Monthly Archives: January 2014

Psychology of Competition

Why do people compete? Can you think of anything more destructive psychologically. The worry, upset stomach, sleepless nights. Of course there are all levels of competition and I would assume from observing the human race over these seventy plus years, that not everyone likes to compete at very high levels. In fact my best guess is that only a small minority love the high level of competition.

Now I am talking about competition that can keep you awake at night wondering if you have done the right things to be at your best. It doesn’t have to be in the world of sports but exists in business, religion, the arts etc. The level of competition where you put everything on the line, do or die as they say.  But I have been in the world of business and the only time I felt the same as when I was competing in sport was when my livelihood was at stake. In other words something must be at stake or at least you feel something is at stake. In sports it may be as simple as your reputation.

When I was in high school at the State competition I was as nervous or maybe more so than when I stepped to the line for an important international race. Why? I had nothing to lose except myself imposed reputation. I wasn’t expected to win by anyone, even myself.  But there was something, some idea in my mind, that I must run well, for if I didn’t I would bring shame upon myself. Is that what it was?  A mentally contrived idea of my own making.

Humans, because we are thinking animals, have a way of making too much of an ordeal. We worry about what might be and not what is. Many times we make things worse than they are.  Of course I can think of some scenarios that are so bad our own minds cannot comprehend what is going to happen to us. When something goes wrong with our bodies, something that is life threatening, we have a hard time comprehending. We worry about the situation. We don’t have to contrive anything.  What is real is real enough, there is no reason to go beyond reality.  Having said all that let me go to the part of competition I know the best. Man against man, head to head, with something at stake. As I look back I was more nervous when I was not as well prepared as I wanted to be. But what does that mean? How did I know that I wasn’t prepared? I surely didn’t know what my competitors were doing in their training. I thought I was doing everything possible in my training in high school. Of course as I look back I think how funny that statement is. If I was doing fifteen miles a week it would have been good.

When I was in High School I remember lining up for the State Mile race and being so nervous I walked off the track and threw-up. I did it in college too and as I look back I realize I wasn’t handling the situation but I was allowing the situation to handle me.  Later I made a discovery, a mental awakening if you will. I decided I would only run as well as the shape I was in. Oh I knew I could factor in the excitement of the race but that would always be there. The one thing I could control was the work I could and would do in the weeks, months and years prior to the race. Therefore if I was prepared properly I could and would run well. Being prepared properly meant that I was doing more and better work than my competitors. And yes, some humans are born to be better in many ways.

How did I know I was in better condition? How did I know I was doing more work? I didn’t, that’s right I didn’t.  So how do you assess your condition against those who want to run you into the ground. You step to the same starting line and test your body against theirs. Your Physical conditioning and your mental conditioning is put to the test. If you lose, you spend some time re-evaluating your training. Where can I change the training so I can become a better athlete? Do I spend more time running, run more miles, run faster in my workouts, eat better, sleep better. You look at your entire life and learn to treat your body as a machine. How do you make this machine more perfect? Check everything, even the way you breathe.

As your races improve your mental state improves. There is no doubt that success begets success. When you finally believe totally in yourself, when everything has come together, when workouts that once were difficult have become easy and hard days of the past are no longer hard and you have moved to a higher plateau, then you are ready to test your rivals. Now you can compete.

That is the reason records continue to go down. Athletes continually test themselves against their rivals.  When they lose they realize they must train a little harder and a little smarter. They do that and beat their rivals and then someone else goes to a different level. It is a constant reaching for better training.

Isn’t it interesting that someone fifty years ago didn’t train like athletes of today who are setting world records. Why didn’t they take a quantum leap. Why didn’t they say to themselves, my training is ridiculous, I am going to increase the load four fold. They didn’t and therefore records continued to fall slowly. Of course we must remember running tracks and shoes have also helped to bring records down and we must put those items in proper perspective. (Take two seconds per lap from cinder track records over all-weather tracks.)

Getting back to the competitive side of racing, runners come to the race with different intensities. If we could measure the physical fitness of everyone in a race we would find several runners with near equal cardiovascular fitness. However one of these athletes would be able to beat the others most of the time.  Why? Because that person is able to concentrate on the race better than his rivals. And in many cases the athlete is able to push through discomfort better than the others.  That is a part of the race we never know. How do you measure how much discomfort the athlete is able to withstand. Many athletes will back off when they feel their bodies in that discomfort zone. Some are able to set the discomfort aside and continue pushing the body. That is not to say they don’t feel the pain, it is to say they have learned to deal with it.

Is it possible to train the athlete to accept more pain or is it a personality trait. It may be both. I have come across athletes who seem to have the natural ability to push their bodies to extremes. But at the same time I believe I have been able to train all my athletes to push harder in races. Learn to live with the pain. There have been times when I was so tired in races, trying to stay close to the leaders, I had fleeting thoughts that soon I would have to drop off the pace. But I was able to say, it will only hurt for a short time, two, three, four minutes is such a short time, don’t slow down, don’t back off.  There is no doubt there are runners who do not win, who run harder, enduring more discomfort, than the people who beat them. They are tougher psychologically, but have not placed their bodies into the same cardiovascular condition as those who beat them. Oh, I realize that on certain days there are other factors, but if we could rid ourselves of those factors the above would be true. Then, of course, we must remember genetics.

