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Everything You Need to Know About Endurance Training in One Race!

Last Saturday was the 50th anniversary of Bob Schul’s victory in the 5,000 meter race at the Tokyo Olympics.   Schul, who was from the United States ran 13:48.8 and beat Harald Norpoth of Germany and Bill Dellinger also from the U.S. The great Kip Keino of Kenya was 5th anticipating his Olympic success in 1968 and 72, and also anticipating the rise of the Kenyan runners. It was a close race run on a slow and muddy dirt track. The last few laps of the race were very fast in spite of the conditions.


Training Methods 101

The race also serves as a short primer on training methods:

  • Schul was interval trained and literally did intervals twice a day almost every day. I looked up some of his old workouts in the classic book “How They Train” by Fred Wilt. He might do a brief warmup and then 30-40 times 100 meters in the morning. The afternoon would include a brief warm up and then many longer intervals between 150-400 meters.   My guess is that this sometimes added up to about 70-80 miles per week.
  • Norpoth was a disciple of Ernst Van Aaken the originator of so-called long slow distance (LSD) training that included very high mileage. He did long slow runs up to 30 miles or more and also restricted his diet to get as skinny as possible. Mileage well in excess of 100 miles per week was done and perhaps only about 5% of the total was anything near race pace.
  • Dellinger, who was later the track coach at Oregon, was coached by the legendary innovator Bill Bowerman and did the sort of mixed training popular today which would include longer runs, intervals, hills, and sprints. This program also featured the classic hard-easy pattern advocated by Bowerman.
  • Also in the race was Ron Clarke, who ultimately set 19 distance running world records. Clarke did a lot of long fast continuous runs with surges and raced often and fast. He did what we might call threshold training.  Clarke also frequently ran more than 100 miles per week in training. What he did in the 1960s also seems similar to what anecdotal reports indicate the East Africans are doing today.


Take Home Messages

The narrative above makes me an unbeliever in the idea that there is a “best way” to train or that much has really changed in the last 50 years. You can also find similar stories and varied approaches in other endurance sports with examples of success stemming from all sorts of programs.


However, all of the training programs outlined above were marked by several hours a day of training at least a couple of days a week or more. They would all also evoke essentially maximal physiological adaptations in most people. All of the programs also included at least some fast running. In talking with LSD trainers who were successful in the 1960s and early 70s, many have told me that in addition to their training they also ran a whole lot of races including “doubling” at track meets by running multiple events.   This clearly supplemented the limited formal speed work they did in their regular training.


Another take home message is that depending on where you live and what resources are available one program might more sense than another. For example if you live in an urban area where finding the right course for a long run can be challenging, maybe an interval focused program on a track or in a park makes the most sense. If you live in a place full of trails, hills and mountains perhaps one of the less interval focused programs would make more sense.


Whatever the program there is no substitute for consistency and at least some fast running. Consistency also means staying injury free, so at least some easy days every week make sense as well. Also, don’t forget to ask yourself “what is the purpose of this workout?” and perhaps “what is the ultimate goal of this training program?” If you can’t answer those questions maybe you should rethink things.


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4 Responses to “Everything You Need to Know About Endurance Training in One Race!”

  1. October 24th, 2014 at 12:00 pm

    This Week in Food, Health, and Fitness - Sheila Kealey says:

    […] Everything You Need to Know About Endurance Training in One Race! How varied approaches to endurance training lead to success. (Michael J. Joyner, Human Limits). […]

  2. October 25th, 2014 at 11:41 am

    George Brose says:

    Three weeks ago I had the pleasure of taking Bob to lunch and then having a four hour ‘chat’ at his home. He is one of the most under appreciated runners of our time. He is also most gracious in spending time with people who pose questions of him over and over. His athletes he has coached are a most loyal bunch of people. But I think we forget what incredible pressure he must have been under at that race in Tokyo, having been undefeated all of 1964, having set a WR at two miles, and several American records. Most of his racing was against locals on American tracks, not much overseas in the rough and tumble of European racing. One of the best milers in the world, Jazy, moved up to race the 5000 because of Snell’s overwhelming presence in the 1500. Yet Bob responded and dominated the final phase of the race. His last 300 meters was as fast as Snell’s in the 1500. Mills’ victory in the 10,000 was a pleasant surprise, Bob’s was expected of him and he responded as few have ever responded.

  3. October 25th, 2014 at 1:22 pm

    Mike Joyner says:
  4. December 17th, 2014 at 5:42 pm

    Sergei Iljukov says:

    Mike, are you sure saying: “Ernst Van Aaken the originator of so-called long slow distance (LSD) training that included very high mileage”

    In my opionion Arthur Lidyard from NZ introduced LSD training method and demonstrated it efficiency at middle and long distances with his athletes (Peter Snell, Murray Halberg, Barry Magee) in Rome Olympics 1960 already. Isnt it?

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