Once I got rid of my cable television...actually, once Suzanne helped me realize we could live without cable television...things became a little more peaceful, even focused around the household: we're less likely to adjust (or curtail) our exercise, dinner, or sleep habits because there's something on the tube one or both of us want to see. If we really feel the need to check out a live broadcast, say, of a sporting event, we'll make an evening of it at the local family sports pub just up the block. Otherwise we stick to video-on-demand.
In the case of track and field, which in the case of the States needs a serious re-work, video clips on the internet are the best way to go. In the case of the Boston University indoor invitational almost a month ago, the world and national record-setting performances by three Nike Oregon Project runners were up the following evening. If the two races, a men's 5,000-meter run and the women's 1,000 meters, don't motivate you to run a couple of hard workouts, they might possibly teach you what it takes to run an outstanding performance.
The first quality which caught my attention, patience, is one which cannot be over-stressed. There's no such animal as an overnight success in most human endeavors. Athletic excellence is the residue of long hours of work, sacrifice and toil. Pundits and commentators often disagree with a coach's strategy: succeed, and everything was timed perfectly. Fail, and the chances are the timing was too aggressive. We all feel there needs to be a plan, and there needs to be something done, right away.
Doubters only need to look at the cover of any running magazine or the link to any article in their e-mail...the one often titled, "Your Best 5K In Six Weeks (Or Your Monkey Back)." Are you doing the exact same thing you did last year? And the year before? If it didn't help you then, why should it be of benefit today? I have friends who tell me in November after the last local "turkey trot" race they intend to do what it takes to be a better runner the following year; they'll drop those extra ten pounds, cut back on the beer, and run speed workouts every weekend. Come January and the first "party races" those plans are all by the wayside.
To watch Oregon Project member/Olympic medalist/American indoor 5K record holder Galen Rupp is to see (in my humble opinion) the polar opposite of the last-touted "Great American Distance Running Hope," Alan Webb. Webb's "Be There Now" mentality made him a less-than-perfect protege for several notable coaches, to include Rupp's coach (for the past dozen years) Alberto Salazar.
If you're healthy and racing well at shorter distances, such as the 5,000 or 10,000 meters, and enjoying yourself, why sacrifice time and innate speed on the altar of strength and endurance just so you can place a 26.2 sticker on the bumper of your car? Salazar's main focus in training an athlete includes always keeping a bigger picture in mind.
I reviewed the lap splits for Rupp and Oregon Project teammate (and Canadian indoor 5K record holder) Cam Levins, and was amazed to see how consistent the times for each 200-meter lap after the first 400 meters. A 13-minute 5K requires a 31-second lap: in the case of an indoor 200-meter track; 25 of them.
Let's make this something most of us mortal runners, or runners over the age of 40, can understand. If you were to say a person over 40 was a decent runner, you would assume they can run 40 minutes for 10,000 meters. That's 1:36 per 400-meter lap on the local training track. Many of us could, on a good day, do 5, 10, perhaps all 25 at that pace, with a little recovery time in between. The genius comes in being able to tie all 25 of them together.
But to return to those 31-second 200s...most likely there were more than a few sessions of training where the repetitions were as fast as (or faster than) 27 seconds per 200 (Flotrack video of the workout immediately following the meet showed Mssrs. Rupp and Levins running at...yep...27 second pace. Every once in a while this ol' coach guesses right.).
The principle of specificity states in order to improve as a runner it is necessary to run; thus, to be able to run fast times (regardless of the distance) it is necessary to run fast. Faster repetitions, which ideally include acceleration drills, can mean the difference between being outkicked at the end of a run and being the one who does the outkicking. It takes a little practice to learn how to run fast in a relaxed manner...relaxed is smooth, smooth is fast. You learn where the form breaks down (say, a left elbow going wide, a shortening of an arm swing, a rising of the shoulders...) and what things need to be done to forestall the form break. It also makes those other "boring" workouts like overdistance and tempo training seem much more comfortable in comparison. Nothing breaks down a mental barrier like the occasional challenging speed workout which pushes just a little farther than you initially thought you could go.
Sometimes you need to train solo. But there are workouts and races where you aren't going to make the goal on your own. There were two pace-setters slated to work for Levins and Rupp over the first 2,000 and 3,000 meters, but in the end the record-setting performances (and the excellent workout efforts which followed) came as a result of synergy, shared effort and sacrifice. The pacesetter slated to work to 3K faltered and dropped back behind the two OP athletes, leaving them to take the record-setting effort pretty much by the scruff of the neck. Could Rupp have run his AR, or Levins his national record, without the other's support? Possible, but the gap between the old record and the new would most likely have been smaller.
As an aside, these same observations in my humble opinion are as applicable, or could have been as easily borrowed from Trenier Clement-Moser and Mary Cain's 1000-meter race, where Cain nipped Moser at the line and broke the World Junior Record, missing the AR by five seconds.
But there's time and time and time, as Parker once wrote, in the case of a 17-year-old, the hard work in the bank and the support of someone around your ability level. We don't have to be chasing records to desire running excellence...but the hard work is all the same for us citizens.