Races and Training: Chapter Twenty



MY personal opinion on this subject—the thermometer should be an athlete’s servant, not his boss—may be very different from yours, but when you’ve thought out what I’ve got to say you might perhaps alter your outlook.


If the thermometer has been your boss hitherto, you’re one of the guilty ones, as the great majority of men are. Work or giving -it-a-miss, according to the reading of the instrument, has become so much of a custom that it doesn’t occur to most of us that there is another side to the question. Admitted that atmospheric temperature plays a big part in athletic training—as it does in so much else—yet to my way of thinking it doesn’t amount to any­thing like so much as many seem to consider. It may be that civilisation is softening us so much that we are apt to look for unnecessary physical comfort even when such a thing is quite out of place.

Take the average track athlete, though as a matter of fact the principle applies to all forms of exercise, as you know, it’s all too common a practice to avoid a workout temporarily when the thermometer shows a tendency towards the abnormal, apparently with the idea that exercise is unsuitable under such conditions. Perhaps it would be nearer the truth if you said ” uncomfortable.” Yet when you get down to brass tacks, all weather wet. cold, fine or hot and sunshiny, is perfectly natural, and as exercise is natural too it can be sandwiched into any sort of weather that happens to turn up. Seasons, anyway the athletic ones to which we have become such absolute slaves, actually have nothing whatever to do with it : we’ve merely invented them to suit ourselves and the convenience of the public who fan the sport. Finland, Sweden and North America have already begun to learn the lesson and it’s quite time we learnt too.

Just as you alter your dress for the season or weather, so you can alter your programme of exercise to suit prevailing conditions. If you indulge in out-of-door training, as of course you always should when possible, you’ll put on extra clothing in winter so as to keep reasonably warm, though even then the exercise ought to be relied on to provide most of the additional heat required. I’ve seen fellows sweating profusely on a cold day only because they had overloaded themselves with clothing for the work they were doing. This is the sort of thing that breeds trouble. You can be pretty sure they had been uncorking more speed than was wise or they wouldn’t have been in such an unsavoury state.

When anything like long-distance work on road or track is concerned it is distinctly better to be a trifle on the cold side than otherwise—I’m referring to training, not competition, at the moment—because too much heat will not only slow you down but will actually weaken you with over-heavy perspiration as well; whereas if you felt a bit chilly you’d be apt to put a trifle more ginger into it and a natural warm-up would follow. If it happened to be exceptionally cold you might even think of putting in more than the usual quota of training because temporary conditions would allow you to do so without taking it out of you as warmer weather would.

So you see you should still ” train by thermometer ” though not, as most fellows do, get busy only when they consider its reading


meets with their approval. If you want to be a class athlete— and who doesn’t ?—you must train all the year round no matter what the instrument says ; and you might well note, too, that there is no one to stop you except yourself.

As you know, there are times in winter when a prolonged trip on road or track sounds like real hardship, but that’s only because you’re not used to it. I find that when there IS snow on the ground I go farther—put in more time at training—than ever I do in summer. I just tell you that to show you it was the training, not the comfort, that had ” first call.”

Raining ? All right ! as you can’t stop it you may as well grin and bear it. It’s al] nonsense to avoid it on the ground that i’t will give you a cold ; though if you are absolutely convinced that it will, it is probable that your mind working on your physique will allow you to succumb to such a thing more easily than other­wise. Do dogs and horses and wild animals catch cold through being out in the rain ? So long as it’s not too cold and windy, the usual track costume is good enough ; for anything else a woollen sweater with the cotton vest outside is the thing. Wool doesn’t feel so abominably cold in the wind as wet cotton, and after all there’s no need to be overmuch of a martyr.