My point is then, that it is not enough to have the body in great cardiovascular condition. A top athlete must be able to concentrate totally on the task and have the ability to run through discomfort. It is the mental side of racing. Yes, some athletes are born with superior attributes (genes) and they will be able to get to the top if they are able to put the other two factors together. The tough competitor is one who can push through discomfort. A person who has the ability to put up with more pain than their competitors. All other factors being equal it is this person who will win the race.

How much slower were cinder tracks than all-weather?

How does one assess the greatness of America’s distance runners? Each generation has pushed beyond the one before with better training, better tracks and better equipment. If we are going to compare these people we must have some way to measure the environment of when they ran. Maybe that is impossible but we know that the modern all-weather tracks are much faster than the old cinder tracks. How much faster?  Hard to say, but obviously the difference must be close to two seconds per lap. Why is this so? First there was no rebound from the cinder tracks. In effect you had to work much harder to achieve the same stride length. Stride length is important as the stronger push off you have off the back foot the more time you will spend in the air with both feet off the ground and therefore your stride length will be longer without any additional effort.

If we would theoretically give four inches more per stride for the rebound of the all-weather track and the length for a stride is five feet, then we take approximately (88) strides per lap. In a five thousand meter race that means you would take 1100 strides. With the four (4) inches (gained)  you would have a difference of 258 feet or 86 yards. That means on an all-weather track, where you gain at least four inches, that 86 yards is worth 13 to 14 seconds. That alone is a major difference. Secondly, we must account for the condition of the track. Obviously an all-weather track is always the same, stride after stride. The runner does not have to worry about stepping in a hole. On the cinder track the runners, with each push off, create a small hole that causes the runners foot to shift each time he hits a hole. It must also be true that the runner is slipping backward each time they push off on a cinder track since they create a hole.  This happens constantly as the meet continues. This means that each athlete is constantly fighting to use his energy to stay in a straight line as he is being thrown from side to side as his foot lands. In other words the athletes energy is not all going forward but some is used to keep the body from shifting. Runners on all-weather tracks do not have this problem. The difference is easily one second per lap and possibly more.  For those of us who ran on both type of tracks the difference was tremendous.  Those two differences would mean the cinder tracks were 25 to 38 seconds slower in a 5K race than if that same race was run on an all-weather track.

Max Truex in Poland

The year was 1961 and I had made my first National team. The USSR versus USA match was completed and the US men had won again. I had not competed in that track meet as I was the third best steeplechaser and only two athletes ran in these dual meets. A few days after the Russian Meet we ran in Germany and I tasted my first International experience. I led in the race until the last hurdle, fifty meters from the finish, when I was passed by my fellow countryman, Charles “Deacon” Jones who beat me by an inch. I was upset that I had allowed that to happen as I had been slow over the last hurdle. Foolishly I went to one of the barriers in the infield and continued to practice until my calf muscle gave out and tore.

Now what was I going to do?  The rest of the trip was ruined by a stupid mistake. I had not run badly as my time was fourth fastest ever by an American, 8:47.8. Now that is just the setting for my story. We traveled to Warsaw, Poland for our next competition and were housed in a very nice training center about twenty miles outside Warsaw. We were secluded and it was great for training but many of the athletes wanted to be in the city so they could taste some of the culture of the city. After two days we moved into a hotel in the city. Prior to the move I used the wooded area and a cinder track to do my training and I had to be very careful as my leg was very sore. I knew it would be impossible to run very fast in a race. On the second day we were there I had finished my light training and started to warm down by jogging on some trails in the woods that was just beside the track. After a mile or so of meandering through the trails and thoroughly enjoying myself, I came to an opening and in front of me was another cinder track.

The track was deserted except for one solitary individual, Max Truex, who was our best 10K runner in the US. Max was also my commanding officer in the Air Force although our relationship was a little different from the usual officer to enlisted man, which I was. I watched Max as he made his way around the track and came down the last straight away where I was now standing. He ran to the end and came to a stop and placed his hands on his knees for a brief time. He then stood and looked at the watch he was carrying, and had presumably stopped, when he had finished. Then he shook his head as if to say, “I just do not believe it.” I want to point out the fact that Max was about 5′ 4″ tall and cut his hair so short it looked as if he was bald. A week earlier Max had posed in front of a picture of Krushchev, who was the dictator of the USSR at the time, and you would have thought they were brothers as Max puffed his cheeks out for effect.

As he walked in my direction I asked him, “What are you doing Max?” “Four hundreds,” came the reply, “but I can’t believe I am so slow.” Truthfully as I had watched Max come down the straight he looked as if he was running at seventy seconds and I wondered how fast he wanted to run. “Max, you were moving pretty good, how fast do you want to run?” He looked at the watch again as if wishing somehow he had misread the time. “I am trying to run 70 to 71 for a 400 and I can’t get below 82. I feel like I am moving all right but if I have to run against the Polish athletes when I can’t break 80 I am going to be in big trouble.” I looked at the track set in the midst of the forest. “Have you been running a full lap Max?” He looked at me as if I was crazy, “Of course I am running a full lap.” “Max, look at the track, it is not 400 meters.” “Not 400,” he asked in amazement, “what do you mean.” “I think the track is much longer, maybe 500 meters,” I said with a slight smile on my face. “You’re kidding?” He said as he turned to survey the area. “It does look big, doesn’t it?” Max was finished with the number of 400′s he had wanted to do and we jogged easily through the woods until we reached the building where we were staying. We asked the caretaker the size of the track and he confirmed it was indeed 500 meters. “Well I guess my 82′s are worth 70 seconds for the 400. I will be all right for the race this weekend.” He gave me a little laugh as he walked away to shower.

