Tuesday, September 5

Doing what it takes

"There are always far more athletes who wish to be the best than there are athletes who are willing to do whatever it takes to get there".

So says Tony Benson, a Lydiard and Cerutty-inspired Australian coach, author of a great "how to train" book called "Run with the Best".

My friends Dwight and Kari Cornwell introduced me to Tony's work. I find myself reading bits of his book avery day; the last time I did that was with Arthur Lydiard's "bible" back in the '80s. Yet Tony's system strikes terror in my heart, as he is definitely a believer in high mileage. I averaged 33 miles a week in the last year which, according to Tony, pretty much means I am still in the "training to train" phase!

Tony bemoans the fact that Australian runners are no longer at the top. And he blames the Kenyans for it. Well, not the Kenyans, exactly, but people's fear of the Kenyans, Ethiopians and Moroccans and the limiting belief that these runners have special genetic gifts or training secrets that means that we can't get near them. The truth of it is -- they train harder!

Tony quotes British champion Bruce Tulloh, who after spending a year in Kenya in the 1970s, said that the Keyans were doing about half the training that Americans or Europeans were doing. Tulloh predicted that when they got disease and malnutrition under control, and were able to train properly, the Kenyans would dominate. Of course, he was proved right.

Tony tells us: "Kip Keino, acknowledged by all the Kenyans I spoke to as their all-time great...might not make the Kenyan top 100 any more. He trained 6-8 times a week. Modern Kenyans train 12-18 times per week." Yes, they are prepared to do what it takes.

As someone raised in the land that produced the likes of W.G.George, Alf Shrubb, Bannister, Pirie, Foster, Ovett, Coe, Cram and all, I am bit embarrassed that the only British runner I look up to these days is Paula Radcliffe. Is there something about our modern lifestyle that means Australian, British and American runners just aren't prepared to do what it takes any more? Or do we blame modern coaches?

Hmm. I am asking myself why I'm only prepared to do 30-40 miles a week. This has got to change.

* Quotes from "Australian Middle and Long Distance Running into the 21st Century", an article on Tony Benson's website. The full article (pdf) is here.

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