The 80 ft sandhill. 2.The one mile and 285 yard sandy trail winding up and down. 3. The Stewart Circuit which was a quarter mile undulating course that finished at the top of a steep hill. Since Cerutty was no fan of regimented styles of training, he refused to write training schedules for runners. He said: "Athletics should be the prime reason to escape the imprisoning conditions (of ordinary life); to be able to exult in our liberty,free movement and capacity to choose." He believed in trying to build an attitude of finding your own way, knowing yourself and building from there. Each runner set his own goals and training schedules."The mastery of the self and the refusal to permit others to dominate us is the ultimate in living and self-expression in athletics," Percy wrote. He recognized that with strength of body came strength of mind leading ultimately to strength and confidence in racing as well as life. The type of training he advocated is needed now more than ever,especially among our young athletes. We can't forget to mention Cerutty's teachings on the need to eat foods in their most natural state and avoidance of those that are overly processed. His views on food and nutrition dating back to the early 50's are what the health advocates are preaching today. Cerutty believed that an essential ingredient to an athlete's development was the stimulation of his mind through reading plus becoming familiar with the classics of art,literature,music and philosophy. He said: "I raise the spirits of the athlete and inspire the soul to a higher state of consciousness. As the athlete grows spiritually as a person,his person in the physical will gradually unfold to new heights." Perhaps the most important message that came through Cerutty's extensive writings weren't intended only for the serious athlete but were meant for everyone. He believed that by maintaining a connection with nature through our living and exercising, in addition to eating the right foods in moderation, our daily responsibilities could be more easily accepted and dealt with. Consequently our thinking would be clearer, fears and cravings would either diminish or vanish thus leading to a life more fully lived and enjoyed. When I look at the astonishing figures of the millions of people who either drug and/or drink excessively in an effort to cope with life, I realize that Percy's teachings,again, are needed now more than ever. I don't know,it all seems simple and logical to me.Maybe it's too simple and logical for most in this increasingly complex age to accept and put into practice. It is not a quick fix but ultimately it is the most satisfying way to go.
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Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Complete Athlete

There is more to the process of becoming a great athlete than Just Do It.As I have posted before,we need to train and develop our mind as well as our body. What follows is one of the best articles I've read on the athlete. I sometimes wonder why no other coaches these days are writing such articles. "Unfortunately few athletes reflect on things,most look upon athleticism as a simple pastime and bring little of their mental powers to bear upon their chosen sport, that they go on year after year doing without critical examination what has been done traditionally for generations. And it is because of the attitudes of athletes themselves that the cynical statement is used--all brawn and no brains--- unfortunately in all too many cases the charge may be true. It is apparent to me that brains are far bigger as a factor in getting success in athletics,than just training as we know it. Athletes must learn to develop their critical reflective capabilities and to direct them inwards upon their activities. Athletes must learn to "feel" as if their training is really benefitting them. The test is that each season we should record faster times,all other things being equal. Most athletes then go through a prescribed routine,think little about it as long as they are copying someone else who has succeeded--or, what is worse,accepting the views and dictations of someone who purports to know but probably doesn't. And the test,again, for the latter(those authoritative and talkative ones) is whether they are doing it themselves. I say we must think about what we do." (From an essay by Percy Cerutty entitled The Complete Athlete). I find the above to be quite profound and insightful. There is so much written in just a few sentences.  Again,who is writing such observations about athletes in this day and age? I think of today's elite American distance runners, it seems as if far too many of them are in the process of getting over an injury or having just gotten injuried. It appears to be a habitual and repetitive process. How much self-examination and reflection do you think is going on there? This essay should be a must read for every athlete who desires athletic success.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Real Benefits of Weightlifting by Victor Pride