Men’s Distance Running Comes of Age in the USA

The question must be asked, “When did distance running in the United States become par with the rest of the world?” If we look back in history, we can say the John Kelly did some marvelous things with his running, but only a small part of the world was competing at the time.

Then in 1952, Horace Ashenfelter, won the Olympic Gold in the Steeplechase. It was a break through for the United States, but even Horace would tell you he hadn’t expected to win. The rest of the world, mainly the Europeans, shrugged it off as an upset that can happen from time to time and they went back to dominating the sport. Other than the Europeans, the rest of the world was still in distance running infancy.

We didn’t have another break through until the 1960 Rome Olympics when Max Truex placed sixth in the 10,000 meters, running 28:50.2. For the United States that was excellent, but the rest of the world yawned and continued to dominate. New Zealand had now come on the scene, soon followed by Australia.

Truex had been coached by Mihaly Igloi and Max thought Igloi was the reason for his success. The fact is that Max, as my commanding officer, arranged for me to go under Igloi for two weeks in the Spring of 1961. In my autobiography,,”IN THE LONG RUN”, I talk about those two weeks and how it was the start of my drive for the Olympics.

The people under Igloi and the Club that was to be known as the, LOS ANGELES TRACK CLUB, would become the strongest distance running Club the United States had ever known. It all started in the early sixties. Leading this emergence was Jim Beatty who would be the person to chip away at the European dominance. Jim went on to set three world records at two miles and below and even more American records which included the 5000 meters which he ran in 13:45. His time in the mile of 3:55.5 would make the rest of the world take notice. When he broke the world record for two miles in 8:29.8, he became a contender for the 5000 meter Gold Medal.

There were other runners on the LATC who were running well. Jim Grelle was a very tough miler who broke the four minute barrier over twenty times. Ron Larrieu was becoming stronger with every month and I was learning how to race, as Igloi continued to work me increasingly harder.  In those years there were a few others in the United States who were doing their best to keep up with the LATC. George Young, the American record holder in the steeplechase at 8:38, was the most prominent and as the LATC was setting American and world records’, George and a few others were training harder to keep up. There is no doubt that Igloi and his runners were pulling the others along.  Buddy Edelen had traveled to England to train and he was becoming world class at 10,000 meters and especially in the marathon, where he was one of the best in the world. In 1964 he was slated to win a medal but a bad back would keep him from running his best.

In 1964, a mix of old and new runners would take over the U.S. running scene. Bill Dellinger would come out of hibernation and become a force. Gerry Lindgren, still in high school, would receive a lot of publicity and test the veterans. Young, Larrieu, Beatty, and Schul would continue to run well. No other American was given a chance of cutting into the dominance established by the rest of the world.  As 1964 progressed, it was apparent the US had closed the gap considerably in respect to the rest of the world. In the steeplechase, the US had three people in the top fifteen. Even though Young had the third best American time, he was the only one given a chance to medal.

In the 10,000 meters, Gerry Lindgren had the twelfth fastest time in the world with Billy Mills in twentieth and Ron Larrieu in twenty sixth. Only Lindgren was given a chance to place in the top five.  In the 5000 meters, Schul had the fastest time in the world and for the first time in Olympic history an American was favored to win a distance event.

So how did it all turn out. In the steeplechase, George Young finished fifth in a time of 8:38.2. In the 10,000 meters, Mills was the upset victor in 28:24.4 with Lindgren ninth in 29:20.6 and Larrieu twenty fourth in 30:42.6. In the marathon Edelen placed sixth in 2:18:12.4, Mills was fourteenth in 2:22:55.4 and Peter McArdle was twenty third in 2:26:24.4. In the rainy 5000, Schul won as he said he would do in 13:48.8 and Dellinger beat Jazy of France by a few centimeters for third in 13:49.8. Both given the same time.

Yes, we had some performances that were better than expected. Mills in the 10K and Dellinger in the 5K, but we also had some that did not go well. Lindgren had injured his ankle a week before the final and Edelen could not entirely rid himself of the back spasms.  In 1968, George Young, ran  a great race at Altitude in finishing third in the steeple and Jim Ryun ran well in finishing second in the 1500. Both were hold-overs from 1964.

After all these people had retired, the US fell on hard times. No one came forward to be competitive on the world stage until Prefontaine, Rodgers and Shorter came into prevalence in the seventies. When Shorter won the Gold Medal in the marathon and Prefontaine placed fourth in the 5000 in 1972, the US had regained some of what they had lost. Rodgers had placed twelfth in the marathon. Ryun, who was expected to do well, was tripped in the trial race and didn’t run the final. Shorter continued to run well in 1976, capturing the Silver Medal in the marathon.

