of the Elites
What You Can Learn From the World's Best
from Run Today - an exclusive of
Road Runner SportsOn
October 13, 2002, in Chicago, Great Britain's Paula Radcliffe set a new woman's
world record in the marathon. The tall, slender but muscular woman with the
distinctive bobbing head running style, averaged an amazing 5:15 per mile pace
as she obliterated the previous record by a remarkable 89 seconds. When she
crossed the line in 2:17:18, Radcliffe turned and began waving to the cheering
crowd. For a few seconds it looked as though she might sprint over to her
adoring fans and start "high-fiving" them instead of heading for the press
conference and warm clothes. Clearly, Radcliffe could have run even
Now, you're probably thinking "what can I possibly learn from
someone like Paula Radcliffe? I could never in my wildest dreams ever imagine
running that fast." Of course you'd be right, only twenty-one men ran faster
than Radcliffe that morning, she's definitely in a class by herself. But not
unlike other fast, elite athletes, Radcliffe's training "secrets" can help you
become a better runner. In fact, Radcliffe's and others training "secrets"
aren't really secrets at all, there are no magic training schedules or special
diets that will help you run faster. Here are the four training principles that
will help you become a better, faster runner.
- Commitment to your goal
- Consistent training
- Focusing your mind
- Understanding your body
Radcliffe went into
the Chicago Marathon with a clear goal: breaking the woman's world record. She
chose that particular marathon because she knew the course was flat and fast.
She also knew that if the weather conditions were right, she could set a world
record pace. Everything was carefully planned-from the shorter races she ran in
the months leading up to the marathon to every single workout, every massage,
every visit with her chiropractor. Once she had set her goal everything she did
from then on was geared toward helping her reach that goal.
you're a novice runner or a seasoned athlete, you'll find success if you commit
to a goal. Your goal may be to run five days a week, or it may be to break 5
hours in the marathon. No matter what your goal is, you need to commit to it or
you probably won't achieve it. To help yourself commit:
Keep in mind that you'll probably have
many goals in your "running life." Goals are both short and long term. As you
achieve one, you'll move on to the next one. Depending on circumstances you may
not always achieve your goal when you'd like to, but don't despair-goals give
meaning and purpose to life.
- Write the goal down on paper
- Tell friends and family members what you
want to achieve
- Write out a long-range training schedule
- Seek out the advice of other runners,
sports professionals such as coaches, or read training books to learn more (in
preparation for her first attempt at the marathon distance Marla Runyan, the
women's 5K champion, sought advice from several marathon veterans)
Radcliffe, Marla Runyan, Deena Drossin, Khalid Khannouchi, Catherine
Ndereba-every elite world and/or national class runner runs
consistently-usually seven days a week, often twice a day. Even the legendary
Bill Rodgers still runs nearly every day, and has done so for thirty years.
This isn't to say that you need to start a "streak"-running every day for years
and years without taking a break for illness, injury or real-life commitments
isn't necessarily healthy, but running consistently (with planned breaks) will
make you a better runner. Many runners who are new to the sport make the
mistake of jumping into races before they've built a strong running base.
Prospective marathoners also tend to get themselves into trouble when they try
to run a marathon before they're ready. There are few experiences more painful
than struggling through a marathon when you're unprepared. Consider the
- Running two or three days a week is good
for your heart, your lungs and your mental wellbeing. But if you want to run
faster and if you want to race, you'll need to run more often (unless you're
unusually talented, young and you run very fast on those two or three
- Consistency is critical if a marathon is
in your future. Generally it's a good idea to wait to run a marathon until
you've been running four or five days a week for at least a year.
- Running success is measured by mileage,
at least up to a point. Most runners' times will improve, even without any
specific speed training, if they increase their mileage up to 30 miles a week.
However, once an athlete reaches 50 miles a week, there's an increased risk of
over-training and injury.
- If you are running 15-20 miles a week,
you're better off running the mileage in four or five days rather than trying
to squeeze it into only three. If you're training for a marathon, don't run
only two days during the week and schedule long runs on the weekend that are
two or even three times longer than your longest run during the week. Keep in
mind that one of the definitions of consistent is "marked by regularity".
dictionary definition: "focus" means directed attention. The next time you see
a race on TV, or attend a race that you're not running, look carefully at the
faces of the runners in the front rows. Usually they won't be laughing, talking
and joking around. Once they've done their warm-up strides most of them get
into position at the start line and start concentrating on the task at hand.
Sometimes they even do their serious focusing and concentrating long before
About fifteen minutes before the start of the 2002 Carlsbad 5000
Deena Drossin was observed squatting on her haunches staring straight ahead
down the long straightaway leading to the finish line. The straightaway is
slightly downhill and it starts after the runners have made a sharp left hand
turn around a corner. The smart, focused athlete who makes his or her move once
they've turned the corner and hit the downhill portion often wins the race.
Drossin sat for nearly five minutes in that position, focused straight ahead,
blocking out everything else and concentrating on the finish line. Less than
half an hour later she had set a new woman's world record for 5K! Her focus
It certainly isn't necessary for you to concentrate hard
every time you go out to run. Running should be a way to relieve stress, enjoy
the outdoors and feel free and unencumbered. However, once in awhile it's good
to practice focusing before a workout so you'll be able to concentrate hard
when you have an important race in the future. To focus try:
- Visualizing your performance in your
mind. "See yourself" passing other runners, running hard up a hill and crossing
the finish line.
- Repeating phrases over and over. Some
examples are: "strength, power, fast" or "I'm fast, I'm a winner."
You'll be a much
better runner if you develop a feeling for how your body is reacting. The best
runners know when they can safely push themselves, and when they have to back
off. Following this year's Chicago Marathon Alan Culpepper, who ran 2:09:41 for
sixth place, told reporters that he felt comfortable throughout the entire
race, even during the windy portions in the last two miles, because he was
running a pace that he knew he could hold, despite the conditions. He had
trained to run that pace and he knew that he could hold it because his body was
reacting the way it should. Deena Drossin on the other hand, had a rough time
of it. Although she beat her previous PR by a few seconds, she started to cramp
as early as ten miles and had to back off the pace. She knew that her body
wasn't going to allow her to run quite the way she had planned.
athletes who've been training for many years have developed a good sense of
perceived effort. If their workout calls for 5 miles at 5:15 pace, they'll run
5:15 because they know what a 5:15 pace "feels" like. Many of them also use
heart rate monitors during certain times in their training to determine whether
their bodies are adapting to training stress. Using a heart rate monitor is a
valuable training tool for any runner-particularly for athletes who have not
yet developed a feel for how their bodies are working. Novice heart rate
monitor users often say that they're surprised to find out that their "easy"
days aren't as easy as they thought! Using a monitor will help you learn how to
train using the hard/easy principle. Once you've grasped that concept, you'll
be a better runner. You'll feel comfortable with your body, will know when to
push and when to back off, and as a result you should be able to avoid the
over-training that can lead to injury.
Remember that elite runners
are just like you. They might be faster, but that's the only difference. They
have good days, and bad days; days when they don't feel like stepping out the
door and days when everything comes together and they could run forever. Isn't
it nice to know that the "secrets" to their success aren't really secrets at
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