I think it was a Thursday evening about a week ago. I had crawled off the couch & headed to bed after an evening at the track & my late-week recovery protocol of rehydrating, eating dinner, and watching Travel Channel's "Man vs. Food." I love "MvF": Some of the items Adam Richmond encounters can be enough to make me want to eat...or not. More often than not, it's eat. Suzanne hates the show, however; she believes the challenges glorify gluttony. However, I consider Richmond an object lesson in how NOT to live my life - on the edge of a heart attack. I do keep a mental checklist of the dining establishments he visits for future business travels.
Suzanne was watching YouTube videos while I engaged in vicarious voraciousness. She pointed out an interesting video analysis of the running form of American and Kenyan marathoners a mutual friend of ours sent her. I took a look at it the following weekend, after another friend sent me the link via e-mail. The front end of the video explained a sub-two-hour marathon could be run by an American marathoner if they were to become more biomechanically efficient, specifically in the amount of vertical travel taken during each stride, the range of motion of the hips & the angle of the foot as it strikes the road surface.
I'll agree to a certain degree that biomechanical efficiency (an observable variable) is a very important aspect of good road racing, but it's not the only important aspect. Cardiovascular fitness, thermal regulation, hydration, nutrition, mental conditioning - some measurable & observable variables, others hypothetical constructs - can all be included as necessary cards in a "winning hand" for distance runners.
But the greatest runners in the world can be sidelined by poor nutrition or hydration; Anthony Famiglietti, for example, was literally shut down by years of lousy diet & had to do a complete work-over in order to regain his competitive mojo. Steve Prefontaine didn't have the highest VO2 max score, but was still a dominant track runner, in the U.S. I bet you can probably think of a fellow runner who "crushes" workouts, yet folds like a house of cards when they toe the line on race day.
But, back to the video:
Later, a gentleman is administered a muscle manipulation, stretching, & massage treatment modality, after which he is sent out on the track to run 400 meters. He runs eight seconds faster than his personal best time for the 400. I don't want to "throw stones" at the company who developed the video, but an inquiring mind like mine thinks there are some confounding variables here. Did the gentleman in the video run faster directly because of the muscular and myofascial manipulation, or was this perhaps because someone was paying attention to his effort?
I'm no genius, but I vaguely recall from my Educational Psychology course/s back in college a little concept called the "Hawthorne Effect." For those who might not be familiar, there were some industrial psychology experiments done during the 1920s & 1930s which had to do with changing the lighting (brightness) in a Western Electric plant. The Hawthorne Effect suggests workers were more productive & more motivated because someone was taking an interest in their activity. I bet that little effect exists even within my own athletes.
For example, I cut my track workout short the previous Tuesday because my achilles' tendon & heel were began to ache. However, I had my athletes do the last two repeats of the set. One of them has the tendency to tighten her shoulders up & swing her arms a little wide; we work to relax & drop the shoulders at speed on a regular basis. As she came midway into the turn, about 125 meters into the repeat, she looked at me walking the opposite direction at the outside lane of the track. Immediately, her arms & shoulders relaxed & her pace increased slightly. I couldn't help but chuckle as I watched. I asked her about her form change at that point. She said, "yes, right about the time I saw you and heard your voice I knew to relax the shoulders."
"In fact, during the middle of the 5K we raced in late September I could hear your voice inside my head telling me to relax...especially during the first mile when you were still close by, & when I was approaching the turn-around on the course & could see you."
Sometimes it's the training, the technique, or the modality that helps the runner to improve. Other times it's the coach - or knowing the coach is nearby. And watching.