Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Sat, 13 Jan 2007 06:06:45 -0500

The Humane Way to Train

RUNNING COMMENTARY 658

(from Iowans on the Run, newsletter of the Iowa Road Runners Club, January 1967; new introduction in RC 657)

Race faster by training slower? Sounds impossible, doesn't it -- too good to be true?

I thought so too until I saw the smashing success that Ed Winrow of the New York Athletic Club has had since slowing down his practice runs.

After 10 years of struggling along in the pack, the 26-year-old Winrow burst into national prominence last year by capturing three National AAu distance titles and racing home among the top 10 in five other championship races.

Sure, I figured, here's another of those supermen who spends all day training fast. But no. When I talked with Winrow at the National 15-kilometer race in St. Paul last September, I discovered that he uses as sensible a method as I've run across.

Here's how Ed explained it: A year ago he dropped speed work completely, in favor of relaxed road running. His weekly mileage totaled no more than 60 to 70 and he seldom attempted to run faster than seven minutes per mile. ("Slow enough to enjoy the scenery," he said.)

Winrow said most of his runs require less than an hour a day. He stretches the distance once a week, clicking off from 13 to 24 miles (in 1-1/2 to three hours).

Yet on this apparently relaxed schedule Winrow's 1966 record was one of the most impressive in national-championships history. His placings in national meets included victories at 25K and 30K, and in the one-hour run (this with the best distance ever recorded in the U.S.).

The five-foot-seven New Yorker's 1966 performances appear even more startling when compared with his record of a year earlier. He lopped 11 minutes from his 1965 fourth-place mark in the 30K. Despite no speed training, Ed was able to lower his two-mile best to just over nine minutes.

A short talk with Winrow inspired me to try this method for myself. After several months of pure distance, I can report that my results haven't be so spectacular.

But I'm sold on the slow-training idea. It's painless, practical, and I've never enjoyed running more. Although the true test of its effectiveness won't come until I begin racing regularly, my few cross-country and road times last fall were quite encouraging.

Actually I stumbled onto slow training a month before meeting Winrow. The combination of a desire to run the Boston Marathon and leg problems resulting from fast training caused me to slow down.

My training at the time consisted of short (normally one- to five-mile) runs, as fast as possible without actually racing them. By contrast, seven-minute miles seemed ridiculously slow.

The distance didn't pile up as easily as I'd imagined, and I reached only 30 miles the first week. The next two weeks' totals dropped to 27 and 28 before I started adjusting to the slower pace.

From then on, though, the mileage increased weekly with no apparent increase in effort. It has almost doubled since August and gets easier all the time.

Presently I'm running long once a week, the best being 18 miles in a plodding two hours and 16 minutes (about 7:30 pace). The rest of the runs range from five to eight miles (in an hour or less).

This may not sound impressive, but the two-hour mark had long been something of a barrier for me. Before beginning this new training, I'd only gone over two hours twice, ever, and those were huge efforts. Now I'm coasting past two hours nearly every week.

Long Distance Log editor Browning Ross summed up slow training well when he wrote, "Ed Winrow and Tom Osler [a 1965 AAU champion] have the right idea… 1-1/2 to three hours of easy running [on the longest days]. They are fresh when the workout is over instead of bushed the rest of the day. And the leg problems are nil."

Ross added, "In fact, New York runners don't like to train with Winrow. 'He runs too slow,' they contend."

Until the race starts.

UPDATE

As Ed Winrow's racing career wound down, he became a college coach and later a running-group adviser for the New York Road Runners. Tom Osler, mentioned in passing late in this article, became what I've called an "unsung genius" of running writing with his books, Conditioning of Distance Runners and Serious Runner's Handbook. You can read the first of those on Tom's website, http://www.rowan.edu/math/osler/.

I laugh now at speaking of 7:00 miles as "ridiculously slow" and 7:30s as "plodding." I now know how relative a pace "easy" is. A single mile in the sevens would now feel like a race.

I also learned that the slower training worked for me and others because we raced regularly (this became our speed training). Another reason it work was the relaxed running during the week let us recover between big weekend efforts, which did more for me than big weekly mileage.

Three years after this article appeared, it grew into a booklet with the original name now a subtitle. Long Slow Distance (cover shown here) appears in full on this website: http://www.joehenderson.com/lsdbook.
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