Races and Training: Chapter Twenty Six



QUITE recently I met by appointment a man who told me he was seriously thinking of taking to athletics with the object of putting up new records.    He wanted to know what I thought of it and what I could suggest in the way of useful tips.

We were complete strangers, though I knew him well by name, as do the great bulk of athletes in this country, champions as well as small fry. When I met him I found a young-middle-aged healthy specimen, chockfull of energy and vitality, and one with ideas on training distinctly in advance of those of most textbooks on the subject. We didn’t waste any time over formalities but got down to business right away. He had his theories—as yet untried by himself—and was convinced they were sound. I thought so, too. Very good then, what did I think of his chances if he himself put them to the test ? If he succeeded, these theories —disavowed and derided by nearly all our present teachers— would prove their worth, and he would then have done a good deed for athletes all the world over.

I told him what I could in the short half-hour we had for discus­sion and thereafter spent much time at intervals thinking out the major details of what I believed to be essential for capturing a world athletic record. What I tell you here is, of course, just my personal opinion ; but as it has worked successfully on half-a-dozen different men, all of whom gained their records, it’s sound enough to accept as a basis until a better is discovered. So I’ll leave out all frills and tell you what I consider the plain truth.

Incentive comes first of all; without it you’d never get anywhere. And to achieve world records your incentive has to be great indeed, something far beyond the usual. With that already ” in being ” it’s as well to remember that mentality always comes out top dog in the end ; to be better than any other man in the world, therefore, you must get to know more of your subject than any other man. That hits two ways : (1) you’ve got to put more physical energy into it and (2) you must study intensively the results of such practice as you proceed. Yet another point : athletics must be your major engagement for at least two years on end, your business or means of making a livelihood being at all times one of secondary importance. It couldn’t be otherwise, for if you don’t give practically all you’ve got to the achievement of your object you’ll never be certain of outclassing men who did.

Right ! Get ready for extreme and prolonged discomfort, an outsize dose of both. At what speed will you have to run to make sure of your chosen mark ? Well, if you picked on the marathon a steady 10 2/5ths miles per hour would just about do it. But you must never, except for short temporary bursts, practise at racing speed : the most useful pace in this case would be nine miles per hour. So that’s what you’ll have to learn.

Except for one day in seven practice must be a daily affair and nothing but urgent necessity should turn you from it, your pace being a steady nine miles per hour average up and down hill. The more hills you practise on the better for your ultimate form. At first you will be able to do no more than a few miles without getting badly tired, but after a month or so you’ll be doing more than double the distance and adding a bit to it each week. Don’t go any faster, for your race doesn’t require excessive speed ; but go so far every day that the last mile or two become almost a desperate effort. So long as you’re fit for another dose the following day you’re not overdoing it, and while you keep to steady rhythmic work you’ve nothing to be frightened of. You may think you’re mighty near ” all in ” when you get back, but a short bath followed by a meal will make you feel so much better that you can then turn your mind to less exhausting employment.

Don’t let distance frighten you—it’s only pace that kills. You’ll have to stick at it until you can manage a hundred miles a week quite comfortably. Don’t set a daily schedule ; it’s far more sensible to run to a weekly one. You can’t tell what the temperature, the weather or your own condition will be and should run just as far as you can each day taking all these things into


consideration. Bad conditions may make you do rather less one day ; given a weeekly schedule there’ll be time to make good the deficit without overstraining. Another time you may find you’re going better than you expected ; put a few more miles into it while you’ve got the chance. Also, every now and again—perhaps once a month—take a 25 per cent, longer run at a slightly lower speed ; you must be quite capable of running thirty miles if you are a first-class marathon man.

Early to bed—probably nine hours there—and early up ; you will need and must have plenty of sleep. Another necessity is the best of food to work on, a somewhat difficult matter in these times. But there’s no compromising ; you require it and must have it. Early nights mean that you cut out nearly all social activities ; records must take precedence of everything. I don’t suppose a gentle binge in the way of a theatre or dance once in a couple of months would do any harm ; it might do good if only because it broke monotony. But nine-tenths of your usual pleasures have to be scrapped to make time for this new work you’ve taken on.

No ; I wouldn’t advise any man to undergo all this ; it’s for him to decide. If his incentive is sufficient he won’t shy at it ; if it’s not, he’ll discover ” it’s just too bad.”