As I have posted and tweeted on middle distance and distance training I have been thinking more about the lessons I have learned along the way. I want to start out by saying that I have clear bias toward the speed the power influence. From speed and power will come more efficient mechanics and optimum force into the ground. Middle distance and distance runners are not just a big heart and lungs with legs attached. There has be a convergence, a synergy if you will, with all systems of the body working at the same time, together to produce the desired speed for the intended distance.
Now to the story and the lesson. I can’t remember the year exactly; I think it was 1973 in early February, a Sunday morning around 9:00. I was warming up for a pole vault ( Trying to smash that elusive 12′ barrier) session at the UCSB track. It was cold, high thirties (yes it does get cold in California). I got there early to do some extra warm-up before meeting the coach who was helping me in the vault. Just as I was going to begin my warm-up jog, Jim Ryan showed up. He asked me if he could jog with me. I thought to myself you are asking me, I should be privileged just to be on the same track with you. So we started to warm-up at my pace, a tendinitis trot, very slow at around eight-minute mile pace. We did a mile. I was shocked, Jim sounded like a Hoover vacuum cleaner, his breathing was heavy, and his footfalls were loud and percussive. I knew he was having problems with asthma, but this seemed weird.
We stopped and did a few leg swings, a couple of stretches and then went to the infield to do “strides,” 100 meter buildups opening up the stride. He was being polite and letting me set the tempo, the first two were slow around 16 seconds for 100 meters. The same response and as when we were jogging, breathing heavy, percussive foot strikes. Then I picked it up and dropped to around 14 seconds per hundred and then a couple around 13. Everything changed. It was a magical transformation. His breathing was quiet his foot strikes were efficient, everything smoothed out. It was that beautiful flowing long efficient stride that had seen so many times. We stopped and chatted a few minutes and he went off on a run.
I have never forgotten that morning. I remember going home and puzzling over it. Why? Over the years I have seen this phenomenon repeat itself in so many ways. There was a point of physiological, neural and biomechanical converge where all his systems were synced up and efficient. For him it was 15 second 100 meter tempo, four minute pace. At that speed everything came together in a finely tuned rhythm. So for me the lesson I want to share with you as coaches is to help the athlete find that rhythm, key in on it, train it in, don’t plod and force unusually slow tempos on the athlete that are uncomfortable and inefficient. In my opinion and experience the same is true in swimming and cycling. Don’t misinterpret this and take this out of context, I know you can’t run fast all the time, but be aware of this convergence zone, look for it and tap into it and you will get more out of what you do.