Friday, September 30, 2005

Common Sense

Common sense is a runner's best friend and worst enemy. Nobby Hashizume, whose coaching pedigree and relationship with Lydiard I've mentioned before, reminded me in his writings on hill training about the place for common sense in training. He was referring to the mistakes athletes make when starting on Lydiard's hill phase. According to Nobby, even "Arthur's Boys", (Snell, Magee and the like) didn't jump right into hill training full-bore without some preparation. Where they trained in New Zealand, almost every running route had some pretty serious hills, so their bodies were already predisposed to some of the physical mechanics involved in hill work, and even when they started their hill training they eased into it gradually over a few weeks. Their hill circuit was two miles long, with 800 meters of steady uphill, 800 of flat at the top, 800 of easy downhill, and 800 more of flat. They completed the circuit 6 times a week, at about 14 miles a session with warm-up and cool-down.

Sounds pretty specific, eh? If your area isn't blessed with a perfect two mile circuit like this, preferrably soft grass, you might as well forget it, right? This is where he says common sense comes in again. Do what you can with what you have. If there aren't any hills for miles, you can use stadium steps, library handicapped ramps, whatever you can find. Nobby writes about Marty Liquori doing stadium steps instead of hills, which simply couldn't be found in the part of Florida where he lived. The important thing is to take the time and put the effort in to gain the strength and flexibility from the hill phase. I'll write more about how to do the hill running and bounding when I get there in a little over a week.

There's a down-side to common sense too. In my opinion, some of the most common training principles agruably born of common sense can be limiters. Concepts as basic as the "10 percent rule" for adding mileage per week during conditioning, training strictly by heart rate zones, and adding no more than 1-2 miles to your long run each week, as well as setting a finite limit of 20 miles for a long run during a marathon build-up sometimes come up short.

These rules are treated as gospel by some, and they are oft-repeated in running magazines several times a year. For a new runner I think they are fine, but for runners with some experience under their belt I think they are lacking. The Lydiard Method stresses developing and listening to your inner-coach. He would be the first to say that his schedules in and of themselves are merely guidelines. What's important is the methodology behind the schedules. I've mentioned it before but it bears repeating- as long as I know what I am trying to accomplish with each run, I feel I can adapt a workout within reason. Every runner is an experiment of one, and as I get to know my body better, I am confident I will not drop dead when I break the rules above (I've broken all of them in my conditioning phase). I think the more a runner runs, the better sense he has of what he is capable of.

Or maybe not. This might be the dreamer in me, but the other arena where I feel common sense can fail us is in where we set our limitations. Of the four running breakthroughs I've had over the years, only one was truly predicted by examining my training log. I'm a runner who believes in the existence of those amazing days where you shatter your own limitations. Some call it running with guts, or running with heart. I think it's that and maybe something more. If you've ever had one of those days, on a training run or in a race, you know what I mean, and running was never quite the same afterwards. To say that it was just running with "common sense" that broke that day (and the world of running) wide open would be selling it short.

Training: 10 miles, 7:09 pace. Felt good but hungry!

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