The Real Benefits of Weightlifting  

benefits-dsIt would be an understatement to say Percy Cerutty was a strong advocate of athletes lifting weights. What follows is an often overlooked reason why resistance training is beneficial----     " The real benefits of weight training have nothing to do with reducing body fat or a having nice build. The real benefits have everything to do with relieving stress, getting out aggression, building confidence, giving you a positive mental attitude, giving you pride, developing discipline, and giving you a rush like narcotics would do.
In an emasculated world there are precious few outlets for Men to get out aggression. Weight lifting is one of the best ways to relieve aggression. Therapy is an excuse to never actually do anything for yourself and a convenient way to blame others. Iron therapy makes you as mentally strong as it does physically strong. If you’re full of pent up aggression you go to the gym, pick up 135 lbs, and put it overhead as many times as you can. You turn on some music that lights a fire under your ass. You walk out the door and see how far you can run before you can’t breathe anymore. You don’t go talk to an emasculated psychiatrist who thinks ‘open communication’ is the key to getting out aggression. Put 200 lbs on his back and make him squat ’til he can’t move and see if he still wants to talk about his feelings. In our world we can’t go hunting woolly mammoths, but we can do the next best thing. Lift some weights and eat some steaks.
It’s impossible to feel stress after an hour of solid training. No matter how stressed you were when you got to the gym ,as long as you give it your all that stress will go away and be replaced by a testosterone fueled feeling of euphoria. The best rush in the world and all the narcotics in the world can’t give you that natural high.
There’s a confidence gained in the gym that people who never train cannot understand. When a guy first starts out and can barely bench 45 lbs and ups that to 225 lbs with steady, solid training the feeling of accomplishment is immense. When a guy starts out deadlifting 95 lbs and ups that to 405 lbs that’s a huge boost to the ego. That’s something you can be proud of. Even if no one else in the world understands where you came from it doesn’t matter, you have accomplished what you once thought impossible and no one can take that away from you.
Discipline comes along for the ride. If you never had any before, you will after you start training. Weight training requires you eat right. You won’t even want to eat junk food anymore, your body will crave the good foods and you’ll want to eat those good foods. Heavy weight training requires you get good sleep, and you will. Weight training requires you get up off the couch and go to the gym and accomplish something. If you can manage that you will see what all the hype was about."

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Have You Been Debased?

I was recently looking through a book by Mike Spino, author and former Director of the Esalen Sport's Center.The book, published in 1976, was entitled Beyond Jogging. I bought it mainly because it had a lot of Percy Cerutty stories in it. As an aside, Spino attended seminars Cerutty held in the U.S. and briefly went on a lecture tour with him in the '70's.
While reading a section of Spino's book which pertained to nutrition Percy was quoted thusly,"A philosophy of foods,when the appetite for food is not debased,when the food eaten is plain and wholesome,when the eater realizes the nature and value of various foods,then his enjoyment of simple,plain,and natural foods will be enhanced to an extraordinary degree." My first reaction to this quote was to ask what he meant by debased. A quick look in the dictionary gave me the answer,it means to lower in quality,value or character. I then wondered if there were other ways in which we serious athletes may have been debased. I'll address the issue of food first, then the other areas of an athlete's life later.
Consider the following: In regards to foods, Cerutty brings up something that we should all ask ourselves,are any of us so removed from eating a proper diet that attempts at eating healthy is very unappealing? Nutrition,along with training and rest, are the three keys to achieving athletic success. Keeping it natural and simple with your foods is essential. For instance, if you prefer cooked foods with fatty meats for breakfast as opposed to one with fruit and a quality cereal,bread and/or a healthy meat,then your appetite for food has been debased. Someone once asked me how they could get into eating healthy and gain an appreciation of fruits and vegetables which they admitted they rarely ate.I gave them the surefire cure, I told them to go 24, or better yet, 48 hours without eating any food and drinking only water. After that, I told him to eat a few pieces of fruit. When you are truly hungry,foods in their natural state are delicious.
Now, other areas to evaluate and determine whether or not you have been debased.
Ask yourself this: has your view and belief in the correct way to train been debased? Have you been swayed to think that there are other ways to achieve athletic success,ones that are quicker and easier? Have you chosen to forget or ignore the time tested and proven ones? Ones that may say it takes 4 to 7 years of consistent quality training to reap the maximum benefits of the program? Here's another thing to think about: Have we allowed our minds to be debased? Do we watch things on television and in the movies that have absolutely no redeeming value? If the television suddenly disappeared from the earth would we be lost and confused? What type of things do we read, do we even read? Do we look to be entertained or do we find and initiate our own entertainment?
Have our everyday lives been debased? Do we think that owning lots of things is the way to go and that they are the key to happiness? If we do,then the way we view life has been debased. I can't tell you how many former zealous,hardcore runners and athletes I've known who've traded in their athletic lives for owning an overpriced house and expensive car(s), only to eventually discover, as their waistlines got bigger with each passing year and their health went into a slow steady decline, that they've made a huge mistake.Remember what Herb Elliott said,"An ideal life is one of simplicity."I think everyone out there sees what I'm getting at, you can plug in your own, "have you been debased" question to other facets of your life.
What I'm saying is that as athletes we need to be aware and discerning people. This takes an alert,inquisitive and active mind. Dulling it with useless mind numbing activities, consuming too much drink (as in alcohol,the true opiate of the masses) and crappy food is an easy lifestyle to settle into.Daily involvement in edifying pursuits that stimulate the mind and lead to growth as a person is a one way ticket to true satisfaction and success mentally, as well as physically.For some, shaking off their accumulated debased habits and views will take varying amounts of time and effort.The key is in being able to recognize if you've been debased in the first place.