In the eighties we had lost the ability to compete against the world. We had Henry Marsh in the Steeple who ran well but we were hard pressed to find anyone else the Europeans would say they thought could win against them. And the world was changing. The Africans were becoming a force. It had started in 1964 with Keino in the 5000 and Gammoundi in the 10,000 while Bekila was unstoppable in the marathon. Now there were many more Africans as they emulated Keino, Gammoundi and Bekila.

Now the United States has taken a back seat. Only Bob Kennedy is on the scene. Here we are the richest nation in the world and we can’t train enough people to be competitive. Was 1964 an illusion?  Why did we do so well? Was it pure luck? Anybody who has run distance races knows it is not luck. You might be able to stop a few hockey shots through luck and win a contest from someone who is superior, but in distance running you had better be well trained.

Or is it that there are more runners competing from around the world. No doubt world athletes are running faster, especially the Africans. But even if this is true, are we as a nation staying up? In 1964 all the athletes were running on cinder tracks and Schul makes the case that a race run on cinders at 5000 meters is about 25 seconds slower than running the same race on an all-weather track. That would mean Schul’s 13:38 is worth 13:13 on the all-weather track. A list would show the times in 1964 with the reduction for the cinder tracks over the all-weather tracks.

………………………………….CINDER…………ALL WEATHER ………1965 Better times

BOB SCHUL………………….13:38…………………….13:13                       13:10.4    3 mile
RON LARRIEU………………13:43…………………….13:18                        13:11.4    3 mile
GERRY LINDGREN………….13:44…………………….13:19                        13:04.2    3 mile
JIM BEATTY…………………..13:45……………………13:20
DANNY MURPHY………….13:49.2………………….13:24.2
BILL DELLINGER…………..13:49.8………………….13:24.8
BILLY MILLS…………………13:57.4………………….13:32.4                      13:12       3 mile

In 1965 most ran faster than they had done in 1964. And still the all-weather tracks were still in the making.Add :26 seconds for the 188 yards 4 inches to the three mile times to give a 5K time.  Prefontaine ran 13:22 which would place him fifth on the list. Since he ran on an all-weather track there is no reduction in time. Mills time in 1965 moves Steve to 6th best.  Why haven’t the US runners improved since the mid sixties. We should have ten runners and possibly more running below 13:10 for 5000 meters. Since that is not the case we should ask the question, “why?”

Training Distance Runners for International Competition

In 1996, when I was in Atlanta for the Olympic Games I was invited to speak to the employees and guests of Nations Bank. Afterward as I mingled with the guests a gentleman joined the group and was introduced as Mr. McCall. After five minutes one of the other people in the party mentioned that Mr. McCall was the CEO of Nations Bank. This was the perfect opportunity to relate my ideas on how the United States could bring distance running back to where it had been in the 60′s. When the perfect time came I spoke to Mr. McCall concerning my ideas and he seemed very interested and asked me to write him a proposal. When I returned home I did just that and I will place those ideas here for you to read with updates. I also contacted Craig Masback and informed him of the conversation and gave him Mr. McCalls name and address so he could follow up and use his good office to help bring my ideas to fruition.

The United States has fallen to a second rate power in distance running from the 1500 meters to the 10,000 meters. During these last several years we have not had many runners ranked in the top ten in the world in any of the distance events. In this Olympic year of 2000 we still have athletes who have not qualified for the Olympic standards and now we have only one representative in the men’s and women’s marathon. This should never happen to the United States with our population, standard of living and technology.  However something is lacking or we wouldn’t have this situation. It is easy to point fingers but at the same time, we must have an honest discussion if we are going to remedy the situation. So what are the possible reasons? Do the distance runners of this nation lack determination? Are they willing to pay the price to keep up with the world? I can’t answer that since I don’t know what they are doing in their training. Some are very dedicated I am sure and would be very upset if they were told they don’t have enough dedication.

Are we keeping up with the training. Since I have been training athletes for some thirty five years I know you have to continually experiment and therefore my training methods are better now then when I ran in the Olympics in 1964. I have always believed to be a proper coach you must watch your athletes in the workout and adjust the workout to how the athlete feels and is performing on that day. I hear constantly from athletes that their workouts are posted on bulletin boards and they are expected to do the workout.  That is not coaching in my opinion.  And that is the third reason, do we have coaches who understand what it takes and have they trained at the levels they are asking their athletes to do. That is not to say they had to be international runners but I believe it would be helpful since they would more fully understand the psychological aspects of International competition. If you haven’t been there how can you give advice.

Whatever the reason, we must find an answer. If I can go back to the Los Angeles Track Club which was and still is the best Club Team ever in the History of the United States, that would be the model for future clubs in the United States. I am not talking about a “paper” club where athletes come together to represent a club but never train together. The Los Angeles Track Club trained under Mihaly Igloi, the great Hungarian coach and only those athletes who were training with him were allowed to carry thecolors of the club into competition. They trained thirteen times a week. Twice a day Monday through Saturday and once on Sunday. And I will tell you it was very seldom an athlete missed a workout.Can this be done again? Of course it can and in the last few months the USAT&F has brought into being two clubs. One of those will be in Pocatello, Idaho and the other in Seattle, Washington. I don’t know who will coach those clubs so I cannot give an opinion on how successful they will be.  However it is a start and the USAT&F should continue to back clubs throughout the United States. In different locations corporations must be persuaded to back these clubs. They must be convinced that backing such a club would be good for their bottom line. What better way to advertise their product than to have their name in road races throughout the United States and on tracks throughout the world.  Obviously these athletes would be out front and would receive publicity in many magazines. Sponsors would not have to be shoe companies but any company in the city where the Club will train.  The important point is we need many different systems to train these athletes. All coaches feel their system is the best, otherwise they wouldn’t use it. But all athletes will not prosper under the same system.

