Athletic development specialists dedicated to the art and science of excellence in movement

Lessons in Intelligent Training from Coaching Legends

- It is the intelligent design of training, specifically tailored to each runner’s attributes and performance level that matters. If you make a long-term plan; you prevent burning out in the short-term.  No single workout matters much in the big-picture! Running hundreds of moderate workouts will transform your body and racing capacity, over time. 

-Tom "Tinman" Schwartz, M.S.

My running coach, mentor, and friend Tom "Tinman" Schwartz is a very sharp guy in his own right, but one of his greatest coaching skills is to cultivate a deep appreciation for the legends who shaped the sport such as Bill Bowerman and Arthur Lydiard.  Below I have complied a few excerpts from Tom's archived posts at The Run Zone in which he discusses the teachings of the coaching legends.  No matter how technologically advanced the sport becomes, the lessons of icons like Bowerman and Lydiard will guide our training for many years to come.  When it comes to running, it pays to be a student of history!


- "The big confusion and misleading thing about Bowerman's Oregon system of training and subsequently Dellinger's too was the use of date-pace and goal-pace. Most people erroneously think that date-pace is today's 100% effort. Under Bowerman and later Dellinger's system it was NOT 100% effort. In truth, it was about 3-4 seconds per quarter mile SLOWER than all-out. You only were allowed to time trial the last 20% of whatever distance they chose at full effort. Then, the average pace for the time trial was figured out and used in training regularly."

(My two cents: Many people get themselves into trouble when they train at aspirational rather than actual fitness.  That is, they train at the fitness level they hope to be at rather than where they are currently.  In the short term, training above your current fitness level can be rewarding but you risk undermining long term consistency by overloading your body with a training stimulus to which it cannot adapt.  Always run the workout that is appropriate for you and not the workout of any other athlete, whether it is a training partner, a professional whom you hope to emulate, or the imaginary “you” that you hope to become. 

Date-pace, or how fast you could run for a particular race distance on that particular day, is simply a guideline.  Think of date pace as a speed limit rather than a commandment to hit a certain pace.  As races approach we can bring more training closer to goal pace, but the main consideration is whether the current workout is appropriate for the athlete’s present fitness level and not their desired fitness level.  A conservative estimate of date-pace is best because it embeds a margin of safety while still addressing the physiological needs.  Better to lean toward consistency rather than trying to milk too much out of one session and making the body vulnerable to future setbacks.)

-  "[T]rain optimally - for you - and not strain.  As [Bill] Dellinger often said, 'My job is to keep talented runners healthy ....   .    ..... . .'  I think a better phrase would be 'train them intelligently so that they don't get ill or injured.'  The evolution of their fitness happens over time, in my words, so do smart training, consistently. Avoid taking days off.  Never train so hard on one day you are too tired, sore, injured, or ill to run the next day."

- "George “malmo” Malley (former American half marathon record holder) says, 'You should be doing punch-card workouts.' That means, like a job, you show up every day and run workouts that you can manage well. He really focuses big-time on telling young runners to not bury themselves in workouts.  (My two cents: The legendary Jumbo Elliott of Villanova had a similar message in telling runners that track workouts should be so routine that you could do them after falling out of bed.  If you need to harness your mental energies to get “up” for your workouts, you are probably overreaching.  Yes, some days will be designated as “challenge” sets, but most workouts should be, as malmo says, like punching in the time-clock at work).  Trying to keep up with faster runners isn't smart. I wish that more people could hear his message and believe in it.  What was the big message of Bowerman and later Dellinger? Use principles in training and don't bury yourself. They often used Lydiard's phrase, 'Train don't Strain!'"

- "It is the intelligent design of training, specifically tailored to each runner’s attributes and performance level that matters. If you make a long-term plan; you prevent burning out in the short-term.  No single workout matters much in the big-picture! Running hundreds of moderate workouts will transform your body and racing capacity, over time."

- "Think about how Arthur Lydiard peaked his runners. He built a strong aerobic base, introduced easy forms of faster work but gave them plenty of jogging recovery between reps, did some explosive stuff with hills, did some quantity "anaerobic" intervals, then got away from them. He then scheduled surge training and time trials. Time trials, Arthur said, revealed what needed to be done. In some cases, it could mean more anaerobicically natured training, but typically he would do it with more fast time trials over distances like 1500m, 800m, or 300m or surge training sessions such as 50 sprint, 50 jog, 100 sprint, 100 jog. It could mean easing off the time trials and surge training if stamina appeared to not be up to par. Thus, some long runs and easy distance runs were quickly included back in the training schedules to balance out a runner's fitness. For a runner who was low on stamina, NO extended reps which were anaerobically natured would be included, but some short quick stuff that didn't build acidosis could be included.

From my perspective Arthur was saying, 'Let's get you into good shape so that 4-6 weeks before the important race we can fine-tune your training to meet your individual needs at that time. If you need anaeorbic work, I'll give it to you, but in time trial or surge training form because "I know it won't wipe you out like lots of fast 400s will. Or, I can give you 5k and 10k time trials (about 5% slower than all-out) to enhance your stamina. Or, I can give you some longer runs to give you back to aerobic endurance. I can give you some sprints with full recovery if you have good stamina and anaerobic conditioning if you lack explosive ability.'

It was smart planning and adjustment that made it all work for Arthur. You can see, as a supporter of intelligent training practices, that I respect the historical influence of coaches like Arthur, Bill (Bowerman), and others. None of the best coaches tried to cram a bunch of hard training in the last 2-4 weeks before the peak race. They got their athletes to start the build up plenty in advance, and then they fine tuned in the last month in order to bring a runner to full form; ready to rumble when it counted most."

Source: The Run Zone, Tom Schwartz


Very nice post Allan. Lots

Very nice post Allan. Lots of very smart nuggets in there.

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