“Looking Good” Matters
Dec. 24, 2021 — “I will run with perfect style when they start judging races for their beauty, like figure-skating…”. This is a famous quote of the 4-time Olympic champion, Emil Zatopek. But is it really? The last time I got together with Bill Bowerman in 1997, he told me: “If I have a quarter-miler, I can work on his running form through the winter and I can knock 2–3 seconds off his quarter-mile time…”. In the movie, “Without Limits”, it was portrayed that Bowerman said to his athletes “to be a student of the sport.” Whether he really said it, or if it’s just a part of the script for the movie, I’m not sure…. But it surely seems that Bowerman was indeed a student of the sport. In other words, he was a “Curious George”. He put his thoughts together to come up with super-light-weight and comfortable shoes for athletes; he experimented with all-weather rubberized track for better performances (the spirit that still lives on, you might say, with Nike SuperShoes). And he was always into the “correct form” which was even mentioned in the movie, “Without Limits” also (how to hold your torso) advising to “Pre” about a form!!
I’m in Breckenridge, CO, for a Christmas vacation but every time the Christmas nears, I cannot help but think of the Bowermans (read my previous blog on the Bowermans HERE). I even remember where I was sitting when I saw the news that Bill Bowerman had passed away. And this year, for some reason, I got quite a few “encounters” with ex-Oregon guys with the Bowerman connection—I almost feel like Bill and Barbara up there are connecting these dots for me!! One of them, Bob Williams, is actually an interesting story. The same line with Bowerman’s ingenuity, Bob created an app for Pace Calculator called “Williams Pace Calculator” (Apple App Store: Williams Pace Calculator) based on the Bowerman’s pace calculator (with Bowerman’s blessing!). Bowerman had a large clock on the corner of the original Hayward Field so the runners could have an idea of what pace they were running at — much like swimming! He then created “Oregon Pace Rules”, a cardboard calculator to see the pace and expected times at glance. And I’ve been talking to Bob recently about all the things Bowerman did are still very much valid! I have this article Bowerman wrote for Runner’s World back in 1976. This is a training program for a marathon. Now, Bowerman was a track coach and it really reflects here and there. For example, when you look closely at his original “Jogging” book, you will see a lot of it is done on the concepts of “interval” training — a lot more so than the original Lydiard’s jogging program. With this marathon program, he would suggest you do a weekly long run of 15–20 miles (so far so good…). And then he would have you do easy strides of a half a dozen 200m. This is not so much you need to do hard, fast killer interval training; we are talking here about a training plan for recreational marathon runners of 3–4 hours. But rather, here, he’s talking about “working on developing a smooth, relaxed form”.
It was when I got together with Jeff Johnson, the first employee at Nike and the father of its name, Nike; when we talked about this topic. He said he was coaching college woman’s track team and once, for the heck of it, reversed the Lydiard Pyramid — start doing some fast sprint work, then some intervals, then hills and finally distance work…. He told me that the runners times didn’t improve; however, the injury rate went down. As two of running-nerds like we are, we discussed on this until late at night and we concluded that, by working on “sprints”, they perhaps strengthened their leg muscles, small stabilizing muscles around ankles, etc., and that contributed reducing injuries. In the light of what Professor Daniel Lieberman and Christopher McDougal (the author of “Born to Run”) claimed years later, it makes perfect sense. Running fast (strides) is a form of Plyometric exercise. As most of us heard at one point or another, that your landing foot takes 3–5 times of your body weight each step. That’s a lot of work on small muscle groups, ligaments and connective tissues around your feet, ankles, calves and legs in general. I am convinced doing some easy strides can be beneficial— and actually perhaps essential (!) for particularly beginners. This would strengthen their legs in general and also work on their form. Lydiard was always big on running efficiency (check out a short video clip I put together with the voice of Arthur Lydiard himself HERE). In short, basically, if you run efficiently, you can run faster without having to be more fit.
When I put together Running Wizard’s Beginner’s Plan — Up-and-Running plans or Up-and-Racing plans — , I had this discussion I had with Jeff Johnson and this article written by Bill Bowerman in mind. It always annoyed me when you see some good local runners advising beginners: “Just include easy strides of 10 X 100m once a week…”. Sure, that sounds easy for YOU!! Surprisingly, they don’t seem to realize that 10 X 100m can be hard anaerobic interval workout for most beginners!! I had put together an algorithm so that, if you are a real beginner and your long run is 15-minutes, then your recommended “Strides” would be 1 set of 3 X 20m. This is hardly anything at all but more than plenty (without over-taxing them) to begin with. “Get up on your toes,” Arthur Lydiard would tell you, “and push off the ground hard with your back-leg, lifting your knees high…!” My objective with this program is to get you ready to do 10 X 100m (the plan will get up to 3 sets of 3 X 90m) by the time you get up to 1-hour of continuous long run. Like everything else, you should gradually work your way up, little by little. “You keep within your own limitations, you’ll keep on improving,” Lydiard would tell you. And with this added form and strengthening exercise, “you will be a so much better runner without working harder, believe me!” (Arthur Lydiard). As for Zatopek’s quote, I don’t think Lydiard would agree with that. “That’s why even high school kids today can run faster than Zatopek did…”. Well, that’s not the only reason (better track, better equipment, etc.) but he’s got a point. And Bowerman was right, too. Running form does matter; not just for better looks (for scoring), but for better performances as well. It’s not, like, you try to “look good” when you run. But instead, when you do all your homework, strengthen necessary muscles, learn to run straight and not side-way — kind of work Bowerman said he would do with this quarter-miler — ; then you WILL naturally look better. By then: “You will be running so much better without being fitter…” Arthur Lydiard would tell you.— Nobby Hashizume