Personalities differ and the psychology of training must suit each athlete.  The important item is to pick the athletes for each Club and the training system which is to be used. Each club coach should interview a number of athletes to see if they would fit into his system. I would want to use some psychological tests and interviews with a psychologist before I chose the people to train. Even though all the athletes in my era worked full time and still trained twice a day I believe it would be best to have the athletes work part time, probably four hours, five days a week. That would be a necessity since too much down time would not be best psychologically. I don’t believe it would be a problem to convince various companies to hire these people on a part time basis.  So what is the next step. The USAT&F people must be the catalyst. They must be the ones to see to it that press releases are given to all media. They should have meetings with every coach who is qualified and wishes to have a Club team. They would help in contacting athletes so they are aware of the opportunities. Each coach could do it on their own but that is not the way it should be done.

Concentration: Searching for the Perfect Runner

What makes one athlete excel over another? Easily answered you say. Obviously they were born with better genes. Therefore they are slimmer, shorter, and without any defects. We know that body weight has a tremendous effect on distance running and there must be an optimum height. What that is exactly, no one has studied as far as I know, but we can surely estimate that somewhere between 5’2″ and 5’8″ would be a good guess. There have been taller runners who have done very well, but not many. I am six feet one inch tall. Good runners cannot be stocky, so the small boned, slim runner has the advantage.  When we look at these body types, we must come to the conclusion that weight lifting may not be in the best interest of these athletes. Maybe limited amounts would be all right but nothing that would build bulk in the athlete.

I don’t see the Africans doing any weight lifting and I did very little during my running career. What I did do was use light weights for toning purposes and not to build bulk. The idea is to be as light as possible without losing strength.

The next advantage is the birth place of the potential athlete. It is apparent now that being born at altitude has a tremendous effect on the development of the cardiovascular and respiratory systems. So a distinct advantage will go to those people whose parents live in a country where it is over 5000 feet above sea level and the advantage may increase if you live even higher.

Once you have the body type and being born in the right place then we want to know how much oxygen can be absorbed into the body and the rate it can be absorbed. Obviously some humans have better “oxygen uptake” than others and therefore the factors listed above will give you the advantage. Genes passed from parent to child would also be a factor. The percentage of fast twitch and slow twitch muscle fibers in the body is a determining factor on how good the person will be.

In my days of training with the Los Angeles Track Club there were many athletes who did essentially the same amount of work but the results were not the same. It must be assumed that at least some of those athletes had the same muscle fiber or the same percentage of slow twitch to fast twitch cells. Of course, one other variable is that some athletes do not run as effortlessly as others and therefore the wasted motion used energy that could have been used in moving the proper muscles toward the finish line. Any small discrepancy in the bone structure makes the runner work harder than they should and can bring about injury. When we watch runners at the International level, we see that their running form is much more perfect than the average runner.

If we dismiss the being born at altitude theory for the moment, we have put together the perfect body for distance running. There must be thousands of these people in the world. Some will never be given the opportunity to compete and others will never take the opportunity. So we are left with hundreds of individuals who have the proper body makeup and are given the chance to see what their bodies can do.  Out of these we have a few who excel. Is it the training these people have been given that gives them the edge? Surely many people do the equivalent training. However there are those who go a little farther than their competitors. In 1964 I was and am convinced that no one in the world was doing the training I was doing. If that was true, the possibility exists that the few who are leading the world today are doing a little extra. Nurmi did it, followed by Zatopek, Kuts, Clarke etc. And sometimes it is because their bodies are holding together as they push themselves harder than someone else. And that may be the most critical point of all. Years of training without serious injury is a vital key to success. With all the attributes to become a great distance runner, it will do no good if the body is constantly breaking down.

Now we come to the point of this essay. There is one more attribute we can study which is the level of concentration these people have. I am convinced that this particular attribute is essential to being a good distance runner. There are times in races where runners have increased the tempo and you ponder a decision to go with them or to keep the same pace. At those times the decision is based on the amount of mental toughness the runner has which is directly related to concentration. Mind over matter.  Some athletes will not place their bodies in high discomfort zones. In other words when they feel discomfort they back off a little so they don’t have to endure it. Other athletes will push through these episodes. And theoretically there would be various percentages of discomfort for each athlete. In other words some may back off at the slightest hint of discomfort while at the other end of the scale the athlete will not back off until his body gives in to the forces of human endurance from a physiological stand point.