Friday, January 16, 2015

What It May Take

On Becoming A Champion by Percy Cerutty
"One of the evidences of greatness,either to be or arrived at, is the ability to live a solitary life,if need be. The person desiring success or greatness may find that they must act as if they abandon the world(as others know it): they must renounce all the petty goals and pleasures(as others understand them) and give themselves over to the task as they see it with as complete a dedication and subjugation of the self, as far as comfort and subsidiary goals are concerned,as if the whole matter was one of life and death. So, if you're not prepared to go it alone,if you are not able to stand firm on your decisions,if you do not feel you will go on---cost you what it may--if you do not have that almost constant need to strive higher,success may well elude you." Yes, as Cerutty writes so insightfully, achieving what you perceive as success in your running,or your life for that matter,takes a commitment that not everyone is willing to make. To many, the above quote may seem extreme but to those who desire greatness, it is not a call to sacrifice,it is a valuable insight and guide to achieving your goals.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Carrying On the Stotan Message, Please,No Merchandising

A couple of things prompted me to post this article. The first was a question I read directed to a prominent running writer years ago asking,in so many words, who was going to carry on the Stotan  message now that Cerutty was gone? Obviously,this person had not read the book Training With Cerutty by Larry Myers,because if he had, he would have seen that in the foreward, Percy designated Myers as the man to carry on in his place. Unfortunately, that didn't work out too well,Larry seemed to disappear from the public scene sometime after 1980.It's a familiar occurrence though, a charismatic leader dies and his movement loses momentum or just fades away.When you think about it,the Stotan philosophy would be an increasingly "hard sell" to most in the years since Perc's death. I mean,with it's disdain for consumerism,materialism and pretension, as well as it's emphasis on keeping it natural with all that means and entails,it only takes a peek in a running mag or running catalogue these days to see that Stotanism is not going mainstream in the running community anytime soon. Come to think of it,I wonder what Percy would think of spandex tights,headphones and heart rate monitors? But,again,I digress.
The other thing that inspired the following pertained to a link someone sent me,it was entitled Stotan Racing.This person wanted to know if this was THE group that was carrying on the true Stotan way.A quick look over the site revealed that it was a Nike sponsored club described as an, "excellence driven distance club."  Nothing wrong with that, I saw they had a page taken from Percy's bio,Why Die? which quotes what some call the Stotan Creed or Code, also a very nice touch. Their training grounds had access to parks and hills which certainly fits in with Stotanism. They did say they were a place where post collegiate runners could come  in order to continue to develop their potential, something that is badly needed in this country. I was a little put off  by their seeking donations so they could finance their runners but I've  always had a problem with this type of thing just as I do appropriating the name Stotan to promote something that is not truly Stotan all the way through. To their credit though, they did say that their athletes worked.As most of us are aware,the greatest athletes from decades past, like Derek Clayton for example, were employed and still managed to do a prodigious amount of training.