As you can’t alter the thermometer reading you must adjust your work to suit it. For instance, there’s the time of day you set aside for your workout, and remember, it should be almost a daily affair, not a bi-weekly or weekly event. In the winter it-may be better to turn out in the afternoon or evenings as it is apt to be somewhat less cold then. When the mercury climbs sky-high you can work things the other way round. In this case there should be no speeding or actual strenuous work of any kind or you will be unduly weakened by excessive perspiration. So for this sort of atmosphere the early morning is more suitable, and you can go through the exercise you decide to be necessary very much more casually than you would on a cooler day, taking care that the perspiration, at any rate as far as you can manage it, is kept within reasonable limits. You’re bound to sweat a bit, but in order to avoid an overdose you’ll be obliged to cut out any really fast work or heavy exertion. Yet not for a moment need you fear it will entail a loss of speed or energy when such are required ; it will have just the opposite effect, for by training in this manner under these conditions you are building up stamina, and this will enable you to maintain your former speed or effort for a greater distance or length of time than before. The actual speed, or ability to let fly a sudden burst of energy, is always there, whereas the stamina has to be developed. Without adequate stamina speed of itself is worse than useless, for it will almost certainly lead to physical breakdown.

You have probably discovered before this, even though you haven’t acted on it, that you can do an increased amount of work in cold weather without getting any more tired than a shorter quota would make you in summer. I’m only telling you what I

found the conditions to be in my own case ; you can easily put it to the test yourself if you want to, and verify it. I came to the conclusion that, from a purely mechanical point of view, since a similar amount of energy was always used to move yourself over a similar distance, the wastage noticeable in hot weather must be the result of the only obvious difference in your condition under the different circumstances. In other words the wastage was caused by perspiration. There can be no doubt that a large part of vour available energy is used to create and sustain perspiration, your system taking this course subconsciously whether you like it or not with the object of keeping your body temperature as near normal as possible. Now none of us ever wants to chuck useful energy away to no purpose, but that’s what you’ll be doing if you carry on to excess. That’s why I advise you to ” go slow ” when the heat is more than usually noticeable.

Again, you know no doubt that you should never get badly tired when training : it would be making the same mistake— though perhaps in a different way—as having a ” time trial”, a serious fault which is still advised in many of our most modern text-books. Your business is to build up, not break down. Just carry on each day until you feel you have had a decent dose—if you’re after championships it might even be a fairly hefty one— and then stop and have your bath. Before long you will know just how much you can manage under any given circumstances of weather and temperature without in any way overstepping the reasonable mark. Once you have arrived at that stage it is easy enough to judge your immediate requirements for the event you have in mind. Personally I always used to size up the position when I had done about half the distance I had intended ; then, if I didn’t feel as full of beans as I could wish, I’d turn tail and get back. But there were other times when I felt energetic enough to add quite a considerable amount to my daily ” ration ” and I’d put the extra energy into extra training. Consequently the length of my outing varied from day to day. It seems to me this is a more sensible plan than trying to force yourself to keep to a daily schedule.

Yet one thing remained fairly steady, and that was the average of time or distance I devoted to training. I soon learnt that in my own case a daily schedule was a complete mistake, because on no two days was either I or the weather the same. But a weekly schedule made a convenient allowance for vagaries of this sort and consequently that was what I adopted. Even then it wasn’t the usual sort of schedule, for I quite admitted my inability to master all the factors concerned. What I set myself was a minimum in mileage, and unless travel or physical breakdowns prevented it I’d put up with no excuse for failing to reach it. To make sure about this and feel it was safe, I generally managed to put up the whole of the distance in the first four days ; then, if I wanted to, I felt I could take things easier the last two—I seldom ran on Sundays unless lack of training during the week made it necessary.


Under these circumstances my schedule was, as often as not, greatly exceeded. I was always anxious to get the week’s work beyond the minimum mark and piled it on a bit until I had done so ; then, finding I could do a bit more, I took the opportunity to go while the going was good. Failure to complete my weekly schedule was a rare thing indeed and was in every case due to strains or serious discomforts of one sort or another.

My hobby was, as you know, long-distance work on the road, but you will understand that what I have told you above holds good in principle for all running no matter whether it’s a mile or a marathon ; holds good indeed for all athletic exercise. All you have to do is to apply the thing in principle to your own pet form of activity and work out the results.

To sum it all up I would say that, quite regardless of seasons, your aim throughout the year should be to sustain a reasonable standard with regard to output of energy while training. This standard will become enhanced as you progress and, if you carry on long enough, using what intellect tells you are the best methods and sticking consistently to them, you will find that it will bring within your reach almost any goal you set yourself, even though at the moment such an achievement may seem to be beyond vour highest expectations. Other men have done as much, and you’re no less of a man than they were, and you know it. So get busy.