If this is true, how does a person achieve this ability. Is it an inborn trait along with the other gene factors that give an individual the possibility of becoming a fine distant runner? I don’t see how that could be the case. Could it be the environment where the person is raised? Having a parent(s) that somehow instills the notion that giving up is not an option. Possible. Or is it a learned trait from the training the athlete goes through. I would think that the environment has some effect for surely a person who sees a way to move upward in society has a greater psychological drive than another who comes from a family position where they are comfortable. And that may be the greatest impetus of all. Is it that they are trying to be better, having a need to be better than the other person? Are they wanting to leave a life where they are not satisfied? Are they trying to show others that they are capable of achieving and this is they way they have chosen? In many cases it is one of the few roads available.

But surely, training has a lot to do with how a runner can push through discomfort. A training program that brings the athlete to discomfort periods time and after time must condition the “body of the athlete” and the “mind of the athlete” to endure higher and higher levels of discomfort.

So we find the perfect human body, with the right percentages of slow twitch to fast twitch muscles cells, who has been raised in the proper environment and is hungry for success. Then we place them in the proper training program that has been designed by a knowledgeable coach. Then we use the perfect environment(s); altitude, sea level, perfect trails, good sand, world class track, ample sun, temperature, humidity etc. Then we have the athlete run only because work would interfere. Running is work. We travel from the Northern hemisphere to the Southern hemisphere for the best competition, from Europe to North America to Asia.

If all this is done and we throw in a masseur, a doctor, a psychologist and a few other things I have surely left out, then surely, the outcome would be an athlete who can compete on an equal footing with any athlete in the world.  I knew athletes once who trained four hours a day and still worked an eight hour job. I wonder how they did it?

The Greenhouse Effect

It was in the early eighties and “old man winter” was doing everything he could to make it miserable for my Club team. We were using the excellent facility at Milton Union High School, where I went to school and it was a beautiful eight lane all-weather track. When the first snows fell I would arrive at the track about an hour early with a snow shovel made of plastic so I wouldn’t cause any damage to the surface, and spend that hour shoveling the second and third lanes. I told my athletes I looked upon the shoveling as a weight workout, although I must admit I had trouble convincing myself.  In about the first week of January a big storm hit which was a combination of ice and snow. It was impossible to use the track any longer. A member of a tennis club I partially owned at the time, was the manager of a horticultural center or nursery and they had plants growing inside the entire year but especially in the winter to have them ready for spring planting. I don’t know how the conversation came around to my Club training in this weather but when the conversation was over the manager invited me stop by the nursery to see what he had available. I want you to understand that there were no indoor facilities for running in the area.

The next day I drove the eight or so miles and arrived at his office. “Let’s go out to the nursery and I will show you what may work for you,” he turned to his secretary, “I will be back in thirty minutes or so.”  We walked outside and then about fifty meters later we went into a greenhouse. On tables were thousands of plants. “How big is this place?” I asked. “Well each building is about sixty meters long and about thirty meters wide.”  As I looked at my surroundings which was nothing more than plastic being held up by ribbing, I wondered how we would be able to use the facility. You couldn’t run the sixty meter distance because the tables were too close together and the plants were hanging into the walkway. I was about ready to tell him it didn’t look like it would be useful, when we came to the middle of the facility. “Now here is where I think you can run,” he said. I thought to myself, you must be kidding. Oh, the width of this area was alright, almost ten feet wide, but it was only thirty meters from wall to wall. “I don’t think this will work.” I stated with disappointment in my voice. He looked at me and a slight smile crossed his face.  “No, I don’t expect you to run in here.”  He started to walk toward the wall where I could see there was what looked like a garage door. He hit a button and the door went up, opening into another facility just like the one where we were standing. “Is this better?”, he asked. “Better, but there still isn’t enough room.” He walked to the wall of that building and pushed another button and the garage like door went up. Well, we continued on our journey and wall after wall opened up until there was a good three hundred meters.

The surface was concrete and there was a slight rise or fall between the buildings but I was beside myself. This would work, it really would. “This is something else.”, I stated in a joyful tone. “Can you use it when the doors are open?” he asked. “We sure can, but can you leave these doors open for extended periods of time?” He told me that each building had a different temperature depending on the plant that was being grown in that facility. “We can leave a door open for over two hours and the temperature won’t change very much.” He told me he would have his foreman lift all the doors at the agreed upon time and after we were finished he would close them.

It was settled, we had a place to train for the Winter and I thought to myself how I was going to tell my Club runners about this place without laughing too much.  Two days later we had our first session. I couldn’t use any distance over 300 meters but that was alright. You could feel the difference in temperature as you ran through each building of thirty meter width. Off to the side were thousands of flowers and other plants growing for the Spring season. It was unique and possibly the craziest place I have ever trained. But it worked and of the twenty plus athletes who used the facility there were some very good people. Two of the boys, Rich Block and Greg Reynolds would break four minutes in the mile. Bret Hyde would go to the Olympic trials in 1984 in the Steeple and in 1965 he would win the National Championship. Owen Hamilton would make the Olympic team in the 800 meters for his home country of Jamaica.

Most of the athletes drove fifteen to twenty miles, one way, to get to the workouts but that was always the case. The winter weather made the trips a little harder.  I wonder if the athletes of today would ever use such a facility .Well, they wouldn’t have to of course, they would just pack their bags and move to another climate.

When anyone talks about the “Greenhouse Effect”, I always remember the winter of 1982.

I’m Running As Fast As I Can

It was the middle 1970′s and I was coaching at Wright State. When we first started in 1973 we were terrible. We never won a contest in our first year and were being beaten by division III schools. But now, in the third year, these same runners, along with a few new recruits, had blossomed and we were competing on an equal level with most of the Ohio schools. All my runners were walk-on athletes as we did not have any scholarships.

In this particular race one of the runners, Terry Roeth, was running fourth for us. As always I was running from point to point cheering them on. The race was now nearing the last kilometer and I was urging all of my runners to finish strongly.

The top three Wright State runners had passed me and here came Terry. “All right, Terry”, I shouted, “Give it all you have. Move up. “Now as we all know, coaches shout these statements just to make it known to the runner that they care. But as Terry passed me he shouted something which I couldn’t understand and quickly forgot.

The race was over and the boys were jogging easily to cool down and we had run well in the competition. Finally Terry came over to me. “Bob, I want to apologize for what I said.” “Apologize, for what?” I asked as I was very perplexed. “For what I said on the course”, he replied.

Now I had completely forgotten that he had said anything, but I must admit I was now interested. “What did you say?” He looked at me with a slight grin on his face and stated, “Well, you know when you shouted to me about running faster or something like that.” “Yes, I remember”, I really wanted to know now. “Well, I was a little upset and I said, I’M RUNNING AS FAST AS I CAN.”

Well I guess I was expecting something a little heavier than that. I looked at him and started to laugh. “Go warm down, Terry. I know you were doing your best.”  As I look back to that experience, I wonder if all runners can truly make that statement. It is a fact that the only person who really knows is the runner.

Bob’s Interview with Runner’s World

Bob Schul won the 5000-meter run in the 1964 Olympics ahead of Germany’s Harald Norpoth, American Bill Dellinger, and France’s Michel Jazy; he is the only American gold medalist at the distance. Schul, who ran in the U.S. Air Force, at Miami [Ohio] University, and for the Los Angeles Track Club, once held the American 5000 record of 13:38.0 and the world 2-mile record of 8:26.4. He has written the “Bob Schul Training Manual” and an autobiography “In the Long Run,” both available from his website. Now 63, he coaches the Bob Schul Racing Team and men’s andwomen’s cross-country and women’s track at Wright State University in Dayton. Runner’s World Daily: Being favored in the Olympics, as you were in 1964, was unique for a U.S. distance runner. How did you feel about that role?

Bob Schul: When you go into a race as a favorite, you have much more pressure. You can’t be a person who would just say, “I can do anything I want because nobody expects me to win.” If nobody had ever heard of me at the Olympics, I could have taken off with a mile to go and said, “Okay try to catch me.” And if I didn’t win, people would say, “Look at the guts the guy had.”  At that time, I thought I could run about 13:20 [his winning time was 13:48.8]. And you’ve got to remember we were on cinders, which I look at as being about 2 seconds per lap slower than an all-weather track. So if I could have run 13:20, we’re talking under 13:00 on all-weather. But those are big ifs.

RWD: Michel Jazy had a silver medal from the 1500 in 1960. Did his lead late in the Tokyo 5000 give you much concern?

BS: Oh yes. Jazy was the person I feared most. I had beaten [Ron] Clarke a couple of times. I’d
beaten [William] Baillie [of New Zealand]. I’d never run against Norpoth, but he was just a youngster and an up-and-comer. I’d beaten Dellinger.  Jazy had run 3:54 [for the mile]. My best was 3:58. I knew it was going to be the toughest match I would have in the last 300 meters, but my strongest suit was still to do it that way. As it turned out, speed was not the overwhelming factor. Between 300 and 200 to go, I wasn’t gaining on him. But speed and endurance in combination was what won the race. Endurance is what failed Jazy. I ran exactly the same time as Peter Snell did in his last 300 meters [in winning the 1500 in Tokyo], and he was on a dry track and I was on a muddy track.(Both ran 38.7 for the last 300 meters.)

RWD: What made the L.A. Track Club so great?

BS: We had one of the finest coaches the world had ever seen in [Mihaly] Igloi. He was so dedicated. He was at the track at 5:00 until 9:00 in the morning, and then again from 5:00 until 9:00 at night with different people. That’s tremendous dedication. He was doing that 363 days a year. He let us off at Christmas and Easter. How many people in their jobs would do a split shift like that 363 days a year?  That’s unbelievable dedication.  Secondly, we had a group of very dedicated athletes who just looked at these sessions as mandatory.   It wasn’t like someone said, “I’m going fishing and I’ll see you next week.” Igloi was the driving force, he said, “Every day, you must train.” So everybody was at those workouts, injured or not. There were times when I didn’t do tremendous workouts because I was limping or something, but I was there. Thirdly, there was a mystique that attached itself to this club. Gradually, we believed that [L.A. track club members] Jim Beatty and Jim Grelle and Laszlo Tabori and Max Truex and Bobby Seamon were the best in the United States, and that we [the rest of the club members] would also be the best in the world if we trained properly.

RWD: To those who know your competitive running life, what would be the biggest surprise in your autobiography?