Well,I got back to my friend and told them that,no,this group was not THE group that was carrying on Percy's legacy and all things Stotan. However,I did say they were performing a good work that used some of what Stotanism involved but the key word here is some.As anyone who has read Cerutty's books,his bio, and posts on this site will realize, Stotanism is an all encompassing philosophy.It's more than just a way of training.You can't take bits and pieces out of what I'll call the philosophy and use it as you choose, not at least if you want to be considered truly Stotan. But let me quickly add this, a little bit of any kind of the Stotan principles in your life or training is a very good thing.
Herb Elliott summed it up best years ago in an interview he did for a British radio program. In responding to a question that asked,"who's going to carry on Cerutty's philosophy?", he said their wasn't a need for a specific person because we have his books and articles to guide us.How true that is, it's all there in his writings,what being a Stotan really means. Now it's up to us to read and act on what we've learned,it is THE way to live,we can be the messengers

Sunday, January 4, 2015

One Runner's New Year's Resolutions

It's a common occurrence in the media and elsewhere to disparage the idea of making New Year's Resolutions. Their rationale is that no one keeps them anyway so why bother doing so? To me this is flawed reasoning.You mean,just because you didn't keep them in the past it is not worthwhile to ever again consider or write down things that you wish to do or change about yourself? It is as they say,worthy.Change happens and any direction taken towards positive change is a good thing. What follows is a list of resolutions one runner has made,what are yours going to be?
1. I will follow my training schedule all the way through this year. I am not going to drift off into some type of free form,do as I please routine midway through as I have done in recent years.How can I reap the racing benefits if I don't follow the plan?
2.I will actually use a training log.This is one I've been telling myself I'm going to do for years.I begin with good intentions but get lazy and undisciplined and gradually give up, telling myself that a log is really not necessary.I say this despite the fact that runners much better than myself  use one.Once again,it all boils down to discipline.
3.I will make a concerted effort to go under 3 hours for the marathon one more time. Isn't that the benchmark for us average Joe runners?  It takes planning and total commitment but the journey to that goal makes us better runners and people,if,we allow it to.
4.I will seek out new places to train.I wouldn't say that 'familiarity breeds contempt' but it's good to challenge ourselves with new areas and terrains.As I said the other day,runners tend to be creatures of habit and that may not always be a good thing.
5.I will try running different types of races.Once again,it is essential for runners to venture out of their comfort zone from time to time.
6.I will stick with a regular and appropriate weight training routine.It is a proven, essential part of a runner's training regimen, that among other things,contributes to a runner being less likely to become injured.
7.I will not drink alcohol to excess.Why am I still doing this? You'd think I was addicted or something.
8.I will stop eating junk foods and foods that have no real nutritional value.I will also not overeat which is more destructive to one's health then most people realize.
9.I will give something back to the running community. As a runner I am overly concerned with ME,my training,my diet,my races,etc. I will volunteer to help at some local road races or mentor some novice runners or...........
10.I will reread the greatest running bio ever written, Pre! by Tom Jordan. It will inspire and remind me of what guts,passion and total commitment really are.I'll read the book slowly and thoughtfully,considering each word. I'll also at some point watch the DVD on his life, Fire on the Track.