Tag Archives: training

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

The Bob Schul Racing Team

The Club has had members from age fourteen to sixty nine. Bob started training athletes in 1966 when he lived in California. Both men and women trained three days a week on a track for speed work. On the other days they went on long runs.

A partial list of club runners and their performances follow: I began training athletes in 1966 and since that  time hundreds of runners of all ages have trained with the Club.

Eamon O’Reilly….Georgetown University graduate, ran 8:50 for the two mile at Georgetown in 1966. After training for eight months he ran 2 hours, 16 minutes for the marathon in California in 1968, which was the fastest time ever run in the Americas.

John Baker.…University of New Mexico graduate. After a year of training he ran a 4:01 mile indoors in 1968. John tragically died of cancer in 1970. Subject of a book and movie called: “A Shining Season.”

John Shull.…Ran 9:58 two mile in High School. Came to Wright State where I was coaching in 1973. John was 6’2″ 170 pounds.  In his Senior year he ran 14:22 for 5K on the track. He was an “All American” in cross country and track.

Wally Saeger.….University of Wisconsin graduate. He ran in the mid 8:50′s in college for two miles. After two years of training he ran a 2:13.9 marathon which placed him 11th in the 1980 Olympic trials in the marathon.

Bret Hyde.….Air Force Academy graduate. Ran 8:43.4 steeplechase at the Academy. After two years of training he ran 8:25.39 in the steeplechase in 1984. Eighth in 1984 Olympic trials in the steeplechase.