BS: I guess most people don’t know I was asthmatic and almost died of it as a youngster. Truthfully, Tokyo is the only Olympic Games where I could have competed. All of the others [i.e., Rome in 1960, Mexico City in 1968] were high-allergy places. And in those days we didn’t have all the drugs that you can take now. If anything is fate, it’s that the Olympic Games were in Tokyo at the time I was approaching my peak.

 

Rich Block in Germany

In the early eighties the better runners in my Club would travel to Europe to compete for a couple of weeks in various competitions. On this occasion Rich Block, who would soon break the four minute barrier, was with me at a small meet in Germany. Rich was a little tired from travel and racing so I found out the meet promoter needed a “rabbit” for the 800 meter race. There were only two good runners in the race, another American and a runner from Sweden. All the others were local Club runners.

As I talked to the promoter he told me he wanted the first 400 meters to be run in 50 seconds. “Alright”, I said, “That will not be a problem” I knew Rich could run that fast but truthfully, I also knew he would be close to “all out” in doing so. No matter, he was only expected to run the first 400 and he could drop out if he wanted.

In those days you could pick up a little money for being a rabbit but since this was a small meet we settled on $100.00 for Rich to do the job. Everything was set and Rich relaxed until the meet that evening while I did some sight seeing.  On a beautiful summer evening the meet was under way and as the events unfolded I went to the meet promoter to be sure everything was in order. “It is a beautiful evening”, I said. “Have you told the other runners that Rich is to be the rabbit in the race?” “Yes”, came the answer, “Everything is arranged.” After a little more small talk I made my way to Rich to go over the plan. “Rich, they will start you in the third position and you will have to get out fast. I will be at the 200 meter mark and call your split.  Any questions? “Rich looked at me and said, “This is to be 50 seconds, right? I don’t think I can run any faster as I feel beat.” I smiled and said, “That is what they want. Have fun.”

Rich continued his warm up as we had about thirty minutes before he was to run. Finally it was time for the 800 meters and the announcer called for all the runners to report to the starting line. I moved to the 200 meter position and checked my stop watch. Everything was ready.  All the runners were lined up, side by side, with the American in position one and the Swede beside him. Rich was next to the Swede. In German, the command came for SET, and soon after, the gun sounded.

Around the turn they came and Rich could not get in front of the other two runners. To make matters worse Rich was forced to run in lane three which meant he was running twelve meters extra around the turn. They were moving very quickly and I could see the strain on Rich’s face as he tried to take the lead.  He was beside the American as they went past me and I yelled,”23.” Into the turn now and Rich had to fall back. Into the first quarter and they were a shade under 49. Rich was still in third and ran 50 flat. I could see he would have trouble staying with them much longer. He made it to the 600 meter mark and then his legs just wouldn’t carry him any longer and he struggled in, losing many meters to the other two.

The race was won in 1:48+ and Rich was third in 1:57. He could have dropped out, but it was his choice. I knew something had gone wrong between the promoter and the two good runners, otherwise they would have let Rich take the lead. But how would I handle Rich. He had been somewhat embarrassed and I wanted to keep it light.

I watched Rich as he walked to the high jump pit which was in the middle of the turn, right after the finish. I saw him lay down in the pit as I walked in his direction. What would I say to him. I approached him and said, “Well, that first 400 was pretty fast.” I can’t relate what he said in return, but I was keenly aware that he was upset. “Well, just relax, I want to talk with the promoter.” As I looked around the site to find him I saw the American cooling down and I approached him. After the usual small talk and congratulating him on his victory I said, “By the way did you know that Rich was the rabbit in the race?” He looked at me a little startled and answered, “No, we were never told. I wish we had been because the first lap was too fast.”

I found the promoter and informed him that I knew he had not informed the other runners. “But your boy did not lead”, he said, “Why not?” “Because the others didn’t know and Rich was only supposed to run 50 seconds which is what he did.” With a wave of his hand he walked away. I must admit I was a little upset with his attitude.

Rich had finished warming down and he asked, “Will I still get my money? “We will see”, I answered “We will see.”  Later that evening there was the usual meal for all the sponsors and the invited athletes. Rich and I sat at a table with a few other athletes from Germany and we enjoyed the meal and the company. The hour was getting late and we had to catch a train to our next competition early in the morning. We had already been paid for the competition expenses which included a little extra so all that was remaining was the $100.00 for Rich. “Do you think he is going to give it to you”, Rich asked. “Let’s find out” I said and turned around to talk with the promoter who was sitting with a group of well dressed Germans. Maybe friends or backers of the meet I thought.

“Excuse me, but we have an early train and would it be alright if we settled up the fee for Rich in the 800 meters?” He stared at me for a few seconds before answering, “He does not deserve any money, he did not lead.” He was technically right of course but it was his not telling the other runners that was the problem. “But Rich ran exactly what you asked, he went through the 400 in 50 seconds. Isn’t that what you had asked him to do?” “Yes, but.” I didn’t let him finish. “NO, no,” I said, “I don’t want to argue but if you don’t do what you said I will tell all the people at your table what happened.” He didn’t wait a second before he stood up and looked at me. “Bob, would you like to come to my room, I know you and your athlete must be tired.” He turned to the others at his table. “Excuse me for a short time, I have some business with my American friends. I will be back shortly.”  Then he said something in German and he led the way to his room.  We received the money and excused ourselves. The next morning we boarded the train